The Future of Pharmacy Jobs -- Will It Be Feast or Famine?

Darrell Hulisz, PharmD; Daniel L. Brown, PharmD


April 15, 2014

In This Article

Job Outlook for Grads

Dr. Hulisz: Do we have surplus of PharmD graduates at the present time?

Dr. Brown: I think we have been hovering around an equilibrium point for a few years. It is a gradual process and it varies from state to state, but as the job market in more states begins to level off, it is becoming more of a national phenomenon.

What concerns me is that the growth or supply side of the manpower equation shows no signs of reaching a plateau. There are currently 17 new schools that have yet to graduate their first class, and there are also newly expanded programs whose larger graduation rates have not yet taken effect. With new programs still on the drawing board and hoping to open within the next 2 or 3 years, a pervasive pharmacist surplus is a very real possibility.

Dr. Hulisz: Has momentum shifted yet? In 2014, has major academic expansion either plateaued or possibly even declined?

Dr. Brown: The answer is a definitive "somewhat." The last year in which academia did not have at least 1 new school open was 2004. From 2005 through 2012, at least 4 new schools opened every year. To put the magnitude of growth in perspective, the 2001 Pharmacy Manpower Project Conference projected that about 3 new PharmD programs would open every 10 years.[3] Back then, no one could have imagined that a minimum of 4 new schools would open every year for 8 consecutive years. It is a good sign that only 1 school opened last year, but there could be 3 more this year pending ACPE approval, so the growth phase has slowed -- but it is by no means over.

The expansion of existing schools has not stopped, either. My hope is that the growth of the academy will finally plateau within 2-3 years and then hold steady for a period of time, as the pharmacist marketplace becomes better defined. It is important to keep in mind that the impact of a new school is not felt in the job market until 3 or 4 years after the program starts, and then it takes a few years thereafter for the market to equilibrate to the expanded number of graduates.

With that in mind, it is reasonable to anticipate that the pharmacist job market will be affected by continuing academic growth for at least another 8 years.

Dr. Hulisz: In your article, you cite the Pharmacy Workforce Center and their statistic of aggregate demand index (ADI) as being at an equilibrium point: close to 3 in 2010. You also cite regional differences in 2012. Where is the ADI today, and in which direction do you see it heading?

(Editor's Note: The ADI is a data element derived by the Pharmacy Workforce Center [PWC] from monthly impressions of the pharmacist job market provided by a nationwide group of participants. The index consists of a 5-point scale, where 5 = high demand, difficulty filling openings; 4 = moderate demand, some difficulty filling openings; 3 = demand in balance with supply; 2 = demand is less than the supply of pharmacists available; and 1 = demand is much less than the supply of pharmacists available.[4])

Dr. Brown: The latest ADI data from January 2014[4] show that 2 regions of the country, New England and Middle Atlantic, are already below 3. I'm not inclined to venture a prediction on the future of the ADI any more than I would attempt to predict the 2014 NCAA basketball champion. I would point out, however, that the growth rate of pharmacy graduates can be projected into the intermediate future with a high level of certainty. It involves no skill in prognostication. We know for a fact that pharmacy is headed for an annual graduation rate of at least 15,000 graduates within a few years.

In contrast, the number of jobs that will be available for those graduates is an area of great uncertainty. I hope there will be enough new jobs to sustain the equilibrium, but such optimistic job projections are based on assumptions that might not come to pass. Therefore, on the basis of the differing probabilities between the supply side and the demand side of the manpower equation, it seems quite possible that the ADI will trend downward at least into the next decade.

One should also consider that the ADI, as a measure of job market conditions, relies on feedback from employers on the basis of their experiences in hiring pharmacists. The methodology is well suited to a pharmacist shortage environment, such as existed when the ADI was created. However, as the marketplace moves closer to pharmacist surplus conditions, the perspective of job seekers might be more telling than that of the people doing the hiring. I think our profession needs to do a better job of soliciting feedback from the new graduates who are out there trying to find a job.


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