Future Reduction in Retail Pharmacist Jobs Explained

JANUARY 27, 2016
The latest Occupational Outlook Handbook from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) had 3 words to say about the growth of pharmacist jobs over the next 8 years: “slower than average.”
 
In fact, retail pharmacists working in traditional chain and independent pharmacy settings can expect to see 7000 fewer jobs by 2024, according to a recent analysis by Drug Channels.

Does this mean patients are suddenly getting healthier and expecting to need fewer prescriptions over the coming decade? Or has some new breakthrough therapy entered the market that will allow patients on multiple medications to manage all of their diseases with a single pill?
 
On the contrary, the total number of prescriptions filled annually in the United States is likely to continue rising from about 4.25 billion today to more than 4.75 billion by 2021. In addition, overall prescription drug spending is set to climb from around 447 billion today to nearly 700 billion by 2020. 

How is this increasing number of prescriptions going to be filled if there are fewer retail pharmacists around to fill them? The answer to that question probably involves looking a bit closer at the data, as well as what is currently happening in the pharmacy profession.
 
While there appears to be a looming decline in typical retail pharmacy jobs, there is going to be a somewhat corresponding growth predicted in pharmacist jobs in other dispensing settings such as mail-order pharmacies, mass merchandizers, and supermarkets. In fact, if you add up the job growth in these other settings, it only results in an overall loss of about 1300 dispensing pharmacist jobs by 2024, which is fewer than the projected 7000.

Then again, the loss of 7000 pharmacist jobs could also be explained by some of the anticipated consolidations and mergers that are happening in the industry right now. 

CVS has bought Target’s pharmacy business, while Walgreens has bought Rite Aid. Whenever large mergers like these occur, you can expect that some poorly performing locations will ultimately be closed down and the business transferred to a central location that is within driving distance of the original store. 

From a business perspective, it doesn’t make sense to operate 2 nearby pharmacies that are each only filling 200 prescriptions per day. You can merge them together and probably cut 1 or 2 pharmacists in the process.

The 7000 fewer pharmacist jobs will also likely be the result of more automation and supportive personnel in the pharmacy. Robotic dispensing is already well established in our industry, and it is only going to grow. In addition, the same Occupational Outlook Handbook said the job growth outlook for pharmacy technicians is “faster than average,” so at least there’s some good news for techs!

How to Respond as a Retail Pharmacist

So, what should pharmacists working in these traditional retail settings do? What sort of career plans should they be making?

I would certainly try to expand my skills and get my foot in the door in areas of pharmacy that are expected to grow over the next 8 years. Physician offices, outpatient clinics, home health care, and hospitals are projected to collectively add 9300 pharmacist jobs over the next 10 years, according to the BLS.

I would also take a more proactive approach to my career by getting involved in networking, participating in discussions on LinkedIn, joining my local state pharmacy association, and finding other creative ways to increase the value I bring to my work setting. 
 
If you are a floating pharmacist, you might want to look into getting a permanent, well-performing store. If you are a staff pharmacist, you might want to look into a training program for becoming a pharmacy manager. 

I don’t think the projections are anything to panic about, but I do recommend being thoughtful and strategic about your career. Being prepared is half the battle. 
 
The pharmacy profession offers more diverse opportunities now than ever before. In my opinion, now is the time to begin exploring them.

Jason Poquette
Jason Poquette
Jason Poquette, RPh, is a 1993 graduate of the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy. For most of his career, he has held retail pharmacy management positions. He also spent 7 years working in health plan formulary analysis and research. He currently works for Pharmacy Healthcare Solutions (PHS) as manager of an outpatient hospital pharmacy, developing programs to improve utilization of the pharmacy and transitional care for patients.
SHARE THIS
41