Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pharmacy School Scam?

If you have a science degree and you are languishing in the science career graveyard, then you may have considered going to pharmacy school.  In the past, being a pharmacist was a solid, stable, perhaps rather boring occupation.  However, this field, too, may become glutted in the future, especially by the time someone who starts in the Fall of 2011 or 2012 graduates (four years later).

I have contemplated pharmacy as a career in the past and was bothered by my perception that the field was changing in a way that would be bad for pharmacists.  Increasing amounts of prescriptions are being filled by mail order, reducing the need for retail pharmacists.  Also, it's bothersome that employers for pharmacists almost have an oligopoly on the employment market; there aren't that many potential employers for you.  What happens if you piss off the Target or Walgreens chain for some reason, permanently barring yourself from employment in a large percentage of the market?  What if you get blackballed?  What if Congress decides to allow foreign pharmacists to fill prescriptions by mail order?  What if automated machines start dispensing medication instead?

I haven't really paid much attention to the field of pharmacy, so it's possible that what I am posting is naive and ill-informed.  However, I recently came across an article that confirms my suspicions and, worse, claims that the amount of new pharmacist production has increased dramatically: Pharmacists Face Challenges of Oversupply, Changing Roles.

The allure of graduating into a six-figure job has swelled the number of pharmacy schools and thus graduates.  In 2000, there were 81 accredited pharmacy schools and programs in the United States; today there are 111, data from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy shows.
Does the dramatic increase in the number of pharmacy schools and thus new pharmacist production sound familiar?  A 30 school increase is a 37% increase in the number of pharmacy schools and perhaps a 37% increase in the number of new pharmacists.
On its Web site, Pharmacy Today posted a comment from a reader who likens the situation to the late 1970s "when pharmacy schools were utilizing capitation funds generated by greatly increased class size.  My class headcount went from 49 to 108 in the course of one year.  Wages were suppressed, opportunities absent, chains were in charge of our lives."  The writer concluded by saying, "We can see the full circle of supply, demand, and compensation issues completed."

I wouldn't be at all surprised if the universities opened new pharmacy schools so that they could become profit centers.  In the meantime:

The rise in interest and enrollments – though academic programs have expanded, they still only admit a fraction of applicants – collided with cost-cutting efforts by employers and technological innovations that have reduced the demand for pharmacists in some settings.
This sounds eerily like what happened to law schools and the legal profession.
Today's pharmacist, if he or she doesn't want to move away from the "lick and stick" role of prescription-filler, may soon find his job headed toward obsolescence, says one state leader.
Dennis Bryan, RPh, MBA, FAPA, a semi-retired former pharmacy store owner and president of the Illinois Pharmacist Association.  "Standing behind a counter and filling a prescription is going to disappear."

To illustrate what just might be on the horizon, Bryan points to some drug store chains exploring centralized filling – where prescriptions are filled in a regional facility and sent out to stores – and self-serve kiosks.  The latter are designed to remotely dispense prescription medications and soon may be rolling out in the United States and Canada, reports
Yup, I knew it.  I thought something about going to pharmacy school smelled funny.  It looks like another educational undertaking where you will end up going $120,000+ into student loan debt to enter a glutted, contracting field.  Of course, you can bet your bottom dollar that as vending machines start to replace retail pharmacists, pharmacy schools will eagerly advertise misleading employment and income stats to entice naive undergraduates, medical school rejects, and disgruntled scientists into going to pharmacy school.  Another car on the college-education-requiring jobs gravy train is falling off the tracks.


Anonymous said...

I have heard that there is a shortage of pharmacists from numerous sources. I have checked the classifieds and there is usually several openings for a pharmacist. The pay is supposed to be pretty good. I think if you are a pharmacist you will get paid well, unlike the legal field I do not think there is this vast underclass of graduates doing the equivalent of doc review or small law for pharmacists. One thing that interests me is that I have met a couple pharmacists who ditched the field and went to law school. If I was making low six figures, I would not go to law school, so I don't quite understand that. One of the lawyers went to a bottom rung law school that a gerbil could get into. He was doing solo law, and I met some clients that hated him and thought he was incompetent. Later, I was involved with a company that stiffed him on a small bill and he took the case to small claims, one of his buddies from Dumb and Dumber Law School represented him, they asked for attorneys fees, it was pretty funny. Needless to say, I do not think he was living the life.

LSTB said...

Part of how law schools have been able to thrive is by exploiting the bi-modal (now tri-modal) starting salary distribution. I wonder how pharm schools could entice students without such a thing as BigPharm. Does Pfizer hire directly from T14 pharmacy schools?

EvrenSeven said...

Here's the big difference between law schools and every other school- the other schools don't allow themselves to be ranked by USNWR. As a result, there is no T14 in medical school, dental school, pharmacy school, even beauty school. You either graduated from a program or you didn't. Of course there are well regarded schools and not so well regarded schools, but a large number of schools that are just programs that you graduate from, not gauntlets you pass.

Lorne said...

This is just another supply bubble fueled by easy credit, and it will end the same way as the housing bubble and all the rest. The government needs to get out of the guaranteed loan business. At the same time, outstanding loans must be made eligible for discharge in bankruptcy to purge the debt from the system.

