Student Pharmacists Current Job Market
Around 20 years ago, the pharmacy industry offered the best opportunity to students: a six-figure income, a respected job title, a rewarding career that allows them to help people, and plenty of jobs waiting for them after they graduate. Today, however, this is NO longer the case.
The pharmacist job market has become over-saturated to the point that student pharmacists are finding it hard to land a job. A 2013 study conducted by eight Midwest schools found out that, out of 783 pharmacy students who were about to graduate in four weeks, only 81 percent had found employment or was getting into a post-graduate program. Sixteen percent had not found a job, and three percent had not begun looking for employment. These figures contrast starkly with the observations of pharmacy professor Daniel L. Brown, who noted that, before 2009, almost 100 percent of pharmacy students had jobs waiting for them around six months before they graduated.
Purdue University, which has one of the leading pharmacy schools in the country, has also observed this upward trend in unemployment among graduating pharmacy students. In 2009, Purdue’s pharmacy students had 12 job offers before they graduated, but that number dwindled to one to three offers a few years later. In 2008, only one student out of the entire graduating class was still looking for work; in 2013, 12 students were still looking for a job a few weeks before graduation.
Data collected by the Pharmacist Demand Indicator (formerly the Aggregate Demand Index) also reflect the challenges in the pharmacist job market. Its Quarter 4 2016 report shows that only a handful of states have high employment demands and are finding it hard to fill positions. The rest have moderate demand or are maintaining a precarious balance between demand and supply, and some even don’t have enough jobs for the number of pharmacists in the area.
Why Is This Happening?
There are many factors that contribute to the downward trend of the pharmacy job market. Laws that would have expanded the roles of pharmacists and allow them to take on some client counseling responsibilities have not yet been approved both on state and federal levels. This means that pharmacists can’t charge for their counseling and advisory services and that the industry as a whole cannot financially support the influx of more pharmacy professionals.
Academic expansion is also an issue. When the Pharmacy Workforce Center predicted in 2001 there would be a shortage of over 150,000 pharmacists in the next two decades, colleges and universities all over the U.S. opened new pharmacy programs and increased their class sizes. As a result, more and more students received pharmacy degrees, saturating the market and competing with each other for limited job vacancies.
Survey: What Do Student Pharmacists Think of the Job Market?
With everything that’s happening in the job market, the American Pharmacy Purchasing Alliance (APPA) decided to conduct a student pharmacists job market survey. It took place in April 2017 and had 122 participants, who were asked to answer five questions about the job market.
The purpose of this survey was to find out how students feel about their job prospects and the future of pharmacy as a career. Their opinions are an important part of the job market discussion because they are the demographic that is most impacted by the decrease in demand of professional pharmacists. With fewer job opportunities plus rising student loan debts, many student pharmacists can find themselves in difficult situations after graduation.
The APPA student pharmacists job market survey found out that a lot of students feel there is currently a surplus of PharmD graduates. Some have noted that many of their fellow student pharmacists have left their hometowns to secure employment. Others have observed that doing Postgraduate Year One (PGY1) is no longer enough to distinguish pharmacists, which pushes many professionals to do PGY2. According to one participant, there might come a time when third-year postgraduate studies become necessary for pharmacists to stand out and be noticed by employers.
A lot of student pharmacists feel that pharmacy schools should consider decreasing their student enrollment since the rising number of graduates contributes to the over-saturation of the job market. Some point out that the current state of enrollment rates decreases the amount of competition to get into pharmacy schools and produces graduates who are less competent in their field. Others, meanwhile, feel that the increasing number of people with PharmD degrees decreases the value of the degree.
The student pharmacists job market survey also touched on the issue of pharmacists who study abroad and have less schooling than those who study in the United States. Many of the participants have noticed that these overseas-educated pharmacists do have an impact on the U.S. pharmacy job market, especially in the retail and community setting. Some of the study participants point out that the issue might be influenced by American pharmacists’ belief that pharmacy education abroad does not match the United States’ standards.
The study participants were also asked to give advice to current pharmacy students on how they could secure employment right after graduation. Many important tips were given, including positioning themselves as a leader even while they’re still in school and doing networking activities to build relationships with other professionals and potential employees. Joining relevant clubs, obtaining internships, and doing volunteer activities in the pharmacy community are other strategies to stand out as a candidate, either for a job or for a residency position.
The final question of the APPA student pharmacists job market survey asked the participants if they would consider picking another profession, considering what they know about the employment outlook for pharmacy students. A lot of the participants revealed that they would NOT switch professions even if the current job market presents challenges instead of opportunities.
Some revealed that being a pharmacist was their dream since it allows them to help other people, so giving it up is not an option. Others state that, aside from reducing the number of pharmacy schools and making class sizes smaller, another way to improve the job market is to make the profession more focused on people and service and less on sales. Still others point out that all job markets — not just pharmacy — are saturated, so it all boils down to finding a niche in your industry where you can build your success.
How Can You Find Success in the Current Job Market?
Among the topics tackled in APPA’s student pharmacists job market survey, perhaps the most important is the strategies that students can use to improve their employment practices. As mentioned above, there are several ways for students to secure a job before or right after they graduate. One of the most effective is getting into a niche market.
Many pharmacy niches are not as saturated as the traditional markets, which means you’ll deal with less competition and find it easier to stand out from the crowd. A lot of niches focus on new and interesting branches of pharmacy, making them a great option if you’re looking for exciting and challenging work that test your skills and knowledge.
If you decide to use strategy, the next thing you should do is to pick a pharmacy niche to focus on. We’ve listed some of them below to help you choose the right option:
- Specialty Pharmacy — This niche focuses on dispensing high-cost specialty medications for rare, chronic, and complicated health conditions, including cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis C, and HIV. Specialty pharmacies are on the rise because they help with proper drug administration and patient education and contribute to better compliance and better patient health.
- Clinical Pharmacy — This niche originated in clinics and hospitals, although clinical pharmacies can now be found in any healthcare setting. If you decide to become a clinical pharmacist, you’ll need to work closely with doctors and other healthcare providers to promote patient recovery and disease prevention.
- Long-Term Care Pharmacy — While any pharmacy can technically offer long-term care, this niche usually refers to pharmacy services that are found in nursing homes, mental health facilities, correctional institutions, rehabilitation centers, and the like. Pharmacies in these settings usually offer medications and care that are customized to the resident population’s specific needs.
- Pharmacy Genomics — It is a well-known fact that people can react differently to medications due to the differences in genetic makeup. Pharmacy genomics takes advantage of this fact by tailoring drug treatments according to the patient’s DNA blueprint and unique metabolic processes.
- Diabetes Management — Diabetes is on the rise both in kids and adults. To help manage this, many pharmacies now specialize in the diabetes management niche. They provide not only the right medications for diabetes but also educate patients on how to improve their lifestyle and keep their blood sugar at a healthy level.
These are just some of the pharmacy niches you can explore. Choosing the right niche to specialize in can be overwhelming, so it’s important to take the time to make your decision. Consult your professors and mentors and get their perspective; they can help you go over possible niches and choose one that best suits your strengths. Once you’ve identified a niche that you might like, look for volunteer opportunities that will give you the chance to test the waters and see if this niche really is the right choice for you.
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