Pharmacist Labor Outlook

       The United States Department of Labor thinks that pharmacist jobs are going to grow at a faster pace than the average occupation over the next several years.  I sure hope they are right!

       According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, pharmacist jobs are expected to grow by 25% between 2010-2020.  According to their Occupational Outlook Handbook, that growth rate outpaces the overall job growth outlook of 14%. 

       For pharmacists, that translates into the addition of almost 7000 jobs per year according to the government’s labor calculations.  According to the government’s data, our profession is expected to gain nearly 70000 jobs by 2020. 

       What’s not addressed in this report (that I can find anyway) is the influence of the full implementation of Obamacare.   Once some of the later hitting provisions of the healthcare legislation begin in 2014, there might be a shift in the employment outlook for pharmacists. 

       These numbers do imply though that there will be growing demand for pharmacist services going forward for the next several years.  The question becomes this- will this growth offset the dramatic increase in the number of pharmacists that graduate each year? 

        The other question is will the demand be a regional phenomenon or will there be overall growth in the demand for pharmacists?  As is stands right now, there are still under-served pockets in the U.S. while other areas are experiencing a bit of a surplus. 

        So what will drive growth or hold back the profession from expanding demand?  There are many variables to consider. 

        The first big trend to watch is the expansion of pharmacy services.  If the profession can prove that clinical services such as medication therapy management (MTM) offerings can save money, the demand for those services provided by pharmacists will grow. 

         Cost-effective quality care is the new buzz phrase for the healthcare system.  It isn’t good enough to be good anymore.  You must also demonstrate that the care you’re providing is cost-effective and appropriate. 

         It isn’t a surprise that cost concerns have become a central focus.  One look at the rate of increase in healthcare expenditures in the United States over the last several years will tell you we are spending too much money on healthcare. 

         Knowing that means pharmacists can step up and create opportunities for ourselves.  If we can prove we are a value to the system, the government job growth projections may be understated.  But if we can’t, we will be stuck in a low-growth scenario. 

        Look for the larger retail pharmacy chains to continue to explore ways of expanding clinical services on a widespread scale.  This is no accident.   They want to begin to distance themselves from relying on pharmacists to provide tradition distribution functions.  That side of the pharmacy business is too low margin to rely on anymore. 

        Another big question is the overall health of the U.S. economy.  If this sputtering economy can begin to grow and create jobs, pharmacists will benefit.   If things continue to struggle, pharmacy will not be immune from a low growth reality. 

         For community pharmacy specifically, there will be continued struggles dealing with reimbursement rates that are too low and workloads that are too high.  Independents especially will be pressured to squeeze out a profit on a very low margin product. 

         Also expect the push towards increased automation to continue.  And electronic services will continue to expand.  One day, I will be able to age myself when I tell newer pharmacists about the old days when there were paper prescriptions.  Paper hardcopies haven’t gone away yet, but they are on the way out even for controlled substances. 

         All in all it looks like a mixed bag for the outlook for pharmacists going forward.   I hope for the best and try to plan for the worst for my own career.  At this point, I think that is all any of us can do. 

The Redheaded Pharmacist


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