Anonymous said...

It looks like pretty much all schooling is a scam regardless of the sector. This is something I have been saying for years but with education being an expectation and a requirement that is pushed on you it's very difficult to escape the web.

The only real option a young person has to support themselves is pretty much the military, which not everyone can do. Depending on the region you are in, you are otherwise pretty much stuck trying to get on welfare to supplement minimum wage jobs or living with your parents if they don't kick you out of the house (which they might be more apt to do if you refuse to enter higher education, which most parents demand).

I wish we could change that mentality and expose academia for the useless, scamming racketeering that it really is. Academia provides no useful skills and uses a warped grading/classification system that is rarely connected to merit to begin with. It was only ever really useful for the rich, because the rich don't actually need the education to begin with, and it was a place for rich kids to meet other rich kids and waste some time before getting a position due to family influence.

Frank the Underemployed Professional said...

@Nov 7, 3:42 am:

I don't think that all higher education is a scam, at least not reasonably priced bachelors degrees in useful fields (engineering, nursing, etc.) However, it seems like almost all graduate and professional education is pretty much a scam or a pyramid scheme (science PhD.) today. Overproduction is rampant pretty much everywhere except for medical and dental school.

You make a very good point about parents driving their kids into college by threatening to kick them out. I know of just such a situation in real life where an 18 year old freshman just simply isn't ready for college, but his parents threatened to throw him out if he didn't go. (At least he's going to an inexpensive community college.) Many parents probably don't understand that if their child isn't cut out for college or simply isn't ready yet, they cannot simply walk into a lower middle class blue collar job today. Many kids would be better off working low wage jobs for a year too, first, to gain an appreciation of the value of solid, useful vocational or college education.

Anonymous said...

Things went wrong for Pharmacy around 2005. What happened was that pharmacy went from a 5 year BPharm to a 6 year PharmD program. This allowed schools to increase the class sizes from 60(major) to 120(school)students. Also, the number of schools went from 81 to 131. The same thing is occurring to Physical therapists which went from BPT to DPT programs.

Pharmacists were always too smug for me. They had high employment and starting salaries. They also had an attitude. NOw, they get to experience the global economy.

Anonymous said...

When tiny little colleges like Midway College in Kentucky start opening pharmacy schools, you know the end is near for the profession.

Nando said...

Check out Medicine Sux" and MD Undergroud, and you will see the plight of these students. Also, medical and dental schools are starting to take in more students than there are available slots. Would a responsible profession do this to its members?!?! (So far, none of the other professional schools come close to law schools, in their brazen greed. An MBA is a toilet degree.)

Pharmacy schools seem to have lowered their standards. (Yeah, that could happen when the number of schools explodes in a short time.) For instance, I have a brother in law (the one married to the hot chick; not the one in dental school) who is 32 and still has 40 credit hours left to earn a Bachelor's. He has changed major SEVERAL times. He has recently decided to change it to Spanish.

While it might make sense for pharmacists to communicate with non-English speakers, what serious pharmacy school would take such a person.

In the end, we are producing far too many college and graduate school debt-slaves. We are producing FAR TOO MANY graduates for the available slots. At this pace, you will need a JD, PhD or MBA just to work at a damn movie theater.

"Over 317,000 waiters and waitresses have college degrees (over 8,000 of them have doctoral or professional degrees), along with over 80,000 bartenders, and over 18,000 parking lot attendants. All told, some 17,000,000 Americans with college degrees are doing jobs that the BLS says require less than the skill levels associated with a bachelor’s degree."

online pharmacy reviews said...

I've read a Yahoo! news article about the 8 growing job markets that would keep growing until 2018. One of them is the pharmacist, together with computer engineer, accountants, and physical therapists. I forgot the rest unfortunately. If I am able to find the link I'll share it here.

- Jessica Greer

Ripley said...

I'm inclined to agree about pharmacy school. As the list of drugs that pharmacies have carried has grown shorter and the need to "compound" medicines has pretty much vanished, it's easier to replace the pharmacist with a pill-counting machine.

The machines come in all sizes, ranging from about 50 different drugs to hundreds, and can dispense anything from single doses to prescription quantities. They have been particularly useful in hospitals, where patients frequently take multiple medications several times a day.

A freind of mine who recently retired from nursing urged me to become a pharmacist. I'm an engineer, so it made NO sense economically when you included the 4 years of lost wages that I would incur plus the living expenses.

Unlike law, pharmacy school isn't offered part-time.

Anonymous said...

I was an engineer for 3 years, made 50k in yr 1 and 2, 55k in year 3 (switched jobs). Now I am enrolled in pharmacy school, I am very happy with this decision now. With lost expenses and going to a cheap school (16K pr yr for 3 yrs, 8k for the first yr) It will work out well I strongly believe so. In about 8 yrs afters school I will be in the positive in terms of salary and I have much broader career options available to me. It is a sacrifice financially but it will definitely pay off in the end. It's a worthwhile investment in my view.

Andre said...

Perhaps a blog ring will emerge from ripped off pharmacy students!

Anonymous said...

