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.
In late 2015, the pharmacy job market may have seen its steepest drop in the last 10 years, according to data collected by the Pharmacy Workforce Center.
As a pharmacist, I have watched the job market trend for many years. Although the overall availability of pharmacist jobs has been trending downward for a decade, even I was shocked to see such a sharp decline reported.
More than half of the United States currently has a surplus of pharmacists, meaning the number of pharmacists looking for jobs outweigh the number of jobs available. This information comes from the Pharmacy Workforce Center’s January 2016 newsletter, which reflects the most recently collected data from November 2015.
Information about the pharmacy job market is submitted confidentially by employer panelists on a monthly basis and collected as part of an ongoing project. The data are then translated into a number on a scale of 1 to 5, which is known as the Aggregated Demand Index (ADI).
The ADI uses a 5-point scale to measure the availability of jobs relative to the number of applying pharmacists. A score of 5 would indicate a much larger pool of jobs than pharmacists, while a score of 1 would indicate a much larger pool of pharmacists than jobs. A score of 3 would indicate a relative balance between available jobs and available pharmacists.
For the first time ever, the overall ADI for pharmacist jobs has been reported below 3 (2.96), meaning the “average” situation is a surplus of pharmacists throughout the country.
Of course, there is going to be variability, and we might see some correction when the next cycle of panelist information is reviewed. But as of now, the pharmacist job market seems to be at its lowest point in the last 10 years.
Some areas of the country seem better for pharmacists in need of work than others. For example, pharmacists interested in working in Alaska may be able to pick their job out of a hat.
The ADI in Alaska is at 4.75, which is nearly a 10-year high for the state. On the other end of the spectrum is Massachusetts, which is showing the highest surplus of pharmacists in the nation with an ADI of 1.75. New England seems to be the worst region for pharmacist jobs in the United States at an ADI of 2.13 overall.
What does all of this mean for pharmacists and pharmacy students? Allow me to offer a few insights for you to consider.
First, let’s be honest about the data and the trend. Taking an honest look at the information doesn't give me a positive impression of the pharmacist job market for the future. It looks as though it has been tracking downward for a decade.
Yes, this recent decline is unusually steep, but even if the data moderate over the next couple of months, I don't think it will change the trend. The data just don’t support an optimistic outlook.
Second, let’s ponder the potential source of the problem. I believe that there are too many pharmacy schools and they are graduating too many students. There is no mechanism for slowing down pharmacy school multiplication aside from the natural forces of supply and demand. Neither the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy nor the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy seem to have any tool to stop the proliferation of pharmacy schools in my opinion.
Third, understand that what this could mean for the future of pharmacy is lower wages, poorer working conditions, patient safety concerns, and fewer jobs. What we could be seeing is not unlike what other fields such as the legal profession have gone through.
I hate to write an article that carries a predominantly doom-and-gloom perspective. However, I can’t argue with the numbers and my interpretation of them is fairly conservative in my opinion.
Some may say that we’re on the verge of a whole new season of job opportunities if pharmacists become recognized as health care providers. While I applaud such efforts and greatly support them, it nevertheless remains uncertain that it will actually create new pharmacist jobs.
It would be great if pharmacy schools would come together and mutually agree to reduce their enrollment, but that’s unlikely. So, for now, pharmacists and students need to be thinking about this trend and what it will mean for their own careers and future.