The most of the severe winter weather behind us, spring is starting to spread its warmth in many parts of the country, bringing budding trees and blooming plants. Spring also signals the beginning of the college graduation season. Over the next few months, thousands of pharmacy students will be entering the workforce, many still undecided about where they want to practice.
Times were different when I graduated from pharmacy school. Relatively few PharmD programs existed, and most of us graduated from a 5-year pharmacy program with a bachelor of science and/or a bachelor of pharmacy degree. There was no opportunity to rotate through different pharmacy disciplines; the only postgraduate requirement was a 1-year internship in a single venue before we were eligible to take the state board exam to become a licensed pharmacist. Today’s pharmacists have options that were not available to us.
Through the years, I’ve had the opportunity to chat with hundreds of students who stop by our booth at various trade shows. I am always impressed by their breadth of clinical knowledge and their eagerness to enter the workforce and put their education to good use. Until recently, the public’s image of most pharmacists was unfortunately that of an aloof figure behind the prescription counter who had little interaction with patients. Progress by government officials toward making pharmacists a full partner on the healthcare team by giving them provider status has been painfully slow. However, according to the 2014 National Pharmacist Workforce Study, provider status may very well be the next step in a pharmacist’s career path.
The study, which was commissioned by the Pharmacy Workforce Center, a coalition of major national pharmacy associations, and prepared by the Midwest Pharmacy Workforce Research Consortium, said the results of the survey were generally shaped by “significant changes to health care delivery and financing” in the past 5 years. According to the survey, these changes include the aging population, new healthcare technology, increased demand for healthcare services, and a decrease in unemployment and an improving economy.
The researchers concluded that “the pharmacy profession currently has, and will continue to build, capacity for contributing to the U.S. health care system. However, as shifts in professional roles occur, deployment of capacity must meet the requirements of changing service models.”
There are many signs that those changes are already taking place around the country. According to a recent article published in the APhA’s Pharmacy Today, Krystalyn K. Weaver, PharmD, director of policy and state relations, National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations, “Interest in pharmacist-provided care evidently is increasing.” She said that last year 26 bills were introduced, and that “so far this year, 75 state bills addressing some aspect of patient access to pharmacists’ care have been introduced.”
And in 2013 the governor of California signed into law a bill that imparted provider status to pharmacists. Recognizing the decreasing numbers of primary care physicians, the bill’s sponsors also established a new professional title for pharmacists: advanced practice pharmacist. Under this new designation, pharmacists who acquire additional educational training are able to perform physical assessments; order and interpret drug therapy–related tests; refer patients to other healthcare providers; and initiate, adjust, and discontinue drug therapies and manage diseases in collaboration with other healthcare providers.
These are exciting times for the profession. To my way of thinking, changes in how pharmacy is practiced are evolutionary, not revolutionary, and today’s graduating pharmacists are ready to take the next step by embracing those changes.
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