Study: Drug Store Pharmacist Shortage

The number of drug store pharmacists is

dropping even as more Americans use a wider range of prescription

drugs, the government reported Tuesday.

The number of unfilled full- and part-time drug store pharmacist positions across the country rose during the past two years from 2,700 to nearly 7,000, according to a study by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Meanwhile, retail prescriptions dispensed nationwide between 1992 and 1999 rose 44 percent — from 1.9 billion to 2.8 billion, the report says.

As the prescription drug market burgeons and more drug stores compete to hire pharmacists, the number of applications to the country’s pharmaceutical colleges is dropping.

Not Likely to End Soon

“The factors causing the current shortage are of a nature not likely to abate in the near future without fundamental changes in pharmacy practice and education,” the report says.

As a quick fix, the report suggests that drug stores use technicians to perform additional jobs, freeing pharmacists to focus on tasks only they are authorized to do. Without any relief, the shortage could mean less time for pharmacists to spend advising patients and an increased potential for fatigue-related errors, the report says.

Rep. James McGovern, the Massachusetts Democrat who pushed for the study last year, said Congress should consider offering additional financial aid to entice more students to enter pharmaceutical colleges.

McGovern also said more pharmaceutical colleges should start offering year-round courses that would allow students to get their degrees in three years instead of the standard six. The Massachusetts College of Pharmacy has a three-year program, he said.

“We need to encourage more people to look into pharmaceutical careers,” he said. “Entering a pharmaceutical college is a long commitment and a lot of money. There’s something we can do to help that.”