Solid job outlook for pharmacists


What factor, above all others, made you choose a career as a pharmacist?

Whatever the reason, if you’re enrolled in pharmacy school or are recently graduated, congratulations. You picked a good time to become a pharmacist.

In late February, U.S. News & World Report ranked the profession of pharmacy among the nation’s top three career choices on its “Best Jobs of 2012” list, both for its solid job prospects and its high starting salaries. The employment outlook is golden. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, another 69,700 jobs for pharmacists will open up between 2010 and 2020.

Among the powerful trends driving that need for more professionals, are “increases in average life span and the increased incidence of chronic diseases; the increased complexity, number, and sophistication of medications and related products and devices; increased emphasis on primary and preventive health services, home health care and long-term care; and concerns about improving patients' access to health care, controlling its cost and assuring its quality,” the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy said.

Bottom line, said AACP, is that “pharmacists will play an important part in the future of health care.”

Pharmacy also ranks among the top jobs in starting salaries. Once you’ve earned your PharmD and passed your state license exam, the financial rewards can come quickly. The median hourly wage for the nation’s more than 268,000 practicing pharmacists was $53.64 in mid-2010, the Labor Department reported.

That equals a median annual salary of $111,570, ranging from a low of $82,090 for the bottom 10 percent of wage earners to a high of $138,620 for the top 10 percent. Retail pharmacists tend to earn slightly more working for drug stores than they do at a hospital or supermarket dispensary, but pay is generally good across the board. Median annual income ranges from more than $106,000 up to nearly $113,000, according to federal statistics.

All well and good, but let’s not sugarcoat the challenges. Most pharmacists spend long hours on their feet. They deal with a thicket of health and patient-privacy regulations, and must navigate sometimes-thorny reimbursement issues with public and private-plan payers.

Retail pharmacists must also juggle the sometimes-competing demands of a profit-driven business — which can bring the pressure of filling hundreds of scripts a day as quickly and efficiently as possible — with critical patient-safety and counseling issues. And the growth of medication therapy management and other patient-care initiatives is putting new demands on their time even as prescription volumes grow in the face of an aging population and a health reform law that will soon add millions more patients to the Medicaid rolls.

We’d love to hear from you about what it is that made you choose to become a pharmacist. Was it the high starting salary? The intangible rewards that come with helping people toward healthier, more active lives? The respect and status that come with being a health professional? The alignment of the job skills required of a pharmacist with your own interests? A combination of all of the above? Please share your thoughts about the challenges and rewards of pharmacy by commenting below, and here’s hoping your career is a rewarding and satisfying one.

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