At the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) Annual Meeting in Orlando, Flordia, Pharmacy Times
hosted a student roundtable to discuss issues in pharmacy affecting future pharmacists. The conversation was moderated by Pharmacy Times Editor-in-Chief Fred M. Eckel, RPh, MS, ScD (Hon). The panelists included Daniel Brown, PharmD; Stephen F. Eckel, PharmD, MHA, BCPS, FASHP, FAPhA, FCCP; Caroline Gaither, PhD, RPh; Lucinda Maine, PhD, RPh; and David R. Steeb, PharmD. We’ve gathered their greatest insights into the trends of the profession and their best pieces of advice for pharmacy students.
On the Job Market
Although the panelists agreed that the majority of students are able to find pharmacy positions after graduation, there was some concern for the future of the job market and the pharmacy profession.
I can guarantee you, having monitored the Department of Education’s concerns about employability, that we have the gold standard, that there’s virtually still no unemployment in the profession of pharmacy as long as people are somewhat flexible and realistic about where they can go and find jobs.
Nationally, we’re still pretty much in equilibrium, but I think in some parts of the country [the demand for pharmacists] has already gone below [the supply]. And the fact that new schools are still being developed, schools are still expanding, is great cause for concern for me.
What we found is that over the years we’ve seen a decrease in the number of positions related to providing just medications. But what we’re seeing in the trends is that pharmacist vacancies are found much more in non-traditional areas. So pharmacists providing care in clinics, and places that are not attached to a physical pharmacy are places where we’re seeing growth.
We’re really worried about our future in terms of cost constrained environments and what can we do to hire and bring in new individuals. And most hospitals I’ve talked to have either had consultants come through or are having consultants come through, and that really becomes a concerning situation because many of the times it’s reduction in force that comes out of it, not we need more individuals.
The job market is one of the questions that sometimes people feel it’s shrinking a little bit. But I feel like the skill sets you learn in pharmacy school and at these meetings and APhA, if opportunity doesn’t knock, you can build a door.
The Changing Role of the Pharmacist
The role of the pharmacist is changing and will continue to expand in the future. The panelists discussed several directions the profession may be headed.
We don’t know the role that pharmacists will actually be playing in the future. And depending on what happens, because there’s a big demand I think for pharmacists with high levels of skill, they’re doing many more patient services in the community pharmacies, not only in health systems. They’re really looking for really highly-skilled professionals. The employers are talking to the pharmacy schools saying we need these types of employees. Residencies are filling some of those needs for the employees, but we still need pharmacists to provide care in a variety of settings.
I think the one thing we can assume is probably going to happen is dramatic Medicaid expansion, and dramatic Medicaid expansion is certainly going to have an impact on pharmacy and especially community pharmacy. I think there’s a great potential that Medicaid might see medication therapy management (MTM) services as a means of reining in costs, and if they do, I think there’s a greater likelihood that it’s going to be more of an expansive approach than what we see with Medicare Part D. And, if pharmacy is poised to jump on that and say, yes, we will provide MTM to everybody who comes in, every Medicaid patient who comes in to have a prescription filled, the third parties are going to have no choice but to follow suit.
I think that it is essential at both the state and the national level that pharmacists are universally recognized as providers. And I think that doing so, however financing in health care is going to realign, if it’s value-based purchasing, I think that the evidence is strong that when you’re dealing with complex, chronically ill people, pharmacists have an awful lot to bring into that care delivery model. But there’s got to be a way to sustain their participation in that practice, and I do think that getting the Medicare Part B enablement is a piece of that equation.
And so even though we get access to [provider status], the market issue might sort of keep people from wanting to take advantage of it. So I am hopeful that [attaining provider status] helps out, but I think I’m trying to be realistic in terms of what are some other things that we’ve got to worry about if we want to sort of take advantage of that.
The panelists gave their recommendations on how students can stand apart from their peers and land a job or a residency after graduation.
We probably get applications from over 70 schools of pharmacy, and a lot of times they are some of the best in their school. And so we just have to make some very difficult decisions. But what I spend a lot more time focusing on is who will be a leader in the profession in 10 or 15 years, and those are the people that I want to bring into a program, not the ones who have the best GPAs or was able to really sort of be very successful at maybe one thing, but the individuals that were able to be very successful in multiple things.
I think the mistake that I made when I was a student as a first year is I got my hands in too many buckets and I was confusing activity with results. And it was a good experience, but I narrowed down to doing just the things that I was really passionate and I cared about.
I think one of the other areas that students tend not to value when they’re in school are those classes that teach you about the context of care, pharmacy administration, whatever you call it, management. And they seem unimportant because I really am here to learn a lot about drugs. But with the dynamics that are in place in the care delivery system today, I think we really need to re-emphasize that the context of care and what’s happening in reimbursement in my environment. Really I think if a student has commanded enough of the knowledge about that, it will set you apart from the other scary-smart people who are graduating with you.
Most importantly, I think, and this is in terms of just securing employment when you graduate, is to treat every external training experience as a 24/7 interview. This is your opportunity to shine and to show the preceptors and anyone else who works in that facility what you can do, that you have a very strong work ethic, that you get along with people and you can take initiative, that you’re service minded and you have a heart for patients; all these types of things that are going to cause them to think, boy, when that student graduates I hope we have a position open for that student.
Advice for the Future
The panelists also gave their advice for a successful careers in pharmacy.
We ask the students to kind of know who they are and try to understand what it is that they are best at and where their strengths are. And so by doing that first, then that helps them think about, well, which area of pharmacy I could really contribute to.
The first thing I always tell students is, first of all, do what they enjoy. Don’t try to read into the marketplace and do something that they don’t enjoy.
I believe that in the world of pharmacy today, that the student who sows a very good education, is going to reap a very productive, rewarding career and they’re never going to have to worry about getting a job because they’re going to impress people wherever they go.
About the Panelists
Daniel Brown, PharmD, served as dean of the Gregory School of Pharmacy at Palm Beach Atlantic University from 2005 to 2010. He is currently a professor and the director of faculty development at the school.
Stephen F. Eckel, PharmD, MHA, BCPS, FASHP, FAPhA, FCCP, is associate director of pharmacy, University of North Carolina Hospitals, and clinical associate professor and director of graduate studies at the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy. He serves as editor of the Pharmacy Times Health-System edition.
Caroline Gaither, PhD, RPh, is the senior associate dean for professional education at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy and is involved with the Pharmacy Workforce center and its research.
Lucinda Maine, PhD, RPh, is the executive vice president and chief executive officer of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. She is also the president of the Pharmacy Workforce Center.
David R. Steeb, PharmD, served as the national president for the APhA Academy of Student Pharmacists from 2012 to 2013, and received his PharmD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in May 2013. He is currently a postdoctoral Fellow in Global Engagement at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.