More Pharmacists are Needed Behind the Counter

As the population ages, the health-care industry expands. And now, North America is facing a shortage of pharmacists.

Today, four out of every five patients who visit a doctor leave with a prescription.

Pharmacists play a major role in today's health-care industry. But drugstores, hospitals and other health-care settings are having a hard time finding enough pharmacists to fill positions in both the U.S. and Canada.

Paul Iverson is president of the Minnesota Pharmacists Association. "The demand for pharmacists is at an all-time high," he says.

There are many reasons for the shortages.

Society's health and social issues are changing. People are living longer, and there are more cases of chronic diseases. Also, medications and related products and devices are becoming more complex. There is also more focus on preventative health services, home health care and long-term care.

Ron Elliot is president of the Canadian Pharmacists Association. He says that pharmacists' jobs have changed from distribution of medicine to more direct patient care. They have to know pharmacy care plans, offer advice to doctors and the public, and focus more on the outcomes. That means it takes more education and more skills to become a pharmacist.

Another reason for the shortage is that skilled pharmacists are branching out into many different areas.

According to Iverson, a pharmacist may work in many areas. These include community practice, hospital practice, research, education, sales and marketing, oncology, long-term care and managed care.

"Pharmacists also run specialty clinics in areas such as anti-coagulation, asthma, diabetes, lipid management, epilepsy, hypertension and more," says Iverson.

Many hospitals have had to cut back on some of their services due to a lack of pharmacists. Or they have not been able to start new programs, says Elliot. "Some pharmacies have had to reduce their hours of business. Others have found expansion and growth to be [hampered] by the scarcity of pharmacists."

Dr. Milap Nahata is president of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. "The demand for pharmacists is strong in most sectors, including community pharmacy, medical centers and academic institutions," he says.

"Even though we are producing more pharmacists today than ever before, [they] are able to find careers in so many more areas than they did even 10 years ago," says Nahata.

This allows pharmacists to choose work that lets them meet their own professional goals, adds Elliot.

Most pharmacy students can expect to get many job offers when they graduate. And those who take more graduate study or have more residency experience have greater chances in the areas of research, administration and business. That's according to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP).

"Students in high school now would be well advised to aim [for] high academic standards. [They should also] demonstrate community involvement and a good knowledge about the practice of pharmacy," says Elliot.

Elliot adds that students might want to spend time in a community or hospital pharmacy to see how interested they are. They could be a paid employee, co-op student or volunteer.

According to the AACP, the pharmacist's workweek is about 48 hours. In hospitals and long-term facilities, pharmacists average 40 to 44 hours a week.

Salaries vary quite a bit. Highly skilled pharmacists will earn more.

"Applicants should be motivated by patient care, interested in working with people, and prepared to work unusual hours," says Elliot. "Pharmacy is definitely not a 9-to-5 day! They should also be prepared for a very rewarding career, both personally and financially."


American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy
Check out the career information section

National Association of Chain Drugstores
Look up the articles for current and future pharmacy students

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