Ohio Hustled To Fill Its Pharmacist Shortage. Now Are There Too Many?

May 14, 2018

For the last two decades, the demand for pharmacists outpaced their supply - until now. Supply has finally caught up to demand, especially in Ohio.

Pharmacy graduates can still easily get a job in their field, but now their roles are changing.

“I think we have some really exciting things that are happening in Ohio, with the evolution of the role of the pharmacist that’s going to create new job opportunities,” says Timothy Ulbrich, associate professor of pharmacy practice at Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED).

NEOMED’s college of pharmacy formed out of the demand for more pharmacists. The school has graduated 538 pharmacy students since its first class in 2011.

“Pharmacists 10 years ago were in great demand and there was projected to be a very significant shortage of pharmacists that were going to be needed to fill that workforce,” Ulbrich says. “And so we’ve been able to fill that demand.”

Ulbrich says some of the pharmacy graduates are accepting jobs at hospitals in Northeast Ohio, like the Cleveland Clinic.

Out of 75 NEOMED pharmacy graduates in 2017, 93.5 percent of them are either practicing as a pharmacist or pursuing a post-graduate education.

Industry experts report the number of pharmacy graduates continues to grow across the country. Ohio has six other pharmacy schools of its own: Ohio Northern University, Ohio State University, Cedarville University, University of Cincinnati, the University of Findlay, and the University of Toledo.

As of 2015, 17 new schools had not yet graduated their first classes. More schools still plan to open.

Two reasons pharmacy gained popularity: It's a lucrative business, and flexible. The median wage of a pharmacist is $124,170. In 2014, about 54 percent of them worked in retail pharmacies, while about 13 percent worked in hospitals.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 6 percent increase in the number of pharmacy jobs until 2016 - about the average among all occupations.

“There’s really two ways to look at this,” Ulbrich says. “One way to look at this is to say, you know, 'Oh my goodness, we have too many graduates coming out and we don’t have enough jobs.' And I think the other way to look at this is that we see the role of the pharmacist expanding and growing and we see new opportunities coming.”

Ulbrich says those new roles include working in an ambulatory care facility like a physician’s practice, or a surgical center. More pharmacy-related jobs are also in the insurance industry. Pharmacists in that area help to control the rising cost of prescription drugs.

Pharmacists also could play a greater role in battling the opioid epidemic. 

“Your community pharmacist is your central point of dispensing those medications,” Ulbrich says. “They’re the ones who are going to identify some of those issues. They’re the ones that are positioned to be able to see what your primary care doctor is doing, see what the specialist is doing and really to identify and resolve issues as they come.”

Ulbrich says he helps pharmacy students examine their job prospects when they begin the four-year program.

“One of my jobs here at the university is to really help graduates from day one start to plan for and pursue and be aware of what the different career opportunities are there to help them get placed in a job,” he says.