Is there a pharmacist surplus on the horizon?

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Insomnia

For decades, pharmacists have been in short supply and high demand. This led to an explosion of new pharmacy schools and an uptick in pharmacist graduates. Thanks to these efforts, it looks like we have beaten the health-system and community pharmacist shortage in most geographic areas.

Expanding roles

Although it is good news that pharmacists have found jobs in hospitals and a variety of other care settings, the profession isn’t out of the woods. A similar situation played out with law schools and lawyers in the 1980s and 1990s, resulting in a surplus of lawyers. Today in 2014, it is now a buyer’s market for new law graduates in most areas and many simply cannot find gainful employment as lawyers.

Basic economic principles dictate that when there are too many pharmacists for too few jobs, unemployment or wage deflation will occur. Starting now, we need to expand the demand for hospital and community pharmacist services.

Provider status

How can we ensure both the long-term viability of the profession, particularly health-system pharmacists, while at the same time growing the demand for pharmacist services to accommodate the large volume of pharmacist graduates entering the workforce?

A movement is under way for pharmacists to become health care providers. This would allow health-system and community pharmacists to expand their service lines to help more patients. Although pharmacists cannot yet bill for many services, the current crop of pharmacist graduates is prepared to provide a wealth of important services that have been shown to positively affect patient-centered outcomes, reduce total health care expenditures, and prevent patient harm.

Sink or swim

The future of our profession could go in one of two directions: The increased number of pharmacist graduates will be matched by an increased demand (and payment) for pharmacist services as a direct result of pharmacists gaining provider status. Or the excess pharmacist graduates can take their doctoral degrees and move back home.

It is up to us to make sure the next generation of pharmacists continues to improve the quality of care for patients and expand into new roles on multidisciplinary health care teams.

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