Pharmacy OneSource Blog

Clinical Corner: Is there a Pharmacy School Bubble?

Pharmacy and healthcare has always been part of my life… literally. My father and grandfather are both graduates from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy with distinguished careers in retail pharmacy and ambulatory care. Growing up in a family of pharmacists, I watched my grandfather from a distance provide pharmacy care in Hartman’s Pharmacy in the small community of Melrose, Massachusetts. My father followed in his footsteps and opened a second Hartman’s Pharmacy in the small(er) community of Limestone, Maine.

The old corner drugstores served as a safe environment with open access for patients seeking medication advice from the world’s most trusted profession. Naturally, pharmacy was an easy career choice for me at the time and drove me to become a third generation pharmacist. Upon entering the pharmacy profession I saw vast and diverse job opportunities across the United States. I also saw a profession that was seeking a new identity as critical members of the patient care team with the most knowledge in medication therapies.

A recent article, The Pharmacy School Bubble Is About to Burst, caused a stir in social media across many email lists and networking groups. The article describes a report, published in 2000 from the Department of Health and Human Services, which suggested 98 percent of Americans would be affected by a national shortage of pharmacists. In addition, the Pharmacy Workforce Center predicted a shortfall of 157,000 pharmacists in the United States with an increased demand from a growing and aging baby boomer population. Graduates from schools of pharmacy in the 1990s and 2000s were presented with competing job offers, great opportunity, and escalating salaries.

The free market kicked into high gear with rapid expansion of pharmacy class sizes, new pharmacy schools opening across the country, and new non-traditional and online programs. Not only would the widespread expansion of pharmacy education address the national shortage but it would also better prepare pharmacists to take on more clinically focused provider based care in future practice models.  Unfortunately, provider status lagged in many states and at the federal level leaving highly trained pharmacy professionals fighting for more legacy pharmacy roles. In addition, the wide spread adoption of technology and clinical decision support in pharmacy operations helped fill the personnel shortages and improve operational efficiency.  

Pharmacy School Growth
Year    Number of Schools
1987 72
2014 About 130
Average Job Offers for New Graduates
2009 Up to 12
2014 1-3

These numbers and the prospect of entering the pharmacy profession has been creating anxiety with new graduates. As a preceptor of an Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiential (APPE) program, I hear my students’ challenges with finding the job of their dreams. Students are also being pushed to pursue postdoctoral residency and fellowship programs to improve their knowledge and keep competitive in the profession. Even with these intriguing statistics and general anxiety in the pharmacy community, the Department of Labor recently published a report stating that pharmacy is the top healthcare profession with an expected 14% growth rate by the year 2022.  I wonder, what decision I would have made when I decided to make pharmacy my career? 

What do you think of the rapid growth of pharmacy schools and class sizes? Does the Department of Labor report change your opinion on the direction of our profession and education?


About the Author

Christian Hartman, PharmD, MBA, FSMSO
Dr. Hartman serves as the Senior Director of Clinical Research, Content Development,  and Professional Services for Pharmacy OneSource.  He is a member of the Wolters Kluwer Health Clinical Solution Innovation Lab (iLab).

Dr. Hartman founded and served as president of the Medication Safety Officers Society, a professional organization under the Institute for Safe Medication Practices(ISMP) representing medication safety officers at healthcare organizations. He is an assistant professor of medicine and nursing at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, adjunct assistant professor of pharmacy practice at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, adjunct assistant professor of pharmacy practice at the University of Rhode Island and clinical assistant professor of pharmacy practice at Northeastern University.  Dr. Hartman is a World Health Organization (WHO) expert consultant in medication safety and pharmacy practices.

Christian practiced as a senior research pharmacist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital dedicated to human research conducted at Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard University. In 2003, Dr. Hartman was appointed Medication Safety Officer at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, MA. Serving as the first MSO, he created the world’s first accredited post doctoral residency program in Medication Safety. During his tenure at UMass, the organization had three successful Joint Commission accreditation visits with no medication management RFIs, converted to electronic error reporting, increased error reporting by 150%, and successfully created an electronic solution to detect potential ADEs using the IHI Global Trigger tool and IHI 5 Million Lives: Preventing Harm from High Alert Medications.

He served as the president of Massachusetts Society of Health-System Pharmacists (MSHP) and MSHP Foundation, the ASHP Section Advisory Group for Medication Safety, ASHP Section Advisory Group for Compliance and Quality, University HealthSystem Consortium Pharmacy Council Committee for Medication Use and Technology.. Dr. Hartman received his bachelor of science in pharmacy from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy in Boston and his doctor of pharmacy degree from the University of Kansas. He completed a fellowship in patient safety at the Virginia Commonwealth University and received a masters of business administration (MBA) at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass-Amherst. Dr. Hartman is Fellow (FSMSO) of the American Society of Medication Safety Officers.

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