Pharmacist Job Prospects: Setting the Record Straight


There has been some recent controversy regarding pharmacists' job prospects, and now it's time to set the record straight.

There has been some recent controversy regarding pharmacists’ job prospects, and now it’s time to set the record straight.

Reports of weakening pharmacist employment simply don’t reflect the national picture. According to a recent New York Times analysis, the current unemployment rate for the profession is estimated at 4.1%—a national figure that reflects the experience of job seekers.

In Virginia, 92% of pharmacists are currently employed, and only 1% are involuntarily unemployed, according to the 2015 report of Virginia’s Pharmacist Workforce. On a national scale, demand for Class of 2015 pharmacy school graduates is high.

In a survey of 17 member schools, 95% of the more than 1500 job-seeking graduates who responded to their school’s request for information were employed. This figure is far from the grim portrait of an alleged saturation of the marketplace. In fact, graduates of one pharmacy school in the Southeast were reported to have received 2 job offers on average.

Linda Garrelts MacLean, BPharm, RPh, FACA, associate dean for advancement and clinical professor at the Washington State University (WSU) College of Pharmacy, confirms that demand for WSU’s pharmacy graduates is strong.

“In the Northwest, we are seeing the reappearance of signing bonuses, in the magnitude of $20,000 to $30,000 for pharmacists who are willing to relocate to rural areas such as Moscow, Idaho, and Lincoln City, Oregon—excellent places to live,” she said.

Recent commentaries have missed the essence of today’s evolving health care marketplace and future opportunities for all pharmacists. When their knowledge, skills, and accessibility are fully deployed, pharmacists add tremendous value to the patient care experience.

A recent analysis funded by the Community Pharmacy Foundation documented that pharmacists involved in comprehensive medication management (CMM) improve outcomes, control costs, and enhance the satisfaction of patients and clinicians. The report also cites evidence that pharmacists who engaged in CMM can return up to $12 for every $1 invested in the delivery of such services.

Some stakeholders have recommended increasing dispensing fees to $10 to $15 as an answer to pharmacy’s current challenges. However, significantly boosting dispensing fees is unrealistic and won’t address the fundamental need for equitable compensation for patient-care services.

The profession must continue to work to secure compensation for care in all settings that is distinct from dispensing reimbursement. Imagining that increasing reimbursement tied to dispensing as a means to support enhanced care delivery is simply out of step with contemporary health policy and payment practices.

“The reality is, the pharmacist is the single most accessible healthcare professional for people in America,” Garrelts MacLean said. “In order to address the profound shortages in health care access and availability, we must fully utilize pharmacists to provide the services where there is a desperate demand. Services that people are, in fact, willing to pay out-of-pocket to receive.”

As a profession, we must stop the fearmongering about a possible glut of pharmacists. Instead, let’s focus our efforts on creating new opportunities across both traditional and nontraditional settings where pharmacists—the nation’s only medication use specialists—can use their education and experience to identify, remedy, and prevent medication-related problems, as well as expand access to prevention, wellness, primary care, and chronic care management services.

Together, we can all help patients live healthier, better lives.

Lucinda L. Maine, PhD, RPh, is the Executive Vice President and CEO of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy.

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