A Looming Joblessness Crisis for New Pharmacy Graduates and the Implications It Holds for the Academy

Daniel L. Brown, PharmD


Am J Pharm Educ. 2013;77(5) 

In This Article

The Math of Supply and Demand

When considering the dynamics of increasing the supply of pharmacy graduates into the job market, one must account for a 4-year lag period from the time at which a PharmD program starts or expands. Thereafter, following graduation of the first new or expanded class, it takes another 2 to 3 years for the job market to equilibrate, as it adjusts to a higher annual input of graduates. From that perspective, the net impact of academic growth is best measured when equilibrium is achieved—about 6 to 7 years after the initial increase in the number of students entering a PharmD program. Even if 2012 proves to be the last year of major academic expansion, the full impact will not be felt until 2018, at which time the job market will have to assimilate new pharmacists at a rate of about 15,000 per year. Contrast that rate with the 30-year period from 1974 to 2003, during which the annual number of pharmacy graduates ranged between 6,000 and 8,000.[16] The number surpassed 8,000 for the first time in 2004. By 2008, it had risen to 10,000. It exceeded 12,000 in 2012 and is poised to exceed 14,000 by 2016.[7]

No one can question that producing the 2003 rate of 6,000 to 8,000 graduates a year was not sufficient. In retrospect, however, it would have been prudent for the academy to engage in a plan of moderate growth up to about 10,000 graduates per year and then reassess the need to expand further. Realistically, a graduation rate in the range of 10,000 to 12,000 a year is probably warranted. The math is not complicated, which suggests that it may have been overlooked due to the lure of economic gain, a possibility that is beyond the scope of this paper.

The health needs of aging baby boomers and the Affordable Care Act could serve as mitigating factors to increase the demand side of the pharmacy manpower equation, though it is likely to be a matter of "too little too late." Even if the job market is able to accommodate up to 12,000 graduates a year for the next several years, that still translates into at least 3,000 graduates each year who will not find suitable employment—20% of the cohort of new graduates! Despite the overall unemployment rate for the profession remaining relatively low, the joblessness rate among new graduates could be staggeringly high. In the 2012 Pharmacy Graduating Student Survey conducted by the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), 88.7% of graduates indicated that they had taken out student loans, with an average loan amount of $123,000.[17] While the potential of a 20% (or higher) joblessness rate among new pharmacy graduates is alarming enough, the looming economic hardships and personal tragedies are incalculable.