What is the future of pharmacy?
October 7, 2011 11:43 AM   Subscribe

Is pharmacy worth the investment for a mid-20s career changer?

A friend of mine is interested in pursuing a career in pharmacy. He is hearing quite a bit, though, that the future of pharmacy is not as promising as it once was: there are too many new graduates, not enough jobs, pharmacists get no respect, salaries are not what they once were, etc. Are there any pharmacists or pharmacy students on MeFi who can comment on the future of the industry one way or another? Is it worth the investment of an additional 5+ years in school and the accompanying cost? Or will pharmacists be largely obsolete in 10 years? Would you recommend a different healthcare field over pharmacy (other than nursing, which is apparently not an option)? Right now he is considering both retail and hospital pharmacy.

Thanks for your help!
posted by infinityjinx to Work & Money (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Where does he live? What's the pharmacy situation over there? Is it a one-horse town with one or two family-run mom and pop pharmacies or is it a city with a whole bunch of CVS/Rite AID/Walgreens everywhere?
posted by griphus at 11:57 AM on October 7, 2011

Response by poster: He has ties to a couple metropolitan areas (NYC and Minneapolis) but is pretty open when it comes to location. He'll be applying to several schools around the country.
posted by infinityjinx at 12:00 PM on October 7, 2011

If he has ties to NYC, he should check in with any Russian friends/friends-of-friends. Pharmacy school is a very popular choice for young Russian women to the extent that most Russian people know someone who is a pharmacist.

(Ironically, I do not.)
posted by griphus at 12:06 PM on October 7, 2011

He's probably right, the future of pharmacy is not what it once was; in some ways it's depressed, in some ways it has even more potential.

The pharmacist-as-pill-dispenser model is not as strong as it once was. Many people in retail pharmacy feel that they are increasingly marginalized and mistreated by their employers. Definitely they're being asked to do a lot, and in many cases the stuff they're doing is not the stuff they were trained to do in pharmacy school - I get the sense some of them feel there's a bit of a bait-and-switch going on.

On the other hand, I believe the pharmacist-as-medication-expert model has serious legs - if pharmacists can mobilize to promote their unique and incredibly valuable understanding of medications and their interactions, and develop themselves as patient educators, there's a lot of potential there. I think pharmacists have a big role to play in evidence-based medicine and quality improvement, two big powerful concepts in healthcare right now (both in hospitals and in other healthcare organizations - insurers, governments, etc.).

In the end, the question for your friend is: are you OK with being in a profession in flux, where norms and expectations are changing?

If not, actually I'm not sure any other profession (healthcare or otherwise) is much less in flux, but some of them at least don't require so much training to get started. One problem with the fields that require less investment is that the shorter your training is, the more specific it is, which means if your narrow area of expertise becomes obsolete, you're in trouble - i.e. if you're a "Certified Transmogrification Tech" and then transmogrification is superseded by some newer, awesomer technology, uh oh.

Your friend might want to check out some pharmacist blogs and/or trade publications to get a better idea of how things are on the ground.
posted by mskyle at 12:40 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pharmacy was a particularly hot market for a while due to it changing from a four-year bachelor's degree to the pharmd -- this basically led to a gap where no new pharmacists were graduating to fill the growth in the market and attrition from retirements. I suspect that has balanced by now, though.

For what it's worth, I've never known a registered pharmacist that had any difficulty finding work. While the days of making six-figures to count pills by five are probably going/gone, custom drug compounding is a growing market and a pharmacist's knowledge of drug interactions continues to be valuable. If I had to bet, retail pharmacy will be around for a while. All the advances in automation/robots will ultimately drive pharmacy technicians out of jobs, but there will still need to be a pharmacist on site for customers.

Right now he is considering both retail and hospital pharmacy.

He'll probably have to do residencies in both to get through school and pass his boards.
posted by ndfine at 12:45 PM on October 7, 2011

One of my closest friends is a pharmacist, so I'm just going to throw in some things that I've learned from him about this. He has been a pharmacist for ~10 years now. I don't think anyone can truly address the future for any field, but.
• Salaries: How much is enough for your friend? My friend easily got ~$100 K right out of pharmacy school (and the pharmacists that work in the hospital that he works at now start will at least a similar salary now). One that that his changed, however, are the bonuses that the chain pharmacies will give you (it used to be a 10 or 20 K bonus for signing up). To be honest, from his description, those bonuses turned into horrible traps (because you had to pay them back if you quit...without the taxes deducted, and they were horrible places to work).
• Working conditions /respect (don't get scared and keep reading) - this really depends on the place you decide to work. From his description, the chain pharmacies were horrific. Here are some examples of the conditions of a chain pharmacy: 12 hours days (no breaks, including no lunch breaks at most areas, you may work 6 days a week or more and get few vacation days for most of them (notice the signs that say 24X/day or7 days a week?) and respect is horrible -prepare for customers to tell you off, view you as a pill counter, and he was even threatened a few times by people who wanted to get meds for abuse reasons (threats like "I will shoot you/kill you/etc."). However, he moved into a hospital setting and it was night and day: normal work schedule (lots of breaks, enough food breaks), generous vacation days, and a lot of respect by your peers - doctors, nurses, you are part of a team.
• Employment changes - it is getting a bit more competitive. The bonuses at chain salaries have stopped/dropped. Some hospitals closed because some people who are unemployed chose ...not to get some medical procedures. But doesn't this apply to any field?
• Fields of the future - my friend moved into bioinformatics. The salary potential is even higher and they picked him because he had clinical experience. Respect is even higher (peers/hospital staff), pay is higher, but stressful and sometimes intense schedules. If you have interest in going this direction, check out companies like Epic. There is a residency time period when you are a pharmacist if you want to do that, too. Also, if your friend really loves clinical stuff (there is no way to know that before going to pharmacy school) --there are specialists who do so -- many of them had residencies in this field,really need to keep up with the literature, but from my friend's description: doctors would ask these people for their recommendation .

Are you sure about 5 years? My friend needed...maybe 2 years tagged on after completing his BA for a pharmD degree - he had colleagues that started right after 3 years of college. But don't you need 4 years to get an undergrad degree as it is?
My friend is working right now, or I would get him to describe it and type for him...but if you have follow-up questions, feel free to memail me.

posted by Wolfster at 12:49 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Relevant Slate Article
posted by benzenedream at 1:01 PM on October 7, 2011

This blog by an opinionated anonymous pharmacist might provide some insight.
posted by cynicalidealist at 6:04 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is your friend set on staying in NYC/other-largish city?

It's about competition; desireable living locations = your friend is going to have to be very good at what they do, and demonstrably so, in order to be competitive. For fewer and fewer openings, and these openings are going to be less attractive.

If your friend is open minded about living in a smaller city, in a less attractive state, then the employment situation may remain as attractive as at the peak of the pharmacist shortage.

Pharmacy, a little like dentistry, attracts a lot of people who couldn't get into med school. If you're "good enough" to get into med school, you'll get your choice of jobs as a pharmacist/dentist. If your friend isn't as driven or as hard working or as intelligent or as sociable as the didn't-make-it-to-med-school people...
posted by porpoise at 8:13 PM on October 7, 2011

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