It's All About Jobs


The slow recovery from the recession and a bumper crop of newly graduated pharmacy students have combined to create an unusually tight job market for pharmacists.

Wondering if you will find work isn’t a comforting feeling. I would know. Caught in the middle of a relocation, I understand the uncertainty that comes with searching for a job.

Pharmacy wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. One of the enticing features of a health care job such as pharmacist is the built-in demand for health care services. After all, people always get sick right? There will be at least some demand for health care services no matter what the economy is doing.

But a funny thing happened to the profession of pharmacy. This nasty recession followed by a slower-than-anticipated recovery meant pharmacy job grow slowed. Couple that fact with a wave of new pharmacy schools graduating more and more new pharmacists and you have a recipe for an unusually tight job market for pharmacists.

Now just to clarify, demand is still there for pharmacists. There are pockets of areas in the country that are still under-served. All of these retail chains you see scattered all over our country must be staffed with pharmacists right? Jobs are out there. Yet the growth and dare I say shortage of a decade or so ago seems like a distant memory now.

Financial hardships have hit the hospitals as well. Residency spots are dependent on the facilities and teaching institutions that cooperate to clinically train graduates after their Doctor of Pharmacy curriculum. And with more graduates competing for those spots, things are tough all around right now.

I can’t help but wonder if conditions will improve for the profession of pharmacy soon? The overall unemployment rate in the United States is holding firm and relief from the economic slowdown we all now face seems like a mirage rather than reality.

What other factors are affecting the job market for pharmacists? How about mandatory mail order pharmacy services? Patients are being forced to use warehouse facilities for their maintenance medications. And all of those prescriptions aren’t being filled in traditional retail pharmacies. That volume hit affects a pharmacy’s bottom line and forces employers to cut staffing. And as hours are cut, the demand for more pharmacists decreases.

And don’t discount central fill systems and other high-volume filling strategies being implemented by the larger retail pharmacy chains. They want to fill as many prescriptions as possible with as few pharmacists on the payroll as legally and practically possible. And if the likes of Walgreens finds a way to eliminate pharmacists from the retail pharmacy equation completely, you can bet all community pharmacists including myself will be out of a job in a New York minute.

Sounds pretty doom and gloom right? Where is the optimism, you might ask? Well, there are things that point to a brighter tomorrow. You just have to know where to look for them.

Think about the millions of baby boomers hitting retirement. Do you think they are going to sit at home and do nothing in their golden years? They will be active and adventurous just like that generation has always been and that activity will require pharmaceutical care.

Politicians are looking for ways to extend health care coverage to more of the population. Regardless of the form of change, the evolution of our health care system will likely include many more people seeking health care services such as pharmaceuticals. Pharmacists have a great opportunity to capture that built-in demand.

Expanding the role of pharmacists is another hot topic within our profession. This could include anything from expanding the vaccination services we offer to medication management services for patients. Pharmacists can also look to expand their roles in prescribing medications or even managing a new third class of drugs soon. Nothing is out of the realm of possibility.

But in the end, the job market is toward the top of many people’s minds within the profession. That, and maybe working conditions, are the top issues many of us worry about now from day to day. The former gives us the ability to use what we know to help people and make a living for ourselves. The latter directly impacts our ability to do our jobs effectively.

So what’s next for all of us? Personally, I hope for a little clarity in the direction of health care reform. Unfortunately, the political debating that surrounds the issue of health care reform may prevent any clarity in the changes coming soon.

But, as a profession we should work to address the issues that most directly affects pharmacists. We should look for ways to improve the overall employment environment for the profession. And we should look for ways to ensure all of us have jobs. Because in the end, it’s all about jobs.

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