Pharmacy Students Graduating Early to Cover Potential Pharmacy Staff Shortage in COVID-19 Pandemic

Purdue University’s College of Pharmacy is granting early graduation to 144 students to help cover a potential shortage of pharmacists during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic.

Purdue University’s College of Pharmacy is granting early graduation to 144 students to help cover a potential shortage of pharmacists during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.1

The Purdue Board of Trustees approved the move through a public meeting of its executive committee last week, making the university among the first in the United States to certify its entire class of eligible pharmacy students.1

Eric Barker, PhD, dean of Purdue University’s College of Pharmacy, formally requested and received the ability to grant the certification of the school’s fourth-year students, which allows them to pursue their licensure exams. All of the students meet the requirements of the program and the college’s accreditation.1

“As a ‘graduate pharmacist,’ [the student] will have the potential to work in advanced status. [Additionally,] many employers increase compensation for ‘graduate pharmacists.’ There is significant concern from both community and health system pharmacies about potential workforce issues related to the pandemic [and] we've had reports of pharmacies in our state closing due to widespread illness in their staffs. It is our hope that, as our graduates are available and comfortable, they may be able to assist in providing support to maintain patient care in pharmacies,” Barker said to Pharmacy Times®.2

Effective April 17, the certification also offers an early jump to the health field. The students will be eligible to work as graduate pharmacists until fully licensed.

“I’ve already received inquiries from a health system about making our graduates available in case they face likely workforce issues as the pandemic intensifies here in Indiana,” Barker said.1 “Having additional trained clinical pharmacists, even graduate pharmacists, will become increasingly important.”

Purdue University is able certify its entire class of pharmacy graduates due to the college’s experiential education office. The front-loaded experiential education program through this office provides students with flexibility in obtaining the necessary experience.1

According to Barker, in addition to their graduate pharmacist status, students of Purdue University are able to complete the necessary certifications in order to schedule their NAPLEX and MPJE exams. According to the press release, testing centers for licensure will reopen on April 30 after more than a monthlong closure. Testing will resume at a reduced capacity during the COVID-19 crisis, which could lead to a backlog of exams scheduling for the summer months.

“It is our hope that by certifying our graduates a month early, they will be able to schedule their exam date without concern of impact from the reduced capacities at the testing centers,” Barker said.1

There are as many as 6000 pharmacists in Indiana, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.3 Concerns surrounding pharmacy workforce issues could develop in the coming months and are dependent on how COVID-19 spreads.1

In a university press release, Barker explained that health care systems and community pharmacies have shifted to remote work where possible and divided their pharmacy staffs into teams to reduce the likelihood of an outbreak infecting an entire staff. However, such efforts have placed a strain on the existing workforce.

“Our graduates will be ready to enter the workforce a few weeks sooner and could provide needed backup if the pandemic begins to impact pharmacy workers more broadly,” said Barker to Pharmacy Times®.2

Barker told Pharmacy Times® that many health professions are graduating their students early and that many states are allowing for temporary licensure of graduates in medicine and nursing once the students have registered for their respective licensure exams.

“Here in Indiana[,] we are working hard with the Indiana Pharmacists Association and the State Health Commissioner to enable expanded abilities for ‘graduate pharmacists,’ affording enhanced professional status in light of the pandemic. Enabling our ‘graduate pharmacists’ to fulfill critical patient care duties in light of this pandemic is justified. I am fully confident in the clinical skills and abilities of all of our graduates and know that they are ready to enter the profession as essential members of the health care team. As expanded testing, treatments, and vaccines become available for COVID-19, pharmacy’s role will be even more important,” Barker said to Pharmacy Times.2

Darren Covington, executive vice president of the Indiana Pharmacists Association, said the organization has received reports of pharmacies temporarily closing because the pharmacists were possibly exposed or infected. Other pharmacies have reported worker shortages.1

“By allowing the 2020 graduating pharmacy class to work now, this will help ensure continuity of patient care, especially for our smaller pharmacies, which are more vulnerable because they may only have a few pharmacists at most,” Covington said in the university press release.1

Along with Purdue University, Rutgers University’s Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy has also recently announced that a quarter of its final year pharmacy doctorate students will graduate early and will be ready to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic on the frontlines. Qualified students are graduating early for the same reasons as Purdue University: to provide practice-ready health care personnel to serve the growing demands of community-based pharmacies, hospital and health care systems, and the pharmaceutical industry, according to the university.

The College of Pharmacy action was approved by Purdue Provost Jay Akridge and endorsed by the Accreditation Council on Pharmacy Education, the National Board of Pharmacy, and the Indiana Board of Pharmacy.1

Reference

  • Pharmacy students to graduate early in preparation for future COVID-19 impact [news release]. Purdue University website. Published April 9, 2020. https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2020/Q2/pharmacy-students-to-graduate-early-in-preparation-for-future-covid-19-impact.html. Accessed April 9, 2020.
  • Interview with Pharmacy Times. Eric Barker. April 9, 2020.
  • Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2018. Pharmacists. US Bureau of Labor Statistics website. https://www.bls.gov/oes/2018/may/oes291051.htm. Accessed April 10, 2020.