The good news for pharmacists is that the job market appears to be holding steady, although many pharmacists don’t “feel” like opportunities are available.
What I aim to show you is where the demand for pharmacists lie, where the over-supply is, and lastly, how you can use this job market to your advantage. Understand that this report is based on information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is purely speculation.
Labor economics is extremely difficult to understand or predict. As I research pharmacy Labor Economics, I discover that this “science” isn’t really built on hard facts but rather on (sometimes subjective) “symptoms.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a six-percent increase in the number of pharmacy jobs over the next eight years, amounting to roughly 17,400 jobs between 2016 and 2026. When you consider that 14,502 first professional degrees in pharmacy were awarded in the 2016-2017 school year, it’s clear that supply is far outpacing demand. Even if the graduation rate was cut in half over the next eight years, the industry would struggle to produce enough jobs for the graduating students.
Although demand for pharmacists isn’t decreasing, growth compared to other healthcare professions has slowed.
The truth is that employment trends vary based on a variety of factors like geographic region, pharmacy setting, experience, skill set, and demand. Though exceptions exist for every rule, understanding existing trends can help pharmacists make informed decisions about their future.
The Pharmacist Demand Indicator (PDI) reports perceptions of the demand for pharmacists on a quarterly basis. Participants who regularly engage in the hiring of pharmacists share their views about supply and demand.
The PDI isn’t an objective measure of the pharmacy workforce, but rather an indicator of the current situation. Each version of results represents different perspectives as volunteers from different states, sectors, and settings share their experiences.
The PDI operates on a 5-point scale, with 1 representing a situation in which supply far exceeds demand, and 5 meaning that demand far exceeds supply.
For Q3, 2018, the PDI reports that growth is highest for managers and specialized pharmacists, and slowest for generalists or staff pharmacists. (Specialized pharmacists include MTM, anticoagulation, oncology, and informatics, among others.)
Pharmacy Demand Indicator
By region, the PDI reflects that growth is strongest in the west (3.40) and slowest in the south (2.91), with the Midwest and northeast, closely scored at 3.21 and 3.14 for generalists.
Pharmacy Demand Indicator
Experts suggest that growth in hospitals, physician offices, and non-retail settings will outpace conventional retail pharmacy and mail pharmacy.
The aging of the Boomer generation, the increase in chronic disease, and the development of new medications will contribute greatly to the changing pharmacy landscape, as will the growing demand for specialists and the plateau of generic medications.
The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy reports that in 2016, the largest number of Pharm.D. degrees in the history of pharmacy education was conferred at 14,556. The following year, the second-largest number were conferred at 14,502.
The number of pharmacy schools has skyrocketed since 1900, with the total number of schools climbing from 21 to 142, presumably in response to a Health and Human Services report submitted to Congress in 2000 predicting a shortfall of pharmacists.
The report, titled The Pharmacist Workforce: A Study of the Supply and Demand for Pharmacists, pointed to an unprecedented demand for pharmacists and increased use of prescriptions as the drivers of the shortfall.
Existing pharmacy schools increased their class sizes in response to the report, while other colleges and universities around the U.S. opened new pharmacy programs, with the greatest growth occurring between 2006 and 2010.
The predicted pharmacist shortage never actually occurred, so the tremendous spike in the number of degrees conferred quickly saturated the pharmacist market.
Anticipated pharmacy job growth
Many areas of pharmacy are expected to grow by 2026, although some areas will see minimal growth while others are expected to see greater increases.
Non-retail settings are predicted to grow much more quickly than outpatient dispensing formats, with hospitals accounting for more than 60 percent of the employment growth.
Many experts recognize the role clinical pharmacists play in positive patient outcomes and cost-saving measures. Since patients in hospitals are more critically ill, clinical pharmacists typically dispense stronger medications because they are able to monitor outcomes.
Because clinical pharmacists are directly involved in patient care, often making rounds with physicians and recommending drug therapies, those in the field report it as a stressful but fulfilling area of pharmacy.
Pharmacy positions in home healthcare are also predicted to increase, with many pharmacists choosing the work because of the increased involvement with patients. Although the work involves on-call availability, pharmacists report enjoying the patient interaction and the ability to get to know their patients well.
That response may well be a backlash from the metrics-driven culture in many retail pharmacies, leaving pharmacists feeling overworked, stressed out, and undervalued.
The PDI’s prediction that pharmacy managers will continue to be in short supply points to a need for strong leaders in the industry.
More and more “accidental leaders” are appearing on the scene, created when a member of management unexpectedly leaves a company.
A 2013 study on the issue reported that the shortage of pharmacy leaders was four times greater than the shortage of pharmacists. Worse yet, about 70 percent of the existing leaders were expected to retire within 10 years of the study, creating an even greater gap.
I’m reminded of an adage I learned during my leadership podcast, The Leadership Dojo:
People rise to their level of incompetence.
The corporate structure rewards pharmacists who rise to a certain level of leadership without advancing any further, often due to the lack of job opportunity. I also believe that “accidental leaders” who are promoted without proper training achieve a certain level of success but never advance.
