As I did a search this morning for pharmacy schools in the United States I came across an article from the University of South Alabama that stated there were now 104 accredited schools of pharmacy in the United States. That is an average of two accredited schools per state although not every state has a school of pharmacy (Alaska doesn’t, but Hawaii does!!!). To me those numbers seem unbelievable.
I finished pharmacy school ten year ago and there is one more pharmacy school in my state than there was when I was graduating a decade ago. And there are talks from a couple of different universities in my area to add yet another school of pharmacy. Across the country there has been a noticeable increase in the number of accredited pharmacy schools over the last several years. But what has fueled this growth?
Sure we are part of a high demand field in healthcare. Prescription demand growth coupled with the conversion of all schools of pharmacy to the Doctor of Pharmacy degree only with the elimination of the B.S. degree fueled an almost unprecedented shortage of pharmacists years ago. There seemed to be endless work for pharmacists and the big chains were fueling the shortages with their aggressive expansion plans. Each one of the big players in the industry wanted to rise to the top and become everyone’s “hometown pharmacy” by flooding the market with new stores.
But then came the housing bubble and the resulting poor economic conditions. The United States economy drove straight into an economic depression that is yet to be resolved. Companies aren’t hiring or expanding and demand for even healthcare workers such as pharmacists seems to have tempered in recent years. And there is all indications that this struggling economy and resulting poor job market is here to stay for a while. So what does that mean for pharmacy?
All of those new schools of pharmacy coupled with a slowing demand for pharmacists has resulted in an almost saturated job market for pharmacists in many regional markets across the country. Sure there are still areas where pharmacists are in high demand but there are also areas where jobs aren’t nearly as plentiful as say 5 years ago. And with the overall economy not likely to improve anytime soon are we graduating too many new pharmacists now into a sluggish job market? Will demand of pharmacy services pick back up? Only time will tell.
I think for the most part that most states now have more than enough schools of pharmacies already in place to meet the demands for pharmacists in their immediate areas. I think that further growth of the number of schools in the U.S. might actually cause a temporary overall surplus of pharmacists looking for jobs. But I still stand by my belief that the aging population, the popularity of prescription drugs, and the sheer volume of new medications that hit the market yearly will drive up prescription volumes for the foreseeable future.
Every statistic I’ve found on the future demand for pharmacists shows that there will be a net growth in demand for pharmacy services do to the baby boomers aging and requiring more medications to maintain their active and relatively healthy lifestyles. And if that is the case then pharmacy schools won’t be able to graduate new pharmacists fast enough to meet that pent-up demand. But that doesn’t help new graduates now that are finding the job market more challenging than in years past. And if it’s a better economy that is the cure for the outlook for the profession of pharmacy they might be waiting for years and years to come.
I guess I can’t help but wonder if we really need 104 accredited pharmacy schools in the U.S. and what will happen if even more schools open in the coming years? Will this poor economy temper the interest in opening new schools across the country going forward? Will the job market accommodate all of the new graduates from all of the existing schools of pharmacy? And will baby boomers really fuel the growth in demand for pharmacy services? I hope we are just in a down cycle of demand that will swing back more towards a net shortage of pharmacists in the coming couple of years. I guess we will have to wait and see.
The Redheaded Pharmacist