Earning a Pharm D. degree takes a lot of work, time, and money. In most cases, you’re looking at a six to eight years of education with an average debt load of $166,528.
Is a career in pharmacy worth all the effort and financial sacrifice?
If you’re only basing your decision on pharmacy school marketing, you might think that the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Employment stats from several pharmacy schools lead you to believe that the pharmacy job market is stronger than ever.
But can you trust pharmacy school employment statistics? Actually, at times, they mask major pharmacy job outlook issues that students need to be aware of. Let’s take a look.
The reality of the pharmacy job market
Recently, Student Loan Planner did a deep dive into the pharmacist job outlook. We found the major issues in the field are:
Pharmacy job growth has ground to a halt.
Each year the Bureau of Labor and Statics (BLS) gives its expectation for the 10-year growth of various occupations. Look at how its pharmacist job growth expectations have dramatically shifted over the past 17 years:
- 2002: 30.1% expected growth by 2012
- 2006: 21.7% expected growth by 2016
- 2012: 14.5% expected growth by 2022
- 2016: 5.6% expected growth by 2026
- 2018: 0% expected growth by 2028
Why has pharmacy job growth virtually stopped? Part of the reason is because retail stores are being pinched by online retailers, and they’re having to cut back.
Pharmacy school enrollments have skyrocketed.
Slowing pharmacy job growth is a concern in and of itself. But to make things worse, the last decade has also been a period of unprecedented growth for pharmacy schools.
Since 2007, the number of pharmacy schools has risen from 100 to 143 — a growth rate of 43%. In 2009, there were 10,988 Pharma D. graduates. In 2018, the number of graduates was 14,905. That’s an increase of over 35.6%.
The pharmacy job market has a big supply and demand problem.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that we’ve got a big problem brewing here. Demand for pharmacists over the past 15 to 20 years has been consistently dropping. And supply has only continued to grow.
That’s a recipe for a job shortage.
And that’s exactly what the pharmacy job market is dealing with today. Based on recent trends, we could be looking at nearly 150,000 new pharmacists over the next decade. And they’ll be entering the workforce of an industry with virtually no expected job growth.
Also, the recession of 2008 may cause some veteran pharmacists to delay retirement longer than they would have initially planned. All this adds up to a pharmacy job outlook over the next decade that is incredibly concerning.
Problems with pharmacy school employment statistics
Ok, so we’ve looked at the reality of the pharmacy job market. But is that reality being accurately reflected on pharmacy school admissions pages?
In many cases, no. In their effort to increase enrollment, some pharmacy schools are painting a much different pharmacy employment picture. Here’s why pharmacy school employment statistics may not be trustworthy.
1. Their employment statistics may be dated.
The Accreditation Council for Pharmacy School Education (ACPE) is the governing body that sets the accreditation standards for pharmacy schools.
In their Guidance for Standards document, the ACPE details several kinds of student information that schools should make publicly available. Some of the requirements include NAPLEX first-time pass rates, on-time graduation rates, and post-graduate placement rates.
With NAPLEX first-time pass rates and on-time graduation rates, the ACPE makes it clear that the data should be recent. But, it conveniently doesn’t mention that requirement for employment data.
And many pharmacy schools have taken full advantage of that omission. According to the Pharmacy School Employment Data from MemorizingPharm.com, only 10 schools updated their employment statistics in 2019. 21 schools updated their employment data in 2017, three in 2016, and one school’s data hasn’t changed since 2015.
With the seismic shifts that we’re seeing in the pharmacy job market, two, three, and four-year old employment data simply isn’t acceptable.
2. They don’t list actual employment statistics.
But here’s the really sad part. Even schools with dated employment statistics are, in some ways, going “above and beyond the call of duty.”
That’s because many pharmacy schools don’t show actual employment statistics at all! Instead, they only publish residency stats.
Memorizing Pharm lists 61 pharmacy schools that are completely missing non-residency employment data. Nova Southeastern University is a great example, proudly advertising a PGY-1 (Postgraduate Year 1) match rate of 51%.
But here’s the thing. Landing a residency or fellowship isn’t the same as landing a job.
Even if a school has a high residency match rate like Auburn’s, what about the other 70% of students who didn’t land a residency? Were they able to find jobs? Those are the critical answers that students need.
Beware of school employment statistics from grad schools
Pharmacy schools aren’t the first type of grad school to be accused of sweeping negative employment, salary, or student debt data under the rug.
Law schools were widely criticized in the early 2000s for similar tactics. And that led to stronger accreditation standards and the formation of a non-profit organization dedicated to Law School Transparency.
Hopefully, pharmacy school accreditation standards will also improve over time. But, in the meantime, it makes sense that schools would want to downplay these things. After all, if they’re going to keep their doors open, schools need students.
But that’s exactly why you should be wary about getting employment statistics from grad schools. The potential for a conflict of interest is high.
Look out for numbers that are too good to be true
If you do decide to take a peek at school stats, be on guard for anything that just doesn’t smell right.
For example, the Presbyterian College School of Pharmacy shows that their employment rate has risen each of the past three years, from 81.69% for the Class of 2016 to 96.66% for the Class of 2018.
Seem strange? Well, there’s an asterisk at the bottom specifying that the statistics only include graduates whose employment data was “available” one year following graduation. And they nonchalantly mention that “some graduates are lost to follow up.”
By excluding those who are “lost to follow up,” Presbyterian College is able to show a crazy high employment rate. So even when schools are seemingly providing up-to-date employment statistics, you still need to be careful.
Where to get good pharmacy job market statistics
If you want up-to-date, neutral employment statistics, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) is a better place to start.
Also, consider looking for studies that are published in professional journals. For example, this study on the Trends in the Pharmacist Workforce and Pharmacy Education was published in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Information. And it’s chock full of actual pharmacist job outlook data.
Get pharmacy job market insight from an SLP consultant.
Finally, you may want to consider setting up a pre-debt consultation with one of our Student Loan Planner consultants.
Having worked with over 3,000 clients (including over 2,400 with grad degrees), they know what today’s graduates are dealing with. They can help you decide if a grad degree is worth the debt. Book your pre-debt student loan plan.
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