It’s a good year to graduate in pharmacy

Marc Murdock, who graduates this month from the College of Pharmacy, will segue directly into his dream job.

“I was offered five jobs, plus there were a couple every week that I was urged to apply for. I was able to get what I wanted: work in a retail pharmacy setting in Yakima, where I am from,” he said. “The same happened to all of us. Everyone in my class is guaranteed a job. The shortage of pharmacists is the truth.”

Professional and governmental studies agree that there is a serious shortage of pharmacists nationwide. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that an additional 60,000 pharmacists will be needed by 2012, due to an aging population, a huge increase in the number of available drugs, and a shift toward pharmacists serving as patient advisers, not just pill dispensers.

The College of Pharmacy has responded to that shortage by increasing its student admissions by 20 percent. Beginning in fall 2003, thanks to a significant boost in funding from the Washington Legislature, the number of student slots was increased from 78 to 94. Next year, the first of those larger classes will graduate.

Despite the concern over the ongoing shortage of qualified pharmacists, now is the time for the College of Pharmacy to evaluate its present instructional plans, said Dean James P. Kehrer.
“We don’t need to ramp up enrollment more now, not until we see how this all plays out in five to 10 years,” Kehrer said. “It’s time to step back and assess.”

While agreeing that there is a “tremendous demand now” for pharmacy graduates, Kehrer noted that focusing only on the increasing numbers of applications at WSU is misleading.

When Murdock applied for admission in 2002, about 247 students applied for the 78 available positions. More than 900 students applied for the 94 positions available in fall 2006. (see table below)

Part of the reason for the increase in prospective students is the adoption by WSU of a national application system that makes it easy for students to sign up at dozens of pharmacy colleges with one filing. In addition, some of the hundreds of applications received are incomplete or are failed applications filed from previous years.

Another part of the equation is the cost of expanding the program further. The college would require expensive new facilities, as well as new faculty, if the number of students increased again.
Furthermore, the supply of pharmacists is increasing nationwide, Kehrer explained. The number of pharmacy schools is increasing rapidly, responding to this demand for pharmacists.

“Fifteen years ago, there were about 70 schools, now there are 92, and in a few years we’ll have 100,” he said. “Plus, many of the established colleges are increasing enrollment, just as we have done.”

In sum, Kehrer said that he is not convinced the demand for more and more pharmacists would continue.

“These things move in cycles, and I wouldn’t be surprised if demand dropped,” he said. “As we get more efficient, with automation, we may not have the same need.

“We’ll see how this all plays out in the next five to 10 years,” Kehrer continued. “Now it’s true that there are some great people who would make great pharmacists who are not able to get the training they need — and that’s sad. We’ll just have to continue to look at this in the future and continue to evaluate.”

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WSU College of Pharmacy Student Applications

Marian McDonnell Horton is the academic coordinator for the College of Pharmacy. She is in charge of processing the applications for admission.

“Every year there are more student admissions. We’re running out of file drawer space,” Horton said.

“All the students hope to get in. They all spend lots of money applying, and it breaks their hearts if they are refused. It breaks our hearts, too, to have to send out those letters of denial.”

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