Google "pharmacy" + "job market," and you'll see exactly what some very frustrated (and rightly so) people think about Pharmacy.
Anything online about the pharmacy job market usually has a negative outlook. Unfortunately, these fears are fact-based, and that’s just one of our pharmacy industry problems.
Pharmacy's declining state is a matter of low-quality outcomes, significant stagnation on innovation, technology replacing many pharmacist roles, and the like.
Poor brand perception is a big issue for us as well. Much of it is related to the job market and academia, and yes, there are other concerns, however, we’re not without solutions.
Three of Pharmacy’s Biggest Branding Problems
Problem #1: The public doesn't understand us.
Most people assume pharmacists only work at their local drugstore. The average person doesn’t realize pharmacists also work in hospitals. When you introduce this insight, they’re hit with a wave of enlightenment and reply with something like, “Oh yeah, that makes sense. There’s medicine in the hospital…”
People think pharmacists put pills in bottles, give advice on how to take medication, and play with their co-pay. They don’t understand how pharmacies operate or why their prescriptions can take so long to process. They also don't care. They want us to give them what they want so they can feel better.
Problem #2: People assume the pharmacist’s time and services are free.
Pharmacists are one of the few professionals that do not charge for their time or advice. People clamor and take advantage of cost-free services. However, people value what they pay for.
People perceive pharmacists as convenient add-ons. There would be uproar if someone received a bill in the mail for his or her “pharmacy consultation.”
Problem #3: People think there's no money in Pharmacy anymore.
When I asked most why they joined Pharmacy, a majority of them reply, “I wanted to help other people.” A few are more honest and admit being a pharmacist sounded like a great gig to make six figures without having to touch blood or people.
Pharmacy numbers are going down for two reasons: increasing debt-to-salary ratio and decreasing job prospects. It’s tough to work six to eight years to become a pharmacist, potentially do a residency to get a job, and then try to clear $160,000 of debt. (Well over $160,000 if you attend a private school.)
It also doesn’t help that we seem to be pumping out more students than jobs. A recent petition demanded a ban on opening more pharmacy schools until the job market balances. Although I don't believe they'll get all of their wishes; however, people making their voices heard is a good thing.
A Creative Solution for Some of Pharmacy’s Brand Issues
Crime scene investigation was not an extremely popular career path until the show CSI appeared. Forensic applications rose dramatically due to its influence, primarily due to its branding. Grey’s Anatomy bores me to tears; however, society loves this show. It’s incredibly prestigious to be a doctor; dramas like Grey’s further enhance this perception. When has it ever been dishonorable to date a doctor?
CSI and Grey’s Anatomy enchant the audience with stories that make them feel emotionally connected to the occupation. Pharmacy needs to follow in their footsteps. Pharmacy storytelling is minuscule. The impact we produce never goes public, and thus, people never get to know how intriguing Pharmacy might be.
Amazon Prime’s Vials highlights problems that exist in Pharmacy. It's a show about an independent pharmacy, with tension, arguments, and drama, you're rooting for nobody in the end. The show's image to the public is not a positive reflection of the pharmacy experience. You don't care about these characters because they're just there. They're not heroes. They're actors in a drama with no drama.
Superstore is an Office spinoff that revolves around the lives of people who work at a superstore akin to Wal-Mart. Tate Staskiewicz plays the braggadocios pharmacist. He’s a beta male with no concept of a backbone. While I’m sure bragging about his six-figure pharmacist salary will interest some young people to the profession, he avoids conflict like the plague and doesn't represent the profession well.
These shows are a start; however, I know we can do better. There are shows about the dumbest things. (My 600-lb. Life and YouTube reaction videos are two that come to mind.) People watch things that shouldn't interest anyone.
If people can spend hours binging on Swamp Hunters, I find it hard to believe that we as a profession can't create compelling either. I'm just not the one to solve this. It's not my specialty. (We need a more creative touch than I can provide.)
We don’t need anyone quitting Pharmacy. We need people to invest in Pharmacy. Creatively.
We need innovators in pharmacy, new blood that wants to improve it.
One study found that nearly half of pharmacy students did not choose pharmacy as their first career choice. What effects is that having on our industry, where perhaps the majority of pharmacists didn’t choose pharmacy first?
Imagine how we could innovate our profession to create new services if we brought in people who were inspired to become pharmacists?
We need videographers, writers, and actors – people who are way more creative than I am – to share more compelling stories. Providing a human narrative on our industry’s behalf would improve our brand perception and move our profession forward.
For Those Who’ve Made It This Far, Pharmacy is Still Full of Opportunities
Despite negative outlooks and job statistics, there are still many opportunities for pharmacists to find freedom and flexibility in their careers right now. Check out The Happy PharmD Summit, which features 25 pharmacists who started in traditional pharmacy work and leveraged it to create their dream career as a pharmacist.
Alex is the Founder of The Happy PharmD. He loves anime, his family, and video games, but not in that order.