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.

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