Faculty Shortage Calls Some Pharmacists Back to School

Faculty Shortage Calls Some Pharmacists Back to School

With pharmacists already in short supply nationwide, a dearth of pharmacy professors threatens to deepen the pharmacy labor crisis and backfire on the needs of the marketplace.

"The shortage of pharmacy faculty, now and in the future, represents a serious public health threat in the face of the rapidly growing consumer demand for prescription drugs," says Lucinda Maine, executive vice president of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP).

In 2006, the AACP reported an 11 percent faculty vacancy rate. Even with vacancies at this level, pharmacy schools are expanding enrollments to meet increased demand, and at least nine new pharmacy schools are scheduled to open by 2010, two factors that will only exacerbate the problem, says the American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education.

Therein lies the dilemma. With industry wooing both graduates and teachers with skyrocketing salaries and enviable benefits, who will instruct the next generation of pharmacists the industry so desperately needs? The solution lies in attracting more new pharmacy graduates and more practicing pharmacists alike to careers in teaching.

Choosing Academia

Academia has been successful in attracting graduates like Mike Kane, PharmD, who are interested in specializing in a clinical practice at a university. Kane has been on staff at Albany College of Pharmacy for 16 years and is active as a clinical practitioner in endocrinology.

While working in retail pharmacy during college, Kane quickly learned he didn't like the "fast food" pace of filling prescriptions in an environment that afforded him little opportunity for patient interaction. After graduating with a bachelor's degree, Kane did a residency at a hospital, and decided he didn't like that either. So he went back to school, got his doctorate and pursued a professorship at a much lower salary than what he could have earned in the industry.

"Teaching is challenging," Kane says. "Every day I learn something new, because students ask some tough questions. I enjoy contributing to others' educations. I enjoy the flexibility of doing something different every day between teaching and my clinical practice. There's also a certain prestige that goes along with being a professor. It's an intangible benefit, but a benefit nonetheless."

Not Always About the Money

With such a considerable salary difference between nontenured faculty and practicing pharmacists -- the latter sometimes earn $20,000 a year more -- why would a practicing pharmacist want to go into teaching?

Just ask Bobby Bryant, PharmD, dean of Raabe College of Pharmacy at Ohio Northern University. Bryant traded in his pill counter for a chalkboard, because he wanted to give back to the profession that has given so much to him.

"It's rewarding to share information and experience with the next generation," he says. "For those pharmacists who want to research and help the future pharmacists, teaching becomes an avocation."

Tenured faculty typically need a doctorate to pursue a professorship, but those in the field say pharmacists who have proved themselves in the marketplace can fill adjunct positions without furthering their education.

Rewards of Teaching

That's what Fred Abramson, RPh, did. Abramson began teaching at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy after he sold his community practice. Now, he wouldn't return to retail pharmacy for the world.

"I never thought I'd be a teacher, but teaching is a tremendously rewarding job," Abramson says. "Every student I have is fantastic. They want to learn, and I am able to give back something to the profession. I have a love affair with my students, and it's a great experience."

Martin Morris, PhD, however, took the opposite road. Morris is a retired college professor now working as a full-time retail pharmacist. His conclusion?

"Teaching is a lot less stressful than dealing with the public," he says. "Retail pharmacists might want to go into teaching, because they not only have knowledge, but practical experience that can give young people a more realistic view of what contemporary retail pharmacy is all about."