There seems to be a growing divide between the expectations of students in U.S. pharmacy schools and the realities of being a pharmacist.
“Pharmacy school students live in a delusional world [that I’ll call] pharmacyland,” says the author of a blog called The Angry Pharmacist.
This isn’t the opinion of a one-off contrarian, either, but rather hundreds of bloggers and commenters. (Just do a search for “pharmacy school vs reality”)
“My introduction to the workforce was completely different than the picture painted of pharmacy practice while in pharmacy school,” says California-based pharmacist Jerry Fahrni.
“If anyone is seriously considering pharmacy school for the Pharm D program be aware of the challenges people are facing now and how many pharmacists are in debt and looking for work,” says this New Jersey-based pharmacist.
So is the outlook for real-world pharmacists really that shockingly different from the picture painted in pharmacy school?
For a better idea, here’s a look at three aspects of being a pharmacist as taught in school, compared to anecdotes from pharmacists out in the real world:
“Patient care” in school
There’s a lot of emphasis on patient care in pharmacy school – and rightfully-so: Consults and patient care overall are arguably the main human aspect of the pharmacist profession.
Many schools of pharmacy emphasise that their residencies provide opportunities to work in a patient-centered medical environment, collaborating with innovative care teams, gaining a solid breadth of patient-care experience.
“Patient care” in the real world
On the other hand, a growing number of practicing pharmacists argue that – while important to patients – the patient care aspect of being a pharmacist can rarely be monetized: something especially important for self-employed retail pharmacists.
“Pharmacy professors wield the term ‘patient care’ to their students like its what brings home the bacon every pay-period,” says one pharmacist blogger. “You know what makes the store money? Filling prescriptions.”
“Pharmacists cost the store they are working for $1 to $1.50/min,” the blogger continues. “Spend an hour with a patient who’s Rx’s net you $15 profit [and you]…sunk the store into the hole (by just your time alone). Not to say you should have a timer, but remember that [a] pharmacy is also a business, and you and your staff have to eat/pay bills as well.”
Opinion of pharmacists in school
Pharmacists are constantly ranked as the most trusted professionals, according to numerous independent surveys conducted by such reputable sources as Gallup and Forbes.
Many pharmacy schools emphasize that pharmacists are a well-respected member on a ‘health care team’ as the resident drug expert, as well as pointing to a lucrative and versatile career outlook.
Opinion of pharmacists in the real world
One particular commenter on the Student Doctor Network message board listed a truly dire set of drawbacks they seem to have experienced:
“- Nobody will ever call/address you as “Dr” even though you earn the title and the degree.
– Expect to be yelled/screamed at by a lowlife drug seekers, old [people] (if you work in retail), and by nurses (if you work in hospital).
– Expect to be looked down by MDs/PAs (“what do you know? Just fill my script and don’t call me every 5 mins for a stupid drug interaction! “*click*)
– Expect “Why does my medication take so long to fill?” everyday, every hour, everytime
– Expect to get robbed.
– Expect to ring up tampon[s], milk, cheese, etc…” from this discussion board.
While this comment is certainly the extreme end of the spectrum and there are surely pharmacists who are happy with their profession, we found a significant number of negative comments on many of the comment areas and message boards we came across.
Ironically, even the comments on a blog on why we thought pharmacists will never be replaced by automation that we posted in 2013 are 100% negative, arguing for technology to partially or even completely replace human pharmacists.
Pharmacist job opportunities as seen in school
Being a pharmacist was ranked the #1 Best Paying Job for Women in 2012 by Forbes Magazine. And the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics cites an average $117,000 starting salary.
Many pharmacy schools claim there is a 25% expected job growth by 2020 for pharmacists. (The current figure from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is 14% for between 2012 and 2022.)
Many Pharm D programs also cite 95, 98, or 99% graduate placement rates for jobs or residencies within half a year of graduation (a large portion of these – perhaps around half – are residencies.)
Pharmacist job opportunities as seen in the real world
“Let’s face it, pharmacists currently act as an advanced clinical decision support system for physicians, nurses and patients,” says Fahrni.
“As technology gets better pharmacists will slowly be removed from this role. While there will always be complex patients that require multiple medications where a pharmacist might provide value, the numbers don’t support an entire army of pharmacy professionals.”
And while some statistics cite a projected growth in the need for new pharmacists through 2020, other data actually suggests there may actually be a jobless crisis for new pharmacist grads in the next few years.
What do you think?
Are you or someone you know in a pharmacy school or career?
What are your thoughts on the differences between the outlook for pharmacists while in school compared to the realities of the work-force?
Got an example, a story, or an opinion? Weigh-in through the Comments area below…