The article did not mention how many students graduate. Pharmacy has a traditional 40% drop out rate due to a challenging curriculum.
I have been a pharmacist for 20 years and have seen the profession cycle.
The role of a pharmacist has changed in the past five years. We went from product orientated to clinical orientated. I have found myself from being a dispenser of product to one who dispenses knowledge. I was hired at hospital to monitor medication adverse reactions and to tweak therapeutics for a better patient outcome. Basically I am a Mr Spock to the physician's Capt Kirk... again this has happened in the last five years.
I foresee the need for pharmacists to increase and here is why: Physician groups are starting to hire pharmacists to collaborate with them to make proper pharmacotherapy decisions (just like in hospital settings). Insurance companies charge less in malpractice if a pharmacist is hired to review medication treatment. While Walgreens and CVS are slow to hiring, Many openings are in hospital and Physician groups. Now, there is a caveat; the pharmacists hired to these jobs are not the run of the mill pharmacists. They are Clinical Pharmacists and intensely trained in Pharmacotherapy. All new graduating pharmacists in the doctoral level are highly clinically trained.
When the new healthcare kicks in , there will be 24 million more people that are working and will be insured. This translated to an overnight demand of 64,000 pharmacists.

Anonymous said...

I really think it goes back to the ruse we were sold with outsourcing "unskilled labor," i.e. non-degree jobs (and lately, jobs that do require degrees, as well as many service jobs). They signed NAFTA and told us everyone just had to get more trained, that midwestern industry and southern textile work would shrivel up but that we'd challenge ourselves and become a trained workforce, or a service economy. Now kids go to law school, pharmacy school, communications, or really anything to get that degree stamp that used to bring higher wages. But when everyone has a degree, it stops being competitive. If everyone goes to law school, law wages are depressed and lawyers can't find work. An economy doesn't run entirely on four or five skilled/degree requiring trades. When it does, it becomes a banana republic: good for global business, with low wages that are great for the stock market, but bad for any but the wealthy to make any money in it. Creating an economy where we have to send way too many students to too few fields, often because they want the pay not because they love it (when they might've made the living they were imagining from getting a diploma after a few years in management at the major industries we used to have here), is a great way to create a perpetual employer's market, and reduce workers' bargaining power.

stwfang said...

Please be aware that given the oversupply of pharmacy schools and poor overall job market, pharmacists unable/unwilling to work retail are crowding into the hospital setting. Hospitals are increasingly demanding that new grads complete 1-2 years residency ON TOP of the 4 year PharmD, which
1)Makes pharmacy training the equivalent of medical school
2)Increasing the time that new pharmacists spend overworked, underpaid, and delaying student loan payments. These people need to have more credentials just to keep the same job that a BS Pharm could get 10 years ago.

The American College of Clinical Pharmacy wants to make residency mandatory to improve professional prestige. If it really wanted to increase job security, just STOP opening up more pharm schools. Pharm schools benefit from tuition dollars and hospitals benefit from extra residents' (cheap) labor.

Keep in mind that in this economy the retail chains can cut hours of pharmacy staff. Most jobs in this profession are paid hourly, so this can hurt.

Pharmacy school was a good idea several years ago, but I would say to aspiring students to enroll only if they really desire it.

-Hospital pharmacist

Self Employed And Loving IT said...

Learn a trade through an apprentice program. The greed mongols can't replace that with a robot. Any fool who thinks there BA, BS, MBA, PHD, and JD is worth anything from a toilet tier school needs to get there head checked. With the over supply of educated people employers can be more selective and choose people from elite schools. THINK ABOUT THAT FOR A MINUTE.

xlpharmacy said...

Before choosing a school and course it is important to consider that you will like the career that you will have after graduating, plus there should be a demand for that job. The pharmacy schools and nursing schools did have the same effects on graduates today.

BlackRoses said...

One pharmacy program with many campuses regularly culls 5% of the class every semester. They do this by giving tests that no one can complete in the allotted time, making up fake answers that are wrong when you check the reference books, passing on old exams to their favorite people, and scheduling students to be in 2 places at the same time. Pharmacy school - you may just regret going and getting that $30,000 bill every year.

Anonymous said...

Six year veteran pharmacists. Are there any actual pharmacists here? Yes, there are openings posted, but they almost always go to the new grads who signed on early. Most of the veteran pharmacists I know are in other lines of work or doing 8 hours a week at walmart. The retailers are going to all part-time workers. The mail-order chains use a 15:1 tech:pharmacist ratio. Furthermore, there is the much discussed black-list. If you cross one retail chain, you cross them all. And crossing them can be as trivial as receiving 3 customer/employee complaints. I can not get an interview with unstaffed stores in Alaska or Elko, NV for unexplained reasons. Finally, certain pharmacy boards are actively searching for ways to prop up revenue. The launch "investigations" for the slightest complaint. They will not listen to the most expensive lawyer and will take back your license at any whiff of a complaint. I recently lost a complaint case and my lawyer went home with $40,000 after I lost everything. If you're a lawyer,becoming a pharmacist in a real joke. Why not go into license defense and do what you'll end up doing after several years as a pharmacist.

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