Examining the Pharmacist Labor Supply in the United States: Increasing Medication Use, Aging Society, and Evolution of Pharmacy Practice
Division of Clinical Pharmacy, Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0657, USA
Pharmacy 2019, 7(3), 137; https://doi.org/10.3390/pharmacy7030137
Received: 30 August 2019 / Revised: 11 September 2019 / Accepted: 17 September 2019 / Published: 19 September 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Labor Market for Pharmacists)
The increasing number of pharmacists in the US has generated concern regarding potential oversupply. A 2018 analysis from the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis (NCHWA) in the US projected a best case scenario of an oversupply of more than 18,000 pharmacists in the year 2030. In this commentary, the limitations of this general health labor force analysis by the NCHWA are described. The goal of this work was to provide a more nuanced examination of the pharmacist labor demand in the US. Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the US Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) were utilized to examine, annually over a ten year period ending in 2017, the number of pharmacists, the ratio of pharmacists to persons living in the US, the ratio of pharmacists to older adults living in the US, and the ratio of medications to pharmacists. The number of pharmacists grew from 266,410 in 2008 to 309,330 in 2017. As anticipated, despite a growing US population, the ratio of people living in the US per pharmacist dropped unabated from 1141 to 1053 from 2008 to 2017, respectively. However, the reverse trend was observed for the ratio of persons 65 years or older per pharmacist. This ratio increased from 146.1 older adults to each pharmacist in 2008 to 164.3 in 2017. The accelerating demographic shift to an older population is also reversing an overall trend in the number of medications to pharmacist that will continue for the foreseeable future. While the ratio of medications to pharmacist dropped overall from 2008 to 2016, it has begun to rise again from 2016 to 2017. Beyond the increasing number of medications attributable to a rapidly aging population, there is a growing demand for clinical care from pharmacists due to the maturing environment of complex, costly medications for chronic disease treatment. As the portion of total health expenditure is increasingly devoted to medications and the US health delivery system continues its movement to community-based care, the demand for pharmacist care will require a larger number of pharmacists trained for advanced-practice care.