Job prospects for pharmacists today are different than in years past thanks to the recent opening of new pharmacy schools across Tennessee.
Prior to January 2007, the only place in Tennessee to become a pharmacist was at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis. Now there are six pharmacy schools, one of which is located at East Tennessee State University. ETSU pharmacy students began studying in 2007.
And as these schools collectively send hundreds of graduates out into the world each year, it becomes more difficult for them to find jobs where desired.
ETSU just graduated 78 pharmacists in its third class.
There are jobs, though, you just have to be willing to take them, said ETSU Pharmacy Dean Larry Calhoun.
“The days of graduating from pharmacy school and selecting where you want to work and your hours are essentially over,” Calhoun said.
“If you really want to stay in Nashville, that’s going to be a challenge for you, not impossible but a challenge.
“Historically, there have been job openings in rural communities,” Calhoun said.
Pharmacists today must be more flexible on many aspects of their employment, but they must also be ready, Calhoun said.
“The job market in pharmacy right now is very dynamic,” he said. “What we are doing about that is preparing our students from day one to be different and be marketable and be chosen when competing for positions.”
Calhoun said he knows of no pharmacy graduate from the first two classes who is not working. The third class graduated a month ago.
One way ETSU plans to give an edge to these students at the College of Pharmacy is by providing dual degrees. ETSU hopes to offer pharmacy students the option of extending their studies by a year and obtaining a master’s degree in public health to go with their pharmacy degree. Soon the school hopes to offer a master’s of business administration as an option to complement the pharmacy doctorate. Both plans must be approved by the Tennessee Board of Regents.
Haley Trivett will begin her second year of pharmacy school at ETSU this fall. She thought the master’s of public health may be a good option.
“It will take an extra year but I really think that degree will help me in the new world of pharmacy, where you’re not only pushing a product but you’re providing care,” Trivett said.
Trivett also thinks she must differentiate herself from other recent pharmacy graduates because the profession has become much more competitive.
“It’s not now just that you’re a PharmD., it’s how are you different from all the other PharmDs,” Trivett said.
Another edge Calhoun said students at ETSU have is built into the nature of ETSU itself. ETSU is considered an academic health science center, one of only a few in the nation. This designation means the school has many aspects of medical education. At ETSU there is a medical school, a nursing school, a public health school and a clinical and rehabilitative health sciences school, as well as the pharmacy school.
Calhoun said the new model of team-based health care that incorporates all these disciplines places ETSU graduates at an advantage, because they have already had experience with cross-disciplinary care. This model will become increasingly important, Calhoun said.
“That’s one of the things that makes us different and our students tell us that’s one of the reasons they choose us,” he said.
Erin Hankin will begin her fourth year of pharmacy school this fall. She thinks the health sciences aspect of ETSU is a big strength for students. In fact, Hankin is starting an association of inter-professional health for students.
“There’s only a handful of universities in the U.S. that have those other disciplines,” she said. “So I think that’s a very strong strength that our students will have.”
Some of the advantages must come from the students, though. Calhoun said he encourages students from the first day of class to become involved in as many activities and organizations as possible.
“You can’t wait until your fourth year to show your employers that you have a dedicated interest in the profession,” Calhoun said.
While pharmacy may be a changing field and more competitive now, the outlook for the future pharmacists is not grim, Calhoun said.
Many factors influence employment prospects, including the economy and the age of the currently employed population. Calhoun said many pharmacists who are nearing or at retirement delayed that move until the recession subsided. That means there will be job openings in the near future, he said.
Health care reform is another factor that will influence pharmacy, regardless of how that legislation ultimately plays out, Calhoun said.
“We are sure that health care reform is going to recognize the importance of having pharmacists as part of a team,” he said.
Hankin suggested the saturation of pharmacists in the market today could be an opportunity for the profession to greatly expand in scope and provide many more services than has been traditionally expected of pharmacists.
For example, she said pharmacists now can assist in drug research and development and consult in a clinical setting alongside physicians.
“It could be seen as an opportunity for growth for our profession,” Hankin said of the influx of new pharmacists. “It’s definitely an opportunity for us to step up our game.”