Pharmacy School Trends Over Time

The number of pharmacy schools in the United States increased from around 21 in 1900 to more than 170 (including satellite campuses) in 2014.

The number of pharmacy schools in the United States increased from around 21 in 1900 to more than 170 (including satellite campuses) in 2014.

John D. Grabenstein, RPh, PhD, who’s involved in global health and medical affairs at Merck Vaccines, recently published a report in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education detailing pharmacy school trends over more than a century.

The data was based on membership in the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) and its predecessor, the American Conference of Pharmaceutical Faculties (ACPF). (However, Dr. Grabenstein noted that reporting of the number of graduates per school per year to those organizations might not have been completed each year.)

Nevertheless, he discovered that the Great Depression, World War II, and the GI Bill affected graduate numbers, and the fastest rate of growth in the number of pharmacy schools over the studied time period occurred in 2014.

The years with the fewest number of pharmacy school graduates were 1945 and 1946, and the years with the highest number of graduates were 1951, 1977, and 2013.

Dr. Grabenstein noted that the lowest number of pharmacy schools recorded (21) was actually an estimate. It reflected the number of schools that attended the first ACPF meeting in 1900 in Richmond, Virginia, but there may have been anywhere between 34 and 59 schools that didn’t attend the meeting.

All pharmacy schools essentially became members of the AACP in the 1950s.

Dr. Grabenstein pointed out that World War I had little effect on the number of schools, perhaps in part because it was a “relatively short conflict from the American perspective.”

The Great Depression and strict ACPF and AACP standards for things like contact hours between students and faculty led some pharmacy schools to disband between 1926 and 1940.

During the World War II era, the number of pharmacy graduates fell, and few students started studying pharmacy in 1945 and 1946. In the late 1940s and the 1950s, however, the GI Bill led to an increasing number of pharmacy graduates, and around 1996, the number of pharmacy schools began to increase.

The greatest increase in new pharmacy schools based on 5-year increments was 2006 to 2010, but in 10-year intervals, it was between 2005 and 2014, Dr. Grabenstein found.

Supply and demand are 2 major influences on the current and emerging workforce, and Dr. Grabenstein pointed out that future demand and supply will affect the number of new graduates and school openings.

One way to measure supply and demand is the Pharmacy Workforce Center’s Aggregate Demand Index (ADI), which ranks demand on a scale from 1 to 5. A score of 5 means there’s high demand for pharmacists, a score of 3 means demand is balanced with supply, and a score of 1 means demand is much less than the pharmacy supply available.

The ADI was first used to measure national demand in 1999, when the index was 4.07. Dr. Grabenstein said that high demand value was relatively stable until 2009, when it started to fall. It reached 3.2 in 2013, but then began to rise again, reaching 3.4 in November 2014.

The most current data from January 2016 shows demand is at 3.05 nationally, which is a dip from 3.51 in January 2015. However, there was a reassuring increase in demand for pharmacists in January from the 2.96 ADI in November 2015.

“How society and the profession of pharmacy will deal with remarkably expanded numbers of practicing pharmacists remains to be seen in coming years,” Dr. Grabenstein wrote.

He mentioned that more newly graduated pharmacists means there will more time for pharmacists to spend in patient-centered roles. Migration and increased use of medications can offer more opportunities to pharmacists, as well.

“Without a doubt, societal influences will continue to affect future numbers of pharmacy schools, campuses, and graduates,” Dr. Grabenstein concluded.