OCTOBER 3, 2013
Doomsday for PharmD Grads Or Alarmist Over-Reaction?
By 2018, 20% of new pharmacy graduates will enter a job market that has no positions for them, according to a top education expert. However dire such a crisis may appear, experts interviewed by Pharmacy Practice News disputed this finding.

In a commentary in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education (AJPE 2013;77:90; doi: 10.5688/ajpe77590), Daniel L. Brown, PharmD, the director of faculty development at the Center for Teaching Excellence, and a professor of pharmacy practice at the Lloyd L. Gregory School of Pharmacy, Palm Beach Atlantic University, in West Palm Beach, Fla., based his bleak jobs forecast on an analysis of trends in pharmacy employment and pharmacy education. In 2001, “the pharmacy academy began a period of unprecedented growth, fueled by a long-standing shortage of pharmacists and an outstanding job market for new pharmacy graduates,” Dr. Brown wrote. New colleges and schools of pharmacy opened, and existing programs expanded. As a result, the number of new PharmD graduates is expected to reach about 15,000 annually by 2018 (compared with 7,000 in 2001), according to Dr. Brown. However, the job market for pharmacists is not keeping pace, and by his estimate, will accommodate only about 10,000 to 12,000 new pharmacists per year. Hence, by 2018, 3,000 graduates (20%) per year will not find employment in their field. “I don’t believe there currently is a need for more pharmacists,” Dr. Brown told Pharmacy Practice News. “I think the pipeline we’ve already got is more than enough.”

Projections Don’t Equal Outcomes

In a commentary in the same issue of AJPE (2013;77:91; doi: 10.5688/ajpe77591), Katherine Knapp, PhD, and Jon C. Schommer, PhD, responded to Dr. Brown’s argument, asserting that “projections, even when based on the most solid evidence available, are not inescapable outcomes.” They outlined six scenarios under which Dr. Brown’s “looming joblessness” might not happen, including rising demand for all health care services as the economy improves, and increasing retirement in the large cohort of pharmacists trained in the 1970s.

Dr. Knapp, who is the dean of the Touro University California College of Pharmacy, in Vallejo, said in an interview that Dr. Brown’s commentary “was helpful in bringing to a wide audience data about the pharmacy education enterprise and the job market. It was not helpful because it tends to cause panic among students that there’s a bleak future for them.” She also faulted Dr. Brown for an “inaccurate portrayal of the ability of the current pharmacy schools or accrediting agencies to prevent new schools from opening or schools from expanding. That clearly would be considered restraint of trade, and they could be sued under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890.” Furthermore, Dr. Knapp argued that Dr. Brown ignored factors other than an increase in graduates, such as the Great Recession. “I don’t agree that a glut [of pharmacists] is inevitable,” she said.

Lucinda L. Maine, PhD, RPh, the executive vice president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), in Alexandria, Va., said in an interview: “The question is ‘is there any threat of significant unemployment facing our almost 300,000 licensed pharmacists now?’ I think that Dan’s answer was too unidimensional and simplistic.” An important unknown, Dr. Maine said, is the rate of expansion of the pharmacists’ patient care activities. Pharmacists will be doing more patient care in the future, and more of those positions will open up, she indicated.

Steven J. Martin, PharmD, BCPS, FCCP, FCCM, a professor and chairman, Department of Pharmacy Practice at the University of Toledo, Ohio, said Dr. Brown’s commentary “brought up a clear problem that we recognize in the academic world and that we’re seeing across the profession: that we have an increased number of graduates and that the job situation for those graduates has become tighter over the last few years.” However, he said, increasing demand for patient care services would continue to fuel job growth. Residency training, certificate programs, and MBA or MPH degrees will continue to make pharmacists “better able to be employed,” he suggested. “I continue to think that jobs are available, and I see that continuing for the foreseeable future.”

Drs. Brown, Knapp and Martin reported no relevant financial conflicts of interest. Dr. Maine reported that a portion of AACP’s annual revenue comes from member institutions.

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