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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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Kiley O’Brien ’25, Assistant Features Editor • July 18, 2024
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Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Rx: Pharmacist shortage provides opportunity for students

Maggie Jones ‘25 poses for a picture in front of the pharmacy department at the UCity campus. PHOTO COURTESY OF: MAGGIE JONES ’25

Major retail drugstore chains are struggling to fill open positions amid a nationwide pharmacist shortage, leaving pharmacy graduates in St. Joe’s Philadelphia College of Pharmacy (College of Pharmacy) with ample job opportunities, but in places they may not wish to work. 

Drugstore chains CVS Health, Walmart and Walgreens recently announced they were shortening their pharmacy hours at the majority of their locations across the U.S. due to this labor shortage.

One reason for the shortage stems from a lack of college student interest in the healthcare industry as a whole, said Edward Foote, PharmD, dean of the College of Pharmacy.

“What people are noticing, especially since the pandemic, is that students just aren’t interested in healthcare,” Foote said. “There’s a decline in the interest in healthcare overall. Pharmacy in particular is being hit.” 

A declining number of students have been graduating from pharmacy schools over the last few years, according to Foote. In 2022, the College of Pharmacy graduated a class of 80 students, and just under 14,000 students graduated nationwide.

Foote noted that while the spring 2023 the College of Pharmacy class is up, with a total of 100 graduates, the number of graduates continues to trend downward nationally. 

“We did see large growth in enrollment starting in 2000, but that leveled off and is now going in the opposite direction,” Foote said. “We will see declines in enrollment for the foreseeable future.”

St. Joe’s pharmacy students pursue a variety of paths after graduation, including working at hospitals, clinics and companies from startups to big pharma. Some pursue pharmacy law. But the sector of pharmacy currently under stress is retail drugstores, despite an abundance of job openings.

“It is fair to say that our current students have excellent job opportunities,” Foote said. “We talk to potential students about that. Like any profession, there are ebbs and flows and qualifications differ. Right now, all of our graduates can get a job in retail. Anecdotally, we are also seeing more openings in hospital pharmacy.”

More than half of current St. Joe’s pharmacy students work part time as interns, or as part-time employees or technicians, in retail settings and hospitals, Foote said.

One of those students is Brigid Hurst ’25, who completed an internship at CVS Health in April 2022. Hurst said her overall experience was satisfactory but often stressful. 

“You could see everybody was overworked, tired and sick of it,” Hurst said. “People would stay up for hours, and you could tell it was a draining experience. Everybody liked it, but it’s very demanding.”

Maggie Jones ’25, who wants to pursue a career in psychiatric or neurological pharmacy, said work environments at retail drugstores are undesirable.

“The retail setting is not giving you the resources or the staff really needed to thrive in your work environment,” Jones said. “These corporate places want their money, and they want high productivity with the least amount of people on the job, but they’re sacrificing people’s mental and physical well being.”

Hurst, who plans on pursuing geriatric consultant pharmacy, said she has noticed many students gravitating away from jobs in retail pharmacy.

“Truth be told, a lot of us who are in pharmacy don’t want to go into retail because we all know how crazy it is,” Hurst said. “From a student perspective, I think that a lot of people are shifting away from retail and looking more towards things that are less stressful.”

Foote said although the working conditions at retail drug stores are unsustainable at the moment, he still encourages students to consider them as he’s confident the conditions will eventually improve. 

“When I hear a student pharmacist say they’re going to go work for CVS, I’m very happy for them,” Foote said. “We need really good pharmacists in [retail pharmacy], because that’s the backbone of our profession. I actually encourage them, but they’ve got to go in with their eyes wide open. It’s a tough job.” 

Laura E. Waite, PharmD, assistant dean of College of Pharmacy Student Affairs and Admissions, said ultimately the pharmacist shortage provides opportunity for students. 

“The shifts in the pharmacist employment market are opening up opportunities for current pharmacy students that might not have existed a few short years ago,” Waite wrote in response to questions from The Hawk. “An employer will give current students and graduates more options if they choose to take advantage of them.” 

Derek Distasio ’24 said he would consider working at a retail pharmacy due to these incentives.

“If I find a good scenario where a retail pharmacy offers me a decent contract and I can get in at a decent price right off the bat, and they helped me out financially, it’d be hard to turn that down,” Distasio said.  

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