Mr. Eckel is a professor at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He serves as Executive Director of the North Carolina Association of Pharmacists.
I recently took a vacation to visit the Land Down Under, a beautiful part of the world. It allowed me to complete one of the goals on my “bucket list”—making a professional presentation in every state in the country and on all inhabited continents. (I presented the Asheville Project at the University of Auckland, School of Pharmacy in Auckland, New Zealand.) We certainly enjoyed our trip, but along the way, I learned that I am not ready to retire. The trip invigorated me, and I looked forward to getting back and addressing the serious issues our profession is facing.
As I started catching up on the news upon my return, I learned that an existing pharmacy school in my state was requesting permission to open a new satellite campus, and another university was requesting permission to start a brand new school of pharmacy. Apparently, new pharmacy schools are still being considered around the country, according to the feedback of colleagues throughout the United States.
I had a conversation recently with a pharmacy staffing agency about how the job market in pharmacy was doing and what trends were being noticed. While this particular agency still has some work, it is not like it used to be. Employers can now select their employees and choose from a growing pool of talent, when as little as a year ago, employees were more in control.
I posted a blog entry (www.pharmacytimes.com) in which I asked the question “Has the supply and demand for pharmacists changed?” Almost all the blog comments agreed that the current employment situation for pharmacists is poor, citing a variety of reasons. Let me share a few blog comments to show the flavor of what is being said:
“I recently inquired about openings at a large chain and to my surprise there is a waiting list of pharmacists who want to work here. The problem is in areas that are desirable places to live and in cities that have pharmacy schools. I am lucky to have the job I have now, and I do not have to float. The shortage is overstated and many pharmacists are lulled into a false sense of security. There are jobs out there, but not always in the place you want to live.”
“I agree it has become a place where the only work is in the rural areas. I have put 38,000 miles on my car in 14 months, but it’s a job. But as the schools pump out more grads every year, for the last couple years you have to drive farther out for work.”
“Yes, it is a problem that will get worse. In my state…we did fine for approximately 100 years with one pharmacy school, and now we are going to have 4 or 5. Combined, these 4-5 schools will produce hundreds of new pharmacists per year, although there are not hundreds of new pharmacy jobs per year.”
“I don’t know if pharmacists working in retail or hospital settings are aware of what’s been happening to pharmacists working in the pharmacy industry, especially big researchbased companies. The turmoil (aside from the economic mess) is primarily due to patent expirations...This costcutting consolidation has resulted in over 120,000 lost jobs, with more than 30,000 jobs predicted to be lost this year. Not all of these are pharmacists, but many pharmacists, including myself, are looking to go back to work in a pharmacy since the job prospects are so bleak in the industry.”
“We all have to keep in mind that pharmacy is a business based more off of people rather than drugs. In a nutshell, the equation for our profession is: (Patient + Doctor = Pharmacist + Rx). It’s a matter of checks and balances, and right now, we are pumping too many pharmacists into the equation while the other variables are remaining constant or only increasing at a slower pace. The profession has finally begun to catchup on the pharmacist “void gap” and our market is becoming saturated with pharmacists.”
So, the question is: Do we need more new schools of pharmacy? Blog comments may not have the final word on a complex problem, but they reinforce important insights— and give us a reason to pause and think. I am afraid that in 5 to 10 years, we will be seeing the closing of pharmacy schools just like we did in the 1950s. Will that be good for society or the profession? What do you think? ■