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Filling Orders for Pharmacists Amid a Shortage

November 08, 2005|From Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Unlike most college students nearing graduation, Clarissa Hall isn't worried about finding a job -- she's already considering several offers, including some with possible starting salaries of at least $80,000.

Hall is benefiting from a nationwide shortage of pharmacists, which has prompted fierce competition among employers for new pharmacy graduates.

"Pretty much everyone in my class has people calling them left and right about jobs," said Hall, a University of Missouri-Kansas City student from Poplar Bluff. "I've had several people calling me, and I don't even graduate until May."

The shortage of pharmacists was fueled by several factors, especially changes in insurance policies and federal regulation of pharmaceuticals, which made drugs available to more people.

Add to that an aging population and more drugs being manufactured and advertised to the public, and the number of prescriptions has increased from 2 billion to 3.2 billion in the last decade. That problem is expected to worsen after the new Medicare prescription drug program begins Jan. 1, pharmacy officials said.

Independent and chain pharmacies, hospitals and nursing homes are scrambling to find people to fill orders.

The National Assn. of Chain Drug Stores reported about 5,950 full- and part-time openings in July in its 37,000 member stores. The American Hospital Assn. reported a 7.4% vacancy rate for pharmacists as of December 2004, with 38% of its members saying it was harder to recruit pharmacists last year than in 2003.

Around the country, universities are opening new pharmacy schools or expanding existing programs, but it probably will take years for supply to meet demand. Some schools have reported 10 applicants for every pharmacy school opening.

"It is a great job market for those who get in," said Lucinda L. Maine, executive vice president of the American Assn. of Colleges of Pharmacy in Alexandria, Va. "But we also have a lot of disappointed people who are being turned away."

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