Jun 29 2018

2018 Pharmacy School Grads Face Changing Industry, Tightened Job Market

This spring, roughly 15,000 students received degrees from the nation’s 138 pharmacy schools, and are set to put their knowledge and training to use in various capacities.  But what does the current job market look like for recent graduates, and how has the role of the pharmacist changed in recent years?

Not surprisingly, graduates are interested in plying their craft across a number of pharmacy-related venues.  The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy’s (AACP) annual “graduating student survey,” found that 2017 students’ employment preferences included:

  • Chain/community pharmacy – 34 percent
  • Hospital – 24 percent
  • Independent community pharmacy – 10 percent
  • Clinic-based pharmacy – 8 percent
  • Pharmaceutical industry – 3 percent
  • Academia – 3 percent
  • Consultant – 2 percent
  • Government or regulatory agency – 2 percent.

However, graduates may find that jobs in their preferred venue are not as easy to come by as they once were.  For the Class of 2018, the pharmacist job market can probably best be described as “mediocre.”

The AACP’s Pharmacist Demand Indicator tracks state-by-state pharmacist demand quite closely and assigns ratings, based on a scale of 1-5. The rating scale is broken down as follows:

  • 5 = High demand; difficult to fill open positions
  • 4 = Moderate demand; some difficulty filling open positions
  • 3 = Demand in balance with supply
  • 2 = Demand is less than the pharmacist supply available
  • 1 = Demand is much less than the pharmacist supply available.

Based on the First Quarter 2018 assessment, state pharmacist demand breaks down as follows:

Rating RangeNumber of StatesStates
3.51 – 4.00
4CA (north), CA (south), MI, WA
3.507AR, IN, LA, NM, OK, WV, WY
3.01 – 3.49
3.0017AL, AK, AZ, CT, DE, DC, ID, IA, KS, MT, NE, NH, ND, RI, SC, SD, UT
2.51 - 2.99
9CO, MD, ME, NJ, NY, OH, PA, TN, TX 
2.503MT, RI, UT
2.01 – 2.49

As the research indicates, with the exception of a few outliers, the majority of states do not have a significant demand for pharmacists.  These results seem to be in sync with analysis from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics which reported:  “Employment of pharmacists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations.”

Today’s reality is vastly different from the rosy job outlook that awaited pharmacy school graduates not too long ago.  In 2000, a report from the Department of Health and Human Services found 98 percent of Americans lived in areas that were adversely affected by a pharmacist shortage.  The report estimated a shortage of 6,000 pharmacists and predicted the demand would increase.  A subsequent 2002 report by the Pharmacy Workforce Center predicted a shortage of 157,000 pharmacists by 2020.

Predictions of pharmacist shortages, not surprisingly, led to a surge in applications to pharmacy schools.  And this is, in turn, led to a sharp increase in the number of pharmacy schools.  According to Pharmacy Times, at least four new pharmacy schools opened each year between 2005 and 2012, while several existing schools expanded.  This marked a 70 percent increase in the number of pharmacy schools which, in turn, resulted in a sharp spike in the number of pharmacy school graduates.

The bright spot for this army of newly-trained pharmacists is the increasing need for patient services.  “Demand is projected to increase for pharmacists in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals and clinics,” noted the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  “These facilities will need more pharmacists to oversee the medications given to patients and to provide patient care, performing tasks such as testing a patient’s blood sugar or cholesterol.” 

Other trends that point to an increased demand for pharmacists include the aging baby-boom generation and corresponding use of prescription medicines, an increase among all age groups in chronic diseases such as diabetes, and medical breakthroughs leading to new drug products.

So hats off to the Class of 2018.  The employment landscape may not be as bountiful as it once was, but good, meaningful jobs are available.  And perhaps most important, patients are counting on a steady supply of well-trained, customer-centric professionals.