One of the things I wonder about is if there is still a shortage of pharmacists overall in the United States and what the demand will be going forward. Have we finally reached a point where the profession is more saturated with pharmacists or is there still strong demand for pharmacists going forward?
Years ago there was a great shortage of pharmacists. Chain drug stores were aggressively expanding, the population was aging, new medications were rapidly hitting the market, and the nation’s pharmacy schools seemed ill equipped to keep up with the increased demand.
The government even did a study to look at the impact of the shortage on the healthcare system and attempted to project demand going forward. That study showed that thousands of additional pharmacists were needed by 2020 to meet the demand. In response several new pharmacy schools have opened up all over the country in the last 5 years. But I can’t help but wonder if it is enough? Or is it too much?
One of the observations I noticed when I came through pharmacy school and interviewed for jobs when I graduated was the frantic pace of expansion by the big chain retail drug stores. Those companies were aggressively expanding their number of stores saturating markets and expanding into new areas of the country. That alone placed a certain level of demand into the system. After all, those stores needed pharmacists as well as technicians to run all of those new pharmacies. But as the economy turned south have these expansion plans been tempered by the big chain companies? Will we see a growth rate of stores going forward like we have in the past 10 years? Are we finally getting to the point that there are too many retail pharmacy outlets across the country and too few customers to fill them?
The other major factor was simply demand for services. The major fear in the U.S. was that all of the baby boomers were aging and requiring multiple prescriptions to stay active and relatively healthy. That trend towards a more aging population that strives to maintain health means an increase in the demand for pharmacy services like we’ve never seen before in the United States. My question is this: is this still a concern for the profession? Will there be an increase in demand for prescriptions going forward in the next five to ten years that will justify all of these new pharmacy schools opening across the country?
And not only are there new schools of pharmacy but existing schools have been trending up the number of students they graduate. Will this affect the job market for pharmacists in the coming few years? Have we finally reached a point of supply meeting demand for pharmacists?
I’m not sure what the answers are but I’d love to see any recent data exploring the supply of pharmacists nationwide. I do know that there will always be certain pockets of high demand across the country. There will always be locations regionally that will have a need for pharmacists. But on a national level have we reached a point where there are finally enough pharmacists graduating to meet the demand? Are we actually getting to a point now where there are too many new graduates with not enough jobs to fill their needs? Has the bad economy limited the growth in the number of jobs available to pharmacists?
I’m not sure what the answers are for these questions. I personally live in a state that enjoys a steady growth in population. We have lots of pharmacists per capita but we also have high growth rates so there is always this increased demand for services. And what is the impact of the mail order effect? Will there be enough decrease in demand for retail pharmacies because of the mandatory switch of health plans to use mail order pharmacies for maintenance medications that fewer retail pharmacies will be needed going forward? Personally, I don’t think mail order pharmacies will have that dramatic of an impact on retail pharmacy business that it will start to affect the overall demand for retail pharmacists but you never know.
And what about the healthcare reform efforts? Will the recent healthcare reform efforts positively affect pharmacist demand going forward? Will a more universal healthcare system in the U.S. cause more customers to come into the doors of retail pharmacies across the country?
I would be curious to get some informal feedback from pharmacists in different parts of the country regarding supply and demand of pharmacists in their area. Or maybe some feedback from graduating students regarding the job market for new graduates. I’m curious about the state of the profession and what the demand will be going forward for pharmacists across the country. Is the increased number of graduating pharmacists enough to meet the new demands for healthcare services? Will the healthcare reform efforts by Congress impact supply and demand for pharmacists going forward? Have we overcompensated for a shortage and created a surplus of pharmacists? What do you think?
The Redheaded Pharmacist