Navigating the Tightening Pharmacy Job Market

by Jeremy Winograd on March 1, 2017

pharmacy job searchSo, you’re a brand new pharmacy school graduate. You’ve suffered through hundreds of hours of medicinal chemistry, completed your rotations, and accrued $100,000+ of student loan debt on your ledger. But the hard part’s over, right? It’s time to enter that rosy pharmacy job market you heard about back when you started your PharmD program; plentiful straight-out-of-school prospects anywhere in the country offering huge paychecks surely await.

Maybe not so much. Likely as a direct result of the pharmacist shortage that the Department of Health and Human Services predicted at the dawn of the 2000s, the number of pharmacy schools in the US has nearly doubled over the last thirty years. With that trend has inevitably come an exponential increase in the number of new pharmacy grads. Suddenly the pharmacy job market doesn’t look so wide open. In fact, in November 2015, the pharmacy Aggregate Demand Index (ADI)—which the Pharmacy Workforce Center uses to calculate the ratio of qualified professionals to available jobs on a 1 to 5 scale, with 1 indicating an extreme surplus of pharmacists and 5 indicating an extreme shortage—registered a 2.96. This means that there were (marginally) more pharmacists in the US than there were available pharmacy jobs – unthinkable just a few years ago.

There is disagreement over the severity of the so-called “pharmacy school bubble” crisis. Some foresee looming disaster with unemployment among new pharmacy grads going as high as 20% within the next couple of years, while others argue that increasing demand will help mitigate the problem. After all, the ADI—recently renamed the Pharmacist Demand Indicator (PDI)—has rebounded to figures above 3 since that ominous November 2015 report. Either way, however, it’s becoming clear that walking off the graduation stage right into a six-figure salary in whatever location you desire may very well be over. But that doesn’t mean your pharmacy degree won’t pay off; far from it. You just may need to put a little more work in to find the pharmacy job of your dreams. Here are a few ways you can go about doing just that.

Work in a Place of Need

In an ideal world, pharmacists would be able to settle down in any of the most desirable locales in the country and not have to worry about a difficult job search. In the real world, however, some places—namely densely populated metropolitan areas or states with an overabundance of pharmacy schools churning out new graduates—already have more than enough pharmacists to fill the available jobs. And so, as it was during the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s, the answer is simple: move to Alaska. Going back to PDI data, a December 2016 report showed that while there is pharmacist saturation in states like New Jersey and Maryland, there is also extreme need in Alaska and northern California, both of which posted PDIs above 4, as well as in several other states. Even in states with low PDI scores, consider working in rural, inner city, and other underserved areas where pharmacists really are needed. It can be difficult to leave behind family, friends, and other opportunities, but striking pharmacy gold sometimes takes a sense of adventure.

Consider Public Service

Upon graduating pharmacy school, it’s understandable if you succumb to the temptation to immediately find the highest paying gig possible in the interest of paying down your student loans as quickly as you can. However, taking a longer view of getting out from under your admittedly terrifyingly massive debt can ultimately pay major dividends. Depending on your interests and situation, you may be eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program, which offers significant loan forgiveness following 120 qualifying payment periods (either consecutive or non-consecutive) during which you worked full-time at public or not-for-profit institutions. You don’t have to work for, say, the FDA to qualify – not-for-profit hospitals qualify too, opening the door to finagling virtually any non-retail specialties under the PSLF umbrella.

Choose a Specialty You’re Passionate About

If your primary reason for attending pharmacy school was that rosy early 2000s hype about endless opportunities for fat retail paychecks, well, I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t alone. That’s part of the reason why pharmacy jobs are starting to dry up in some places. There’s plenty of folks CVS can find to fill scrips all day. However, if you got into pharmacy because there’s a particular specialty you feel strongly about, then you’re a rarer breed. Obviously, the volume of jobs available within certain specialized areas is going to be lower. But if you’ve put in the effort—done well in school, completed internships, hopefully done a PGY 1 and/or 2, and pursued your passion in other extracurricular ways—then the positions you yearn for can be yours for the taking. Once again, you will likely have to be willing to move to one of what might only be a select few places where you can practice your chosen specialty. But the reward will be worth it.

Be Flexible

Even if you do have your sights set intently on a particular specialty, employer, or geographic location at the time you graduate, be prepared for your best laid plans to be turned completely upside down. Because, you know, that’s how life works, and especially how pharmacy works. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing – especially when jobs are scarce in whatever area you think you’re going to wind up in. Think emergency medicine is right for you? Congratulations! You’ll probably end up running an independent community pharmacy. Swear up and down you’re going to be the greatest NICU pharmacist the world has ever seen? Brace yourself for a lifetime of ambulatory care. Even if you undertake a change in focus that’s purely compelled by job market forces, you may just wake up in a couple of decades in the midst of an incredibly fulfilling career that you had never once envisioned for yourself.

Use RPh on the Go!

At last, we’ve come to the shameless plug portion of the blog. But hey, pharmacy job hunting in a saturated market can be scary when you’re doing it all on your own. Our extensive opportunities and dedicated recruiters will make taking that next step in your pharmacy career a little less daunting.

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