UK pharmacy professor says many graduates moving away from traditional retail medicine

CVS Pharmacy has announced thousands of their locations will reduce hours due to a lack of staffing.
Published: Jan. 30, 2023 at 4:30 PM EST
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Pharmacy chains are adjusting hours nationwide due to staffing shortages.

CVS Pharmacy has announced thousands of their locations will reduce hours due to a lack of staffing. Last month, Walgreens and Rite Aid already shortened their hours for the same reason.

The University of Kentucky is home to the world’s largest pharmacy education and research building, and the pharmacy school is ranked number 6 in the nation, according to a 2020 U.S. News and World Report.

“In the last 20 years, we’ve opened more pharmacy schools in the United States than ever before, and we’re probably producing a very large number of graduates in the United States. But what’s probably happening is that pharmacy as a profession has become so diverse,” says UK College of Pharmacy Professor and Associate Dean Frank Romanelli.

Romanelli says the pandemic put a strain on pharmacists but also highlighted the important work they do.

“Thank God pharmacists are trained to deliver immunizations because a lot of us, looking back now, wonder how we would’ve ever have been able to administer the primary series and all of the boosters had pharmacists and pharmacies not been involved,” said Romanelli.

Romanelli says many students are moving to other paths post-graduation; fewer are staying with traditional retail medicine.

“I think we saw tremendous expansion in pharmacy hours in terms of the number of pharmacies as well,” said Romanelli. “There’s one on almost every corner in this town.”

Now, some chains are having to cut back their hours due to a lack of staffing.

While the previous model was convenient for consumers, Romanelli says the market is proving it’s unsustainable.

“It’s good for patients in terms of accessibility. You leave the emergency room at three in the morning; you can go pick up your meds at 3:15 in the morning. But that does put strain on the workforce,” said Romanelli.

According to a report by the National Pharmacist Workforce Study, that strain led to highly stressful job environments for pharmacists, with problems ranging from work-life balance issues and heavy workloads contributing to burnout.

Romanelli says the industry is facing a shift in interest.

“I think that sort of myopic single place that everyone went to, the community pharmacy isn’t as true today as it was 20 years ago,” Romanelli said. “Pharmacists are moving to all sorts of different types of occupations.”

Independent pharmacies warn this could lead to higher payroll costs and longer wait times for patients looking to fill their scripts.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the demand for pharmacists has risen as they expand their roles beyond filling prescriptions.

Employment growth for pharmacists is projected to grow only 2%, much slower than other occupations.

The National Community Pharmacists Association said more than three-quarters of pharmacies in the U.S. report staffing difficulties.