US Pharm. 2010;35(6):1.

Congratulations to the thousands of students who have just graduated from the 100-plus pharmacy schools that dot this nation’s landscape. I never thought I’d be saying this, but now begins the tough part—finding a job.

Oh sure, there are jobs available, but I think it is accurate to say that the era of the pharmacist shortage is quickly coming to an end, due in large part to the increase in the number of pharmacy schools combined with the effects of an economic meltdown this country has not seen since the Great Depression. Newer pharmacy schools, like many other great institutions in this country, could not even have imagined the depths of the current recession and joblessness 5 years ago when they opened their doors in the hopes of graduating more pharmacists to fill what was then a shortage in their ranks.

Before the economy tanked in late 2008, it seemed that there was a chain drugstore being built on every corner in every city, and many of them were open 24 hours. There were barely enough pharmacists to work the stores, and consequently jobs were plentiful and salaries and other perks were lucrative, especially in the more rural areas. While health care has been somewhat sheltered from most of the disastrous effects of today’s economic climate, sales in all retail settings have generally seen a decline as a result of unemployment and reduced consumer spending; these forces have translated into store closings, reduced hours, and fewer job openings for retail pharmacists.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), as of January 2010 there were 112 U.S.-based colleges and schools of pharmacy with accredited professional degree programs. That number will increase to 118 in the fall of 2010. This represents a nearly 25% increase in the number of new colleges of pharmacy over the past 5 years. The AACP reported that in the fall of 2009 a total of 54,700 students were enrolled in a program where pharmacy was their first degree. This represents an average increase in student enrollment of about 5.6% over the past 9 years.

Pharmacy graduates today are finding a very different environment in which to put their 6 years of education to the test. Despite the reduced need for pharmacists, today’s PharmD is looking for a more challenging work environment. Some new pharmacists will find it working for a pharmaceutical company or academia, while others will choose a more clinical setting like a hospital or long-term care facility. But if today’s pharmacy graduates are anything like those of the past, most will choose a retail setting to hone their skills.

With health care reform taking center stage, today’s new breed of pharmacy graduates may finally be able to utilize their educational talents more in front of the counter than behind it. Portions of the new health care reform bill stress the value of the pharmacist in medication therapy management. The theory is that the pharmacist is the most available health care professional and is in the best position to effectively keep patients in compliance with their medications, which will lead to fewer hospital and doctor visits and thus result in lower health care costs to the U.S. health care system.

With the pharmacy job market becoming increasingly more competitive, retail pharmacists need to differentiate themselves. Now is the time for them to reinvent their careers and exhibit their true value, not only to their employer, but to the health care marketplace they serve.

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