Pharmacist shortage continues despite lower vacancies

The pharmacist shortage is continuing, although the vacancy rate has decreased from last year, says the results of an annual survey conducted by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP). In addition, more than half of the respondents report an adverse effect of the shortage on pharmacy programs and services. Here are some key findings of the 2003 ASHP Pharmacy Staffing Survey:

• The reported pharmacist vacancy rate was less in 2003 (5.6%) as compared to 2002 (6.9%).

• Technician vacancy rates were lower than pharmacists and down slightly in 2003 (4.3%) as compared to 2002 (4.6%).

• Pharmacist staff are relatively stable in their positions, with turnover at 7.5% in 2003, down from 8.5% in 2002.

• Small hospitals, especially those with fewer than 100 beds, have bigger staffing challenges with significantly higher pharmacist vacancy and turnover rates as compared to larger hospitals. Institutions of this size comprise 44.1% of all U.S. hospitals.

• Although respondents perceive all pharmacist positions to be in relatively short supply, the percent reporting severe or moderate shortages declined for several positions. Most notably, those perceiving a shortage of entry-level front-line pharmacists declined from 84% to 75% and clinical specialists from 71% to 67%. The percent reporting a shortage of entry-level pharmacy technicians went from 31% to 22%.

• More than half of pharmacy directors reported that pharmacist vacancies have delayed expansion of pharmacy programs and services into new areas and have resulted in reduction of services so that existing staff could be deployed or assigned to cover other areas.

• More than half of pharmacy directors have changed the practice environment in their settings to be more professionally rewarding and have improved scheduling to make their workplace more appealing and improve pharmacist retention.

• A notable number of pharmacy directors perceive that there have been more errors in the pharmacy (38%) and less pharmacist vigilance toward medication safety in the hospital (45%) as a result of pharmacist vacancies.

• More pharmacy directors are expanding the roles and responsibilities of pharmacy technicians as a response to pharmacist vacancies (44%) than the increased use of automation in the pharmacy (31%).

• Forty-two percent are providing signing bonuses to lure staff, with an average amount of $4,789. The average salary increase for pharmacist staff last year was 6.6% (including cost of living, market adjustments, and merit increases).

• The percentage of pharmacy technicians who are Pharmacy Technician Certification Board-certified continues to grow, up to 47% in 2003 as compared to 37% in 2002.

In May, a random sample of ASHP members identified as pharmacy directors were invited by e-mail to take the on-line survey. A total of 578 questionnaires (19% response rate) were completed. ASHP included only nonfederal practice setting questionnaires in this analysis (564 questionnaires).

Scholarship campaign launched to recruit pharmacy teachers

The nation’s oldest pharmacy foundation is taking action to attract additional qualified people into careers teaching the next generation of pharmacists.

The American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education (AFPE) in Rockville, MD, was joined by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and leaders of the pharmacy community as it launched Investing in the Future of Pharmacy Education.

The campaign, which will be financed by a wide variety of corporations, foundations, and individual donors, is expected to raise $12 million to fund scholarships that support students preparing for pharmacy faculty positions and that support new pharmacy faculty pursuing groundbreaking pharmaceutical research.

AFPE’s program will award up to 155 annual scholarships to students pursuing pharmacy degrees that qualify them for careers teaching at schools or colleges of pharmacy. AFPE already has raised $3.5 million in contributions toward this scholarship program.

Specifically, the $12 million scholarship program will help AFPE fund up to:

• Thirty $5,000, one-year research project scholarships for pharmacy students who have demonstrated an aptitude for a career in academic pharmacy and research.

• Ninety-five $25,000, three-year, pre-doctoral fellowships for outstanding students at colleges and schools of pharmacy who seek a career in academic pharmacy and who are in their final stages of their PhD coursework and research.

• Thirty $10,000, one-year pharmacy faculty/ new investigator grants to help new pharmacy faculty establish their research programs and secure the government or private-sector research grants helpful in securing a tenured faculty position. 

Warnings added to topiramate and somatropin

New safety information recently has been added to prescribing information for both topiramate/topiramate capsules (Topamax) and somatropin (rDNA origin) for injection (Genotropin).

The prescribing information for topiramate/ topiramate capsules has been revised to provide updated information about oligohidrosis and hyperthermia, which have been reported in topiramate-treated patients. This updated information is based on clinical trial and post-marketing experience in more than 2 million patients worldwide.

The reports primarily involved children. Most cases have occurred in association with exposure to elevated environmental temperatures and/or vigorous activity, and children should be observed closely under these conditions. In the majority of patients, topiramate therapy has been continued. Proper hydration before and during activities such as exercise or exposure to warm temperatures is recommended.

Pfizer also is advising health care professionals of seven post-marketing reports of fatalities involving the use of somatropin (rDNA origin) for injection in pediatric patients with Prader-Willi syndrome. These patients had one or more of the following risk factors: severe obesity, history of respiratory impairment or sleep apnea, or unidentified respiratory infection. In response, Pfizer is saying that growth hormone is contraindicated in patients with Prader-Willi syndrome who are severely obese or have severe respiratory problems. 

ASHP speaks out against market access bill

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) in Bethesda, MD, "adamantly opposes" legislation passed by the House of Representatives that would allow medications to move freely across U.S. borders without authorization or control by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The Pharmaceutical Market Access Act of 2003, H.R. 2427, would allow individuals, pharmacists, and wholesalers to import pharmaceuticals with no limits as to the types of drugs allowed or frequency of their importation. Under this legislation, records would not have to be maintained by individuals who import medications, and the drug products would not have to be tested for authenticity or potency.

"Allowing imported drugs to enter the country with the bare minimum in terms of safeguards will create significant safety hazards for patients who cannot know if the medications they are receiving are expired, contaminated, counterfeit, subpotent, or superpotent," says Henri R. Manasse Jr., PhD, ScD, ASHP executive vice president and CEO.

ASHP is strongly urging its members to oppose this legislation.