As Population Ages, Opportunity Knocks for Pharmacists

A mass exodus of retirement-age, baby boomer generation nurses and physicians may create more opportunities for pharmacists to provide counseling and OTC recommendations.

A mass exodus of retirement-age, baby boomer generation nurses and physicians may create more opportunities for pharmacists to provide counseling and OTC recommendations.

Baby boomers have long been a source of consternation for public heath experts, who wonder how an already-strained heath care system will handle an influx of millions of newly-retired Americans over the next 10 to 15 years.

As the health care industry attempts to prepare its workforce for the deluge, expanding the pharmacist’s role is increasingly seen by policymakers as a cost-effective solution. Evidence can be found in the health care reform bill’s allocation of additional funding to support medication therapy management services provided by pharmacists.

A new wrinkle in the system is a smaller subset of boomers—nurses and physicians—whose retirement could spell disaster for health care in the United States. A recent article in the Washington Post reported that nearly 40% of physicians are aged 55 and older, and 55% of nurses plan to retire in the coming decade. The resulting shortages could leave many Americans “without much hope of finding a doctor or nurse,” according to the Post.

The article neglects to mention pharmacists, whose accessibility and medication expertise put them in a prime position to pick up the slack. Like physicians and nurses, pharmacists are also aging; however, a sharp increase in the number of pharmacy school graduates over the past decade has created a surplus of would-be pharmacists, according to Pharmacy Times contributor David McAnally. As older pharmacists begin retiring, this workforce reserve may be crucial to stave off the effects anticipated in other health care professions.

In addition to an expected surge in demand for clinical pharmacists specializing in geriatric care, "partnerships between pharmacies and assisted living and long-term care facilities will become more common," McAnally wrote in "Pharmacy Job Trends: Adapting to Today's Market," published in the June issue of Pharmacy Times.

The aging population will also have a profound impact over the counter, as patients aged 65 and older routinely turn to pharmacists not only for prescription drug counseling, but also for OTC recommendations. A comprehensive guide to pharmacists' OTC product recommendations is available at Pharmacy Times' newly-updated OTCguide.net, which compiles results from the 2010 Pharmacy Times annual survey of pharmacists, now in its 14th year.

As boomers face the double threat of diminished access to nurses and physicians—combined with an increase in health concerns as they age—pharmacists in all practice settings can expect to see more of the geriatric patient population in the coming years.

For other articles in this issue, see:

  • 5 Lifestyle Factors Account for 80% of Stroke Risk
  • Type 2 Diabetes Patients Lack Vitamin D, Study Shows
  • Medicare Waste Reduction Plan Draws NCPA Criticism