Ohio pharmacy supply exceeds current job demand, ONU students secure more Ohio jobs than state average

Julie Amos never thought she would make it through pharmacy school.

The graduating ONU pharmacy student recalls struggling through basic anatomy classes her freshman year and grappling finals week each semester until six years had flown by before she knew it. “I never thought I’d actually be at this point,” she said. “I’m two days away from being done with rotations.”

Perhaps the bigger challenge of pharmacy, however, wasn’t the classes or exams but actually finding a job.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an employment number of 12,720 total Ohio pharmacists in May 2017. However, data from the Ohio Board of Pharmacy indicate that there are 20,144 licensed Ohio pharmacists, leaving roughly 7,424 licensed pharmacists without a career in pharmacy or pursuing a career outside of Ohio.

Amos found herself in the latter category but not because she couldn’t find a job in Ohio. The circumstances didn’t prove to be any less challenging for her, however. She would ultimately like to work a retail job in North Carolina where her fiancé lives but struggled to find a position when she was seeking one out last summer.

“The thing with that is you can’t really plan ahead like you can with other businesses,” she said. “With pharmacy, they’re looking for someone right then, right there — we need this pharmacist now, not nine months in the future — so when I was looking in the summer it was really difficult.”

Like Amos, most pharmacy students searching for jobs look for one that they can start after graduation, causing a large burst in available pharmacist supply during the month of May that might outweigh pharmacy job demand at this time.

The state of Ohio specifically has seven major accredited pharmacy schools, including Ohio Northern, that contribute to this supply. According to data from the Ohio Department of Higher Education, over 1,000 pharmacy degrees were awarded by Ohio institutions each year for the years 2008–2015. However, Ohio Labor Market Information reports just 275 annual openings and replacements in pharmacy as of 2014, suggesting a significant imbalance in Ohio pharmacist supply and demand, especially compared to other states with fewer pharmacy schools.

Amos, an Indiana native, notes the difference across state lines. “In my experience, since I’m going [to be working] in Indiana, there’s three pharmacy schools [there], so I would say it’s pretty balanced,” she said.

“But in Ohio, there’s seven pharmacy schools total, so I think there’s a huge issue as there’s more supply than there is demand. I think it’s completely oversaturated with pharmacy schools.”

She specifically cited retail pharmacies at Kroger, Walmart, and Walgreens that she heard were not hiring many pharmacists in Ohio. In one specific case, she explained that a friend was not offered her first-choice job at Walgreens because they did not have enough available positions for her.

The Ohio Board of Pharmacy data provide current employment information for all Ohio-licensed pharmacists, including those who practice in a different state, those who are unemployed, and those working non-pharmacist jobs. This data show that a quantitative gap exists between those obtaining degrees in Ohio and those obtaining licenses in Ohio per year. Further analysis suggests that yet another gap exists between those who are licensed and those fulfilling jobs as active pharmacists.

Data source: Ohio Board of Pharmacy

This pattern could point to a saturation within the field of pharmacy in the state of Ohio, or it could just be the norm for pharmacy graduates to pursue other careers each year.

Amos describes a scenario for one of the Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experience, or IPPE, students she worked with this year. “He’s from Africa and he’s a little bit older,” she said. “He has a girlfriend and two kids, so his life’s a little bit more difficult. He doesn’t have a job yet but he’s also not really looking for a job. He’s just trying to graduate.”

Situations like this one where life may cause someone to put a career on hold could explain several cases of unemployment or alternative career paths. These scenarios are to be expected each year as the percentage of licensed pharmacists actively working in pharmacy versus those out of state or in another field stays relatively constant at around 70% and 30%, respectively for the years 2007–2015.

More recent data however, presented by the Pharmacy Workforce Center, indicate a shift from balanced supply and demand in 2015 to greater pharmacist supply than demand in 2016. They assign quarterly pharmacist demand indicators, or PDIs, by state on a scale of one to five, where five is highest demand, three represents a balance, and one is higher supply.

The Ohio PDI dipped below three for the first time in ten years in 2016 and has been consistently under this value for the past three most recent quarters, suggesting that Ohio has been generating more pharmacists than are currently needed.

Pharmacy graduates will need to prepare themselves for the job search given this imbalance. Amos points out that attending ONU’s career fair is a good option when seeking employment. “I had some friends find jobs from the career fair which I know worked out really well,” she said.

She also stressed the need to be open-minded when it comes to securing a job, even if it’s not as a pharmacist.

“I think that if people are actively looking, they should be able to find a job in pharmacy, or at least with a pharmacy degree they could work for a drug industry or work for research so whatever they want to do with it, they can,” she said.

A pharmacy degree from Ohio Northern seems to have particular weight when students are applying for jobs. In fact, ONU graduates tend to have more success securing pharmacy jobs in Ohio compared to the state average. Only 21% of ONU pharmacy grads with Ohio licenses obtained from 2007–2015 practice out-of-state or have pursued non-pharmacy careers compared to the state average of 30%. They also have a ratio of active to non-active and/or out-of-state licensed pharmacists that is two times greater than the state average ratio of approximately 2:1.

Amos believes that her affiliation with Ohio Northern helped play a role in securing her current job back home at CVS, as one of the company higher-ups is a fellow ONU graduate.

“I think Ohio Northern has a really good reputation, so that’s another big thing that can help most pharmacists [find a job],” Amos said. “[Employers] know what kind of pharmacists are coming out of ONU because they went there themselves and they know what to expect from these pharmacists.”

Of all the major schools in Ohio, ONU is in the top three for number of pharmacy degrees awarded alongside Ohio State University and the University of Toledo according to the Department of Higher Education, thus providing a large network of connections to prospective employees.

So while the current Ohio job market suggests higher pharmacist supply than demand, ONU students seem to be more competitive when filling spots based on these connections and their statistics compared to statewide numbers.

Even with a slight imbalance in supply and demand, Amos notes the importance of the role of the pharmacist moving forward, especially in regards to other fields of healthcare. “There is [currently] a family practice-type doctor shortage and that is kind of a big issue,” she explains. “So there are fewer primary care doctors that you’d go see for your regular visit, which I think could be a big huge area for pharmacists to take a role.”

Such a shift in responsibility could increase the demand for pharmacists and restore the supply and demand balance in the state of Ohio.

“I think that’s kind of the realm that it’s going- collaborating with the doctors and keeping patients because we see them more than their doctors actually do when they come in every few weeks to the pharmacy to pick up their medication,” Amos said. “That’s kind of where I’d like to see pharmacy go.”