Are there too many pharmacy students?

Posted on December 8, 2010



Depending on where you live, you may have noticed that the once predicted  pharmacy shortage is a thing of the past.

For years pharmacy topped “best” career lists because of high wages and an even higher demand. This was largely due in part to the Pharmacy Manpower Project, Inc., which predicted shortfall of 157,000 needed pharmacists by 2020.

Since then, however, pharmacy schools have been popping up everywhere. This is great news for the end of a potential shortage, but bad news for the practice of pharmacy and pharmacy education, according to the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP).

The two pharmacy association heavyweights combined their efforts to release a discussion paper about their concerns regarding how the rapid growth in pharmacy schools affects the quality of education.

The paper, “Concerns about the Accelerating Expansion of Pharmacy Education: Time for Reconsideration,” highlights major stumbling blocks in higher pharmacy education, which are of grave concern to the two organizations.

In particular the fact that before 1987 the number of pharmacy schools, which was 72, was relatively constant. As of July 2010, there are 115 U.S. based colleges and schools of pharmacy with accredited (full or candidate status) professional degree programs and five schools with pre-candidate status. An additional 20 schools have been identified where feasibility and exploration of new programs is underway.

The paper specifically notes that it is important to understand that many new schools have been created in private institutions and in some cases at for-profit institutions, and few in public institutions. More importantly, ” While some programs have been established that serve unique needs in previously unserved large geographic regions, some new programs have been established in states with multiple existing programs and in fact even within the same cities.”

This has not only led to an influx of new pharmacists entering the market, but also an “exacerbation of the already-serious faculty shortage” and a potential inability to meet pharmacy students’ educational needs, especially to provide experiential education, such as rotations.

In fact, faculty recruitment and retention is identified as one of the top issues and challenges of colleges and schools of pharmacy.  A study used in the paper cited that in 2008-09, nearly half of vacant faculty positions (48.1 %) remained vacant because there were not enough qualified candidates, a slight increase from 2007-08 (47.4%).

This has also led a significant concerns about the availability of quality experiential rotation sites. Citing that many practitioners are “finding it difficult to comply with the requests from schools of pharmacy to handle student rotations and offer quality experiences for students.”

The paper also points out that while many colleges are seeking to expand the number of students in both introductory and advanced experiences at practice sites, several pharmacy organizations are advocating that all new graduates should complete a residency (at least in some practice environments), which have become increasingly competitive. In fact, in 2010, the number of unmatched residents exceeded 1,000.

According to Medical News Today, the ASHP and APhA are calling for stakeholder dialogue on workforce planning. Informed by these discussions, ASHP and APhA advocate that pharmacy educational and practitioner organizations should establish an ongoing process for jointly assessing the near-term and long-term workforce needs in pharmacy practice and how to best meet those needs.

The discussion paper can be found here.

Do you think there are too many pharmacy schools today? Are you experiencing a workforce surplus as a result in your area? Let us know your thoughts about this post in the comment box below.