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School daze: colleges can't graduate pharmacists fast enough to keep up with the overwhelming demand--but they're trying. (Supermarket Nonfoods Business).

College recruiters used to look for an explosive vertical leap and a fast time in the 40-yard dash. Now they want an explosive intellectual leap and a fast time in counting out 40 pills.

Students in pharmacy colleges are getting unprecedented attention, and the arrival of the next class of graduates cannot come fast enough. Until now, it hasn't been coming fast enough, and a major pharmacist shortage has been the result. That has touched off bid ding wars for pharmacists' services and ongoing recruiting on campuses across America.

Enrollment is up at pharmacy schools across the United States for the first time in more than a decade, and education and industry leaders are expanding their reach to get more students through college to meet accelerating demand, using the kind of recruiting reserved for basketball stars and Ph.D. candidates.

For example, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores has expanded its Pharmacies of Promise program with a component called Pharmacists of the Future. The program helps chain pharmacies offer internship programs to promising high school students. The effort gives pharmacies a chance to introduce students to the profession before college choices are made. NACDS has even developed a mentoring guide to help pharmacies explain the profession to the students.

But today's high school students won't be the ones to solve today's pharmacist shortage. The situation is still critical, which is both good news and bad news for overworked but highly sought pharmacists, and a challenge for those in the industry who have to fill the openings.

"It's getting worse by the day. It's getting more and more competitive and I don't see it getting any relief in the next 12 months," says Marty Stump, president of Stump and Associates, a recruiting firm in Vandalia, Ohio specializing in recruitment for the supermarket, c-store, and pharmacy channels.

The good news, Stump says, is that supermarkets have recognized some of the critical elements necessary to attract and retain good workers as they battle with drug chains and hospital pharmacies for the limited pool of qualified pharmacists. "Supermarkets are on the high end of the pay scale. Their hours are a little better than some of the drug chains," he says. "Their volumes are certainly overwhelming. Obviously, our of the three disciplines, they are the easiest to recruit for."

Even with the demand, some hiring had slowed with a downturn in the economy. Then came Sept. 11. "After 9/11, everything came to a halt," Stump says. "It had been stagnant, and then in the last 30 to 60 days it's seemed to get back to normal. There'd already been a slowing down with the economy."

That demand far outstrips the supply, making it a buyer's market for pharmacists. "We have one client who has 40 staff and manager openings in Indiana alone," Stump says. "It's definitely a demanding situation. There's a lot of pounding the pavement. With new graduates, they're looking for tuition reimbursement. It's a matter of calling every single school and turning over every stone."

Industry leaders have seen the staffing problem coming for a while, but they note that it's not isolated to just being able to find and recruit competent pharmacists. A 2000 report from the American College of Clinical Pharmacy notes, "Once technology, new dispensing systems and technicians are widely utilized to increase drug distribution efficiencies, it is likely the need for pharmacists engaged solely in distribution will cease. Thereafter, future manpower needs no doubt will be affected by the profession's success in redefining and transforming itself into a discipline that provides care and impacts patient outcomes."

The technological solutions available for pharmacies, including central fill operations and automated pill dispensers, have already become the solution for many retailers who value pharmacy's contribution to the bottom line but can't find the staff to fill the positions.

'On the front lines'

Even with such technology on hand, though, making sure the pharmacist is a visible contributor to the health care system is increasing in importance. "As we make giant strides in the development of pharmaceutical drugs, and as the number of prescriptions written continues to rise, we must ensure that we train and place enough qualified pharmacists," says U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts. "Pharmacists are on the front lines of health care. They answer questions, provide advice, and help us make medical decisions. Unless we take serious action to address the pharmacist shortage, our health care system will suffer."

NACDS projections show a limited net gain in community pharmacists over the next five years. While there are almost 8,000 new graduates projected from America's pharmacy schools, only about 60 percent are projected to enter community pharmacies, which include both independent and chain pharmacies. With another 3,700 pharmacists projected to retire in 2002, the net gain is just slightly more than 1,000.

The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy reported on another NACDS study that shows college enrollment on the rise and colleges willing to make the commitment to the program. Of the 50 respondents to the NACDS survey, 70 percent saw an increase in the applicant pool and 93 percent of the schools called the incoming students "high-quality." A separate AACP study shows applications to pharmacy schools are up 9.1 percent. More than 90 percent of the schools surveyed by NACDS plan to increase class size to meet the demand. But as class size increases, so does the need for qualified teachers, and the NACDS study shows a shortage there, too.

In solving the short-term issues for community pharmacies, educating more pharmacists is just one answer. Allowing more technicians to work in pharmacies can also alleviate some of the burden and can help move the pharmacist toward a role in which he "provides care and impacts patient outcomes," as recommended in the American College of Clinical Pharmacy report.

"One answer that can relieve some of the burden is to expand the tech degree for pharmacists on staff," says Stump. But with a myriad of state regulations that govern the ratio between technicians and pharmacists, that solution also will be found in legislation.

That's why congressional staffers met with AACP in Alexandria, Va. earlier this year to discuss the pharmacist's growing role as a provider of pharmaceutical care.

"While AACP's goal is to develop congressional support for the colleges and schools of pharmacy in their efforts to increase the supply of this important health care professional," said William Lang, AACP's director of government affairs, "the briefing fulfilled a broader agenda of raising congressional awareness of the increasing number of career opportunities for pharmacists where their primary responsibility is to improve people's quality of life through the provision of pharmaceutical care."
More community pharmacists

                                  2002   2003   2004   2005   2006

New graduates                    7,983  8,015  8,756  8,992  9,544
Entering community pharmacy      4,790  4,809  5,254  5,395  5,726
Exiting community pharmacy       3,737  3,795  3,823  3,855  3,887
Net gain for community pharmacy  1,053  1,014  1,431  1,540  1,839


RELATED ARTICLE: Help from the Hill?

Congress has gotten involved in trying to find a solution to the pharmacist shortage. Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts has sponsored the Pharmacy Education Aid Act of 2001, which includes pharmacist services within the National Health Service Corps program of scholarships. It also authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to award grants and contracts to qualifying pharmacy schools for student and faculty recruitment and retraining, with scholarship preference for students with financial need. Other elements of the proposal include computer-based pharmaceutical education systems and facilities construction.

The impetus for McGovern's bill was a report from the Health Resources and Services Administration in December 2000, entitled The Pharmacist Workforce: A Study in Supply and Demand for Pharmacists.

Among the study's findings:

* "While the overall supply of pharmacists has increased in the past decade, there has been an unprecedented demand for pharmacists and for pharmaceutical care services, which has not been met by the currently available supply."

* "The factors causing the current shortage are of a nature not likely to abate in the near future without fundamental changes in pharmacy practice and education."

* HRSA projects that the number of prescriptions filled by community pharmacists will increase 20 percent by 2004. In contrast, the number of community pharmacists is expected to increase only 6 percent by 2005.

The measure has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health.
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Comment:School daze: colleges can't graduate pharmacists fast enough to keep up with the overwhelming demand--but they're trying. (Supermarket Nonfoods Business).(Statistical Data Included)
Author:Vavra, Bob
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2002
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