It’s imperative to redefine the future of pharmacy to help ensure a robust pipeline of future pharmacists and create a culture that helps ensure pharmacists live their purpose and passion.
For more than 3 years, pharmacists led on the frontlines of the nation’s COVID-19 response, fundamentally changing how Americans view their local community pharmacy. Pharmacists have long been among the most trusted health care providers1 and throughout the pandemic, this deep-seated trust grew as millions of patients visited community pharmacies for testing, vaccinations, and more recently, to obtain a prescription for the oral COVID-19 antiviral treatment, Paxlovid.
This underscores a tremendous opportunity to continue to expand the role of the pharmacist to help Americans, when and where it matters most. In fact, prior to the pandemic, Americans were visiting their pharmacist almost twice as often as their physician.2 Now, more than 60% of US adults say they would like to be able to get a greater range of health services from their local pharmacy.3
At the same time, we have seen unprecedented declines in pharmacy school enrollment. According to data from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), applicants to pharmacy schools have declined by nearly 30% compared to 5 years ago. Longstanding issues in the industry have also become even more challenging as pharmacists have been doing so much more for their communities throughout the pandemic.
Now is the time for change. As we look to the future, it’s imperative that we help redefine the future of pharmacy to help ensure a robust pipeline of future pharmacists and create a culture that helps ensure our pharmacists live their purpose and passion: making a difference for patients in their communities.
To do that, pharmacy schools are thinking differently about their curricula and training. For example, students at University of Saint Joseph (USJ) School of Pharmacy and Physician Assistant (PA) Studies experience an integrated curriculum where they learn the foundational sciences and their therapeutic application in quick succession, which helps to reinforce key concepts in practice, solidifying their clinical knowledge base faster.
Further, pharmacy practice today is not just understanding pharmacology, especially in community pharmacy. Often, pharmacists are the most frequently visited health care professional in the community, with frequent patient touch points multiple times per month.
Patients rely on these interactions with pharmacists for support beyond filling prescriptions, which is why, as part of the USJ core curriculum, student pharmacists engage in candid conversations about the many non-disease related challenges patients face in an effort to frame and understand social determinants of health and their impact on their patients’ overall wellbeing.
In both educational and experiential clinical settings, USJ Pharmacy and PA Studies students are trained to be the best resource and to provide the best holistic care for their patients, by understanding their unique health care needs. Altogether, this will help better prepare and train the future pharmacist workforce as trusted health care professionals for the positive impact they can make in a community-based setting.
National community pharmacies, such as CVS Pharmacy, are also working hard to transform the profession by investing in pharmacists and empowering them as providers so they can provide more trusted counsel and care to their patients. This is why we are focused on creating new ways of working that include finding efficiencies in workflow and workload to help free up pharmacists’ time for more purpose-driven work that helps them practice at the top of their training, education, and experience.
This approach also includes creating the best digital, physical pharmacy experience, which enables more choice and convenience for patients, by putting the power of pharmacy in the palm of their hand. For example, CVS Pharmacy recently introduced capabilities that help patients have near real-time visibility to the status of their prescriptions, an understanding of their out-of-pocket costs, and even the ability to expedite their prescription for faster pick-up with a digital barcode that simplifies the prescription check out process. These innovations are just the beginning and are already helping reduce and streamline some of the time-consuming tasks for pharmacy teams in-store, such as the high volume of incoming phone calls, leaving more time for patient counseling and care.
Community pharmacy is at an inflection point in its history, and as pharmacy students approach graduation this spring, there is no better time to choose a career as a community pharmacist to help shape its future. As Americans increasingly turn to their local pharmacist for support and counsel, we can play an even greater role in the future of health care. Some days may be challenging, but they are always rewarding because of the difference we can make in our local communities and patients’ lives.
About the Authors
Prem Shah, PharmD, Chief Pharmacy Officer and Co-President of Retail Pharmacy, CVS Health.
Ahmed Abdelmageed, PharmD, Dean, School of Pharmacy and Physician Assistant Studies, University of St. Joseph.
1. Gallup (2023) Honesty/ethics in Professions, Gallup.com. Available at: https://news.gallup.com/poll/1654/honesty-ethics-professions.aspx. Accessed June 5 2023.
2. Valliant SN, Burbage SC, Pathak S, Urick BY. Pharmacists as accessible health care providers: quantifying the opportunity. J Manag Care Spec Pharm. 2022 Jan;28(1):85-90. doi: 10.18553/jmcp.2022.28.1.85. PMID: 34949110; PMCID: PMC8890748.
3. CVS Health® State of Pharmacy Survey Methodology: This poll was conducted between August 16-17, 2022, among a national sample of 2,210 adults. The interviews were conducted online, and the data were weighted to approximate a target sample of adults based on age, gender, educational attainment, race, and region. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.