As evidence of the importance of strong pharmacy leadership, I recently created an Anonymous Pharmacist Employee Exit Survey to measure the reasons pharmacists cite for leaving their positions, and to understand how the industry can improve. Of the responses to date, 40 percent of the anonymous respondents blamed poor leadership as the reason they left their previous job.
Pharmacy managers often demand that pharmacists do more work with fewer resources, and they second-guess pharmacist decisions, leaving pharmacists feeling like they have no control over their own work.
Metrics in a pharmacy setting are generally tied to performance and compensation, but many pharmacists argue that metrics are prioritizing tasks and dollars over patient health and safety.
Many pharmacists report working in isolation, without time for breaks, and without the necessary resources to accomplish the established metrics.
Pharmacists also report limited opportunities to do the very thing that drew them to the work initially: helping patients.
I refer to it as numbercare, and it’s a major reason that patients are angry, managers are angry, and pharmacists are angry as well.
The pharmacy industry is evolving at break-neck speed.
The industry is addressing how it interacts with patients, how it monitors patient adherence, and how it delivers value to its customers.
Ongoing mergers and acquisitions leave smaller pharmacies fighting to stay relevant and struggling to keep their financial heads above water.
For many pharmacists, the entire industry feels like one characterized by the need to “innovate or die.”
So how do we respond to these demands?
Innovate or die.
To survive, pharmacists on the front lines must look to new ways of providing value before they become irrelevant. Here are a few examples.
Pharmacists are turning to pharmacogenomics, or personalized healthcare using genetic testing. Genome sequencing allows pharmacists to provide personalized treatments to improve patient outcomes.
Direct-to-consumer genetic testing like 23andMe allows patients to access their genetic information without direct involvement by a healthcare professional. Imagine if pharmacists lead the charge on implementing genetic testing in healthcare.
Patients continue to be more involved in their own healthcare, partly driven by rising copays and deductibles and decreased access to healthcare providers. The Consumer Healthcare Products Association reports that, given a choice, 80 percent of patients prefer self-care using over-the-counter medications to visiting a healthcare professional.
Pharmacists are embracing the self-care market which encourages patients to proactively avoid medical problems and take responsibility for aspects of their own care. As part of the effort, pharmacists seek ways to guide consumers while reminding them that some treatment requires engagement with a professional.
Others are tackling tough issues like erectile dysfunction, and patient avoidance of such topics, by creating online pharmacies that avoid the kind of face-to-face interaction that deters treatments.
The world of healthcare startups is booming. This is the age of unprecedented technological advances, and pharmacists will be needed. I interviewed a few startup pharmacists in my Happy PharmD Summit, where you can learn how pharmacists got into their startup career path.
Finally, pharmacists are embracing technology by seeking ways to improve medication adherence and deploying wearables to track patient health and behavior.
Pharmacy career change
As the outlook for pharmacists continues changing, many in the industry are seeking non-traditional ways to put their knowledge and experience to work.
Over the years, pharmacists have worked hard to change their reputations from “pill counter” to “trusted advisor” even as they fight to be recognized as members of the healthcare team.
In fact, a 2016 study of the topic found that many of the careers that were available to pharmacy school graduates that year weren’t available to the graduates just 7 years prior.
But it isn’t just the slowed growth that is prompting some to look outside of traditional pharmacy settings. Many are leaving the profession because of the lack of fulfilling work and the increasingly stressful work environments.
I, and our expanding team of (hopefully!) 4 pharmacist career coaches, routinely coach pharmacists who want more from their careers than a large salary and who are launching side-hustles and venturing into emerging areas of healthcare to find meaningful work that doesn’t cost them their health.
Your ability to embrace change will likely determine your level of continued success in the pharmacy industry.
As companies merge, technologies change, and demands increase, pharmacists who are able to keep themselves nimble will be poised to adapt to the changing landscape and keep themselves relevant to the field.
Pharmacists who find ways to solve problems will be at the forefront of the industry, and they’ll weather the change better because they’ll be in control of their own destinies.
Wherever your interests lie, pursue things outside of pharmacy as a way to keep yourself connected to a vast network of people. Develop a curiosity about the changes that are happening within pharmacy and find emerging opportunities that are interesting to you.
I’ve created a webinar, How Any Pharmacist Can Transition Into a New Pharmacy Career Without Experience, that will help pharmacists transition into new pharmacy careers, even when they have no experience in the prospective field.
The truth is that new fields emerge every day as technology changes, and pharmacists who are already working in the industry will be well poised to embrace those emerging opportunities.
My webinar will help you distinguish yourself among the field of applicants by writing a powerhouse resume and a cover letter that forces the hiring manager to take note. I’ll give you all the tools you need to research new companies and teach you how you can create new opportunities for yourself in pharmacy.
The truth is that there are no guarantees about the future of pharmacy except that it will continue to evolve. Those who understand the trends have the best opportunity to survive the upheaval.
Alex is the Founder of The Happy PharmD. He loves anime, his family, and video games, but not in that order.