2003 Salary Survey Results

Respondents report higher salaries in 2003

A recent survey shows that pharmacists are reporting higher wages than last year — a possible result of the 22 or more years that more than 50% of the respondents have worked in pharmacy.

Drug Utilization Review recently tabulated the results of its 2003 salary survey to assess the financial and workplace demographics of its readership. Of the 31 respondents to the survey, 68% report earning more than $90,000 annually. In comparison, 54% of the 2002 survey respondents said they earned less than $90,000 annually. Fifty percent of the 2003 respondents also say they have worked in pharmacy for 22 or more years.

Longevity in one health care facility, however, doesn’t always mean a pharmacist’s salary keeps pace with that of the overall industry, says Carsten Evans, PhD, FASHP, assistant dean for professional affairs at Nova Southeastern University College of Pharmacy in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Bonuses added into gross income may be one reason the salaries are higher, he says.

The majority of the 2003 respondents (70%) are directors or assistant directors of pharmacy. Other titles include clinical pharmacist or coordinator, QA/DUE pharmacist, associate quality officer, manager, and pharmacy supervisor.

Seventy-four percent of respondents are ages 40 or older, and 61% are men. All respondents work in a hospital or clinic. Forty-two percent work in an urban location, and 52% live in the Southeast or Southwest.

The number of respondents who have a PharmD degree has increased from last year’s survey, as well. In 2002, 32% of respondents said they had the degree. This year the number is 42%. Other degrees the respondents hold include a three-year diploma, BS & BA, MS, MBA, PhD, and CPhT.

The number of pharmacists with PharmD degrees will only increase, with that degree now being the ACPE (American Council on Pharmaceutical Education) accreditation standard for pharmacy schools since 2000, Evans says. Pharmacy directors and managers may have to go elsewhere, though, to get business training that they will need for their jobs. "In general, pharmacy school curriculums don’t really focus on the skills and knowledge to compete in today’s business atmosphere," he explains. "That’s why you find so many pharmacy administrators with additional degrees."

A look at this year’s salary increases

The 2003 Drug Utilization Review survey shows that about 42% of respondents’ salaries increased in the range of 1% to 3%. Thirty-five percent had an increase in the 4%-6% range, 13% in the 7%-10% range, and 3% in the 11%-15% range. (Six percent reported no change in salary at all.)

In comparison, the Social Security Administration calculated the latest automatic cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) to be 1.4%. The COLAs prevent inflation from eroding Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits. (To see how COLAs are calculated, see www.ssa.gov/OACT/COLA/colasummary.html.)

In addition, median household income — the income of the household in the middle of the income scale (half have lower incomes; half have higher incomes) — fell 1.1% after adjusting for inflation last year, and it has dropped 3.3% over the past two years, according to the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, DC. This decline represents a loss of $491 (2002 dollars) in income for these households last year and $1,439 over the past two years.

The continuing pharmacist shortage often has been attributed to higher pharmacist salaries. The 2003 Pharmacy Staffing Survey conducted by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) in Bethesda, MD, says the reported pharmacist vacancy rate was 5.6% in 2003 (5.6%), as compared to 6.9% in 2002.

Small hospitals, especially those with fewer than 100 beds, report having the bigger staffing challenges with significantly higher pharmacist vacancy and turnover rates as compared to larger hospitals.

More than half of the overall respondents also report that pharmacist vacancies have delayed expansion of pharmacy programs and services into new areas and have resulted in reduction of services so that staff could be re-deployed or reassigned to cover other areas.

Although the pharmacist shortage has gotten much press, it has never affected salaries in the manner of other health care professions reported to be in shortage, such as nursing, Evans says. "You never really saw 20% increases to get or even keep pharmacists on staff." Instead, pharmacists might receive other benefits, such as a sign-on bonus. The ASHP survey, for example, reports that 42% of pharmacy directors are providing signing bonuses to lure staff, with an average amount of $4,789.

What are you worth?

It might seem logical that pharmacists in larger, urban hospitals or health systems might make more money than ones in smaller facilities. That is not always true, Evans says. Pharmacists more involved in patient care are not always paid more than staff pharmacists, either.

It can depend on the need, he says. Large health systems may have structured pay levels for pharmacists, with the requirements for each level spelled out. Another health system, however, may pay more for someone to go to where he or she is needed most, such as in a small town. "If [the health systems] need something, they seem to pay for it," Evans says.

Measuring the worth of a pharmacist is not a simple job, he says. Pharmacy directors are responsible for budgets; their value often can be measured in dollars. Staff pharmacists’ value is more difficult to determine. They oversee technicians and fulfill regulations that require pharmacists to sign off on order entry and the filling of medication carts for patients.

In contrast, clinical pharmacists affect patient outcomes. This value is harder to quantify. Even so, systems are being put in place that measure the impact that clinical pharmacists have on patient care, Evans says.

Although the skills of the clinical pharmacist can directly impact patient care costs, staff pharmacists are sometimes paid more because these positions are harder to fill in certain parts of the country. (In "true" teaching hospitals, however, you should always find that clinical pharmacists would be paid more, he says.)

Evans questions why pharmacists would study for several years and then be content to fill orders and not aggressively try to have an impact on patient care. He suspects it may be related to the personalities.

"Every pharmacy student that has graduated from Nova Southeastern University over the past 14 years has been tested [with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test] and the majority [65%] found to be introverted," he says. Similarly, random test audiences of pharmacists at CE conferences have resulted in nearly identical percentages. "This attribute alone may have significant influence over the future of the profession."

The lure of corporate jobs continue

The lure of more money, benefits, and travel continue to tempt pharmacists into the pharmaceutical industry, Evans says. Often sales representatives from drug companies court pharmacists during their periodic visits. "They cherry-pick the best people," he reports.

Huge student loan debts may make the call to industry even more tempting. The majority of the students entering his pharmacy program this year expect to leave school owing about $100,000 in student loans, Evans says.

Only three of about 190 students in that class say they will have their education totally subsidized by other means.