Should I Become a Pharmacist?


Given the large number of pharmacy training programs that have opened in recent years, Eric ponders whether he can recommend the profession to a bright high school senior.

One of my oldest son's friends is entering her senior year of high school this year. Her plans after graduation...attend pharmacy school in order to become the clinical pharmacist in a children's hospital. An admirable career choice.

But, in my opinion, she's about ten years late on entering the pharmacy profession. I've told my son that I need to have a conversation with her before she totally commits to the profession.

Do I believe that she can make it through the academics? Absolutely. She has been taking advanced courses at the local college instead of regular high school classes since the start of her junior year.

The problem lies in the fact that about eighty-seven kajillion pharmacy programs have opened up in the last decade. Remember the days when pharmacists were in demand? Those days have long passed us. We are now facing a flooded jobs market.

With a typical course of study running eight years and debt loads pushing the quarter-million dollar mark, is it advisable to enter a profession where there are no guaranteed jobs? For basically the same amount of schooling you can become a physician. When I look at the news stories and see that there is going to be a shortage of physicians, I am inclined to believe that medicine is a better career path. Heck, I still toy with the idea of leaving pharmacy to go back to medical school.

Now pharmacy is still an excellent career, especially if your employer treats you with the respect that should be afforded to somebody with an advanced degree. But too many of our colleagues are still being treated as merely a name on a license that can easily be replaced if they so much as voice concerns about the working conditions.

In my previous position, due to sales and script volume not reaching budgeted amounts, I was shipped out to neighboring pharmacies in my chain to work a few shifts each month. After a shift where I personally checked over 475 scripts in a 10 hour shift, I decided that it was time to leave that particular company. I was fortunate enough to have a physician friend tell me about an open director of pharmacy position at a local critical access hospital. A couple interviews later I was on my way out of retail pharmacy. I was lucky.

Not everybody has connections that can lead to the better jobs, especially new graduates in a flooded market. Even a resume with a residency doesn't guarantee a position.

I put the blame for the flooded market on both academia and the big chains. The prospects of four years of extra tuition has the financial folks at the universities going gaga over the thoughts of opening up their own programs. Especially when they can quote a six-figure salary upon completion of the program. To any person checking out a pharmacy school, be sure to find out what percentage of their graduates have jobs upon graduation and three months after graduation. I'm fairly certain it won't be in the high 90s like it was when I graduated in the mid 1990s.

Then there's the influence of the chains. They will tell you that they wanted more pharmacists due to the shortage that we saw in the mid-to-late 90s. I can buy that to some extent, but my conspiracy-driven brain thinks that they were actually looking at the staffing issues from a supply-and-demand aspect. If they could get the supply of pharmacists to exceed the demand, then they could start to drive down salaries and benefits, and thus increase their bottom line. Don't believe me? Check out some of the proposed concessions that Dave Stanley wrote about in a recent Drug Topics article. A major employer was wanting to shift the costs of benefits over to the pharmacists, while cutting the hours that the pharmacists were able to work each week.

If I'm entering the job market right now (or actually four to eight years from now), that's not what I would want to be facing. I'm hopeful that the job market will correct itself, but if I were to offer advice right now I'd tell you to look at another option in the medical professions.

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