Could Pharmacy Schools Go the Way of Law Schools?

Law schools are struggling. Could the same thing happen to pharmacy schools?

A recent report by the Clayton Christensen Institute observed the following about the law education climate:

Facing dramatic declines in enrollment, revenue, and student quality at the same time that cost structure continues to rise and public support has waned, law schools are in crises. A key driver of the crises is shrinking employment opportunities for recent graduates, which stem in part from the disruption of the traditional business for provision of legal services. Although this root problem will soon choke off the financial viability of many schools, most law schools remain unable or unwilling to address this existential problem in more than a marginal way, as they instead prefer to maintain the status quo and hope that the job market soon improves.1

Now, I know it’s not politically correct to raise concerns about pharmacy education, but as I read the report on law schools, I couldn’t help but think a similar report could easily be generated about our industry. I’ve heard from faculty in many schools that the quality of applicants seems to be declining, as is the number of applicants. I heard of one school hiring a high-level marketing expert to try to increase its applicant pool to address the problem.

Could there be a bigger issue in pharmacy that increasing applicants won’t correct, at least in the short run? Let me suggest 2.

The current reimbursement model doesn’t pay well for the provision of clinical services that student pharmacists are being trained to do. Not many employers can afford to hire these graduates for these new roles because they aren’t receiving reimbursement for such services. At the same time, the reimbursement for providing dispensing services is also being cut. This is forcing employers to automate as much as possible and find ways to use technicians in greater numbers.

Yes, Board of Pharmacy laws and regulations limit that role now, but will the move by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board to require formal education for pharmacy technicians by 2020 lead to efforts to use technicians for the dispensing role, thereby putting further pressure on the pharmacist job market? I know that isn’t what most individuals want to think, but the “tech-check-tech” movement suggests it’s as safe as “pharmacist-check-tech” systems. If all pharmacy techs are program graduates, they’ll also put pressure to become recognized and given advanced responsibilities, just as pharmacists have been working to gain their own advanced roles.

Does this suggest pharmacy education needs to change to prepare a different kind of graduate for new roles? I think so. Will we need as many schools to train these new graduates? I don’t think so. It looks to me like we’ll see a major disruption in both pharmacy practice and education over the next 5 years. When that happens, what will happen to those trained and practicing under the old model?

Reference

1. Pistone MR, et al. Disrupting law school: how disruptive innovation will revolutionize the legal world. Clayton Christensen Institute website. christenseninstitute.org/publications/disrupting-law-school/. Accessed September 9, 2016.