Survey shows recession's impact and changes on pharmacy workforce

More pharmacists rate workload as high

Pharmacy practice both in the community and in hospitals continues to change and evolve with some trends increasing as a result of the 2009 recession, a national pharmacy workforce survey finds.

For instance, a trend that likely is due to the current economic downturn is that hospital pharmacists increasingly are staying longer in their jobs. The proportion of hospital pharmacists who have been working at their current jobs for less than three years has dropped from 26% in 2000 to 13% in 2009, the survey reports.

Another trend related to the recession is that the proportion of pharmacists working part-time has increased from 14.9% in 2000 to 20.9% in 2009, according to the 2009 national pharmacist workforce survey prepared by the Midwest Pharmacy Workforce Research Consortium and sponsored by Pharmacy Manpower Project Inc. of Alexandria, VA.

"We've been tracking part-time work, which is 30 hours or less per week, and we've had an interesting finding between the surveys in 2000, 2004, and 2009," says Jon Schommer, PhD, RPh, the director of graduate studies and associate department head of pharmaceutical care and health systems at the University of Minnesota, College of Pharmacy in Minneapolis, MN. Schommer presented the survey's findings at the ASHP meeting in December, 2009, in Washington, DC.

"There's a straight line trend going up, showing that pharmacists are working part-time more now than they ever have," Schommer says.

"We analyzed this trend by gender and age and found that for men there is a straight-line increase where they work part-time more when they hit age 60," he adds. "For females, there are two segments: One is during childbearing and child rearing years, where there is an increase in part-time work, and then it goes back down before swinging up again."

Schommer notes that gender-blind workplace parental leave policies might result in more men turning to part-time work in their 30s, as well.

"As this new generation comes through, we don't know what their values are regarding taking time off work," he says.

The survey also found that more pharmacists now report having an excessively high workload than in previous years.

In 2004, 54% of pharmacists rated their workload as high or excessively high, while in 2009, this percentage jumped to 68% of pharmacists.

"Across all categories there is evidence of increased workload," Schommer says.

About 64% of hospital pharmacists reported having a high or excessively high workload in 2009, compared with 61% making this claim in 2004, Schommer says.

This compares with 72% of pharmacists who work for chain drug stores reporting having a high or excessively high workload

"Where we saw the biggest jump was among pharmacists at supermarket pharmacies where only 35% reported a high or excessively high workload in 2004, and this jumped to 69% in 2009," he adds. "Our take-home message is that every single pharmacy workplace has over 60% of pharmacists reporting a high workload."

The positive news for hospital pharmacies is that other workplaces have caught up or passed the hospital pharmacy with regard to the workload stress for employees, and this might make recruiting new staff easier.

"Hospital pharmacies have developed new programs and are utilizing pharmacy in ways that attract new pharmacy graduates," Schommer says. "Health-system pharmacists are given opportunities to provide direct patient care services, and their responsibility for dispensing is quite low."

These changes, along with the fact that community pharmacy practice no longer is low-stress, have made the hospital setting more appealing.

"There have been some advancements in patient care practices for the hospital pharmacy," Schommer says.

The survey also found that the proportion of older pharmacists, who are actively practicing pharmacy has increased, while the proportion of pharmacists age 40 and younger has decreased.

Pharmacists, ages 40 and younger, accounted for 44.1% of practicing pharmacists when a similar survey was taken in 2000. But in 2009, the proportion of pharmacists in this age group was 24.4%. In 2009, 32.5% of practicing pharmacists were older than age 55; in 2000, only 16.8% were older than age 55, according to the survey's results.

Another continuing trend is the increasing proportion of practicing pharmacists who are women. It's risen from 44.8% in 2000 to 46.4% in 2009, the report says.

Younger pharmacists and those with the PharmD designation are more likely to be female than older pharmacists and those with RPh designations, Schommer says.

"We found a trend that older pharmacists and their cohort are typically male; they have no PharmD, no residency training, and they spend a lot of time in dispensing activities," Schommer says. "The cohort of PharmD-trained pharmacists are more likely to be residency-trained — up to one-third; they're more likely to be female, and they're engaged in patient care activities much more than dispensing."

New graduates of pharmacy schools are looking for patient care-type jobs, he adds.

"The question is: If we are changing our profession and we have most of new job creation in patient care, then how many pharmacists do we need to do patient care?" Schommer says. "If we're building efficiencies in dispensing, do we have a shortage or surplus, and what are our needs for the future?"

One answer to this question can be found in the numbers of new pharmacy school graduates.

"The number of pharmacy graduates in the nation is going up to almost 11,000 per year," Schommer says.

Pharmacy is the third-largest health care profession, following nursing and physicians, Schommer says.

"There are about 250,000 licensed pharmacists in this country, and that includes me and I don't practice," he adds.

"This profession has developed the capacity to solve medication therapy problems in society," he says. "Part of our role is to assure that prescription drugs are evaluated and dispensed perfectly, but also there are a lot of problems that pharmacists can help solve."

Future roles for pharmacists might include coordinating patients' medical homes, pharmacists stepping in when there is a shortage of primary care providers, and pharmacists increasingly working on interdisciplinary teams, Schommer predicts.

"If our profession starts doing that, and we get more efficient with the dispensing side, then what does that mean for the numbers of pharmacists we need?" he says. "The profession is changing so much, it will be interesting to see if there are shortages or surpluses of pharmacists."