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Pharmacists in high demand

  • Sunday, October 17, 2010

    Pharmacists in high demand

    By Wallace McKelvey• Staff Writer • October 17, 2010  

    BETHANY BEACH -- When Bill Harbester started as a stock boy at a drugstore, pharmacists had very little interaction with the customers.

    "A lot of people think all we do is put pills into bottles," he said.

    But with more new drugs on the market and a shift in how -- and where -- common medical treatments are handled, the 28-year-old Happy Harry's pharmacist is busier than ever.

    Since 2007, Harbester has administered flu shots in the store. And in the future, he may be able to perform more routine tests, such as blood glucose readings, that were traditionally performed in a doctor's office.

    "It's a very promising area because we're going to interact a lot more than old pharmacies typically allowed us to," he said.

    Just as they've begun taking on more jobs, openings for trained pharmacists have become more plentiful.

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of pharmacists is expected to grow by 17 percent, or approximately 46,000 new jobs, between 2008 and 2018. Currently, there are 268,000 pharmacists in the country.

    As of May 2009, the median annual salary was $109,180, which reflects an increase of 2.6 percent from the previous, recession-struck year.

    The University of Maryland Eastern Shore's new doctor of pharmacy program saw a flood of applications in its first year.

    "We had originally planned to have 60 students" in the program, said spokesman Bill Robinson. "We had 64 register on the first day (of classes)."

    Dean Nicholas Blanchard of the UMES School of Pharmacy and Health Professions said the national shortage of health professions did play a role in the school's pursuit of the program.

    "We very much saw a need," he said. "The inception first came about in 1999 and it took a little over a decade to get everything approved and people on board."

    Because of the recent health care legislation enacted by Congress, Blanchard said pharmacists will likely provide more types of services, from immunizations to bone density screenings and cholesterol tests.

    Eventually, they may perform the same type of services as physician's assistants and nurse practitioners.

    "As mid-level providers, pharmacists will help with some of the crunch, with the numbers of people we're expecting to see," he said.

    Similarly, Blanchard said pharmacists serve as the final check before patients take their prescriptions home.

    "What we try to do in the drug management process is make sure the patient is taking the medications as prescribed and the medications are working for those patients," he said.

    Pharmacy student Padraic Keen, 24, of Annapolis said he likes the hands-on aspect of UMES' three-year concentrated program.

    Each year of the program, students shadow pharmacists to apply and practice the curriculum in a real-world setting.

    "I think it's really exciting," he said. "Pharmacists are going to be the most accessible health care professionals. People already come to us for vaccinations, and maybe some day we'll have even more responsibilities."

    For Letitia DeLaine, a 26-year-old pharmacy student from Raleigh, N.C., the positive career outlet made her choice easier, but it wasn't the determining factor.

    DeLaine said the opportunities for greater interaction with patients will make her more
    marketable wherever she goes in her career.

    "It shows that we're not just chemistry people who put 30 pills in a bottle and send it out," she said.

    Reprinted with permission from The (Salisbury) Daily