Thursday, October 17, 2019

Grim Job Outlook for Retail Pharmacists Gets Even Grimmer

In Pharmacist Job Market: Salaries Keep Growing While Retail Employment Drops, I profile pharmacist employment and salaries in 2018.

According to our exclusive analysis of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) new Occupational Outlook Handbook, the total pharmacist employment figure is projected to remain unchanged over the next 10 years.

However, the pharmacist outlook varies by industry. Pharmacist jobs at hospitals, physician offices, and other non-retail settings will outpace growth at retail outpatient settings. Chain and independent drugstores are projected to employ 11,000 fewer pharmacists in 2028 than they do today.

Read on for an industry-by-industry look at the outlook. And if you are a retail pharmacist: Plan accordingly! I briefly highlight some implications for pharmacists, pharmacy students, and schools of pharmacy. The future is predictable, but hardly anybody bothers to predict it.


In the annual Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), the BLS publishes detailed employment projections by industry. It draws upon the government’s Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system, which categorizes workers into detailed occupations. I discuss the SOC system in my previous particle.

The SOC code for “pharmacist” is 29-1051. Click here to read the “Pharmacists” section from the current OOH.

Using these data, I identified the projections for pharmacists working at various outpatient dispensing and non-retail settings. Note that the 2018 employment figures for pharmacists in the OOH data differ slightly from the annual data reported by the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) data. That’s because the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) incorporates information from its other surveys. These data also include self-employed pharmacists.


The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that total pharmacist employment will not grow over the next 10 years. See the last row of the table below.

[Click to Enlarge]

Key points:
  • Pharmacist employment at retail, mail, and specialty pharmacies is projected to drop by -5.1% by 2028. The decrease will be concentrated in chain and independent pharmacies, which are projected to employ about 11,000 fewer pharmacists. Here’s what BLS said about this forecast:
    “Employment in this industry is projected to decline overall, and retail pharmacies will be affected by increasing sales via mail order and online pharmacies. In addition, pharmacy technicians will be taking a greater role in pharmacy operations. Technicians perform tasks—such as collecting patient information, preparing more types of medications, and verifying the work of other technicians—that were previously done by pharmacists.”
  • The latest forecast reverses BLS’s more optimistic projections from two years ago. In the previous edition of the OOH, BLS had projected that from 2018 to 2028, there would be 5,400 more pharmacists employed at chain and independent pharmacies. See 2026 Pharmacist Job Outlook Looks Good, Especially for Hospital Pharmacists. Even government economists notice what’s happening to retail pharmacy.
  • The outlook for hospital pharmacists remains very positive. The outlook for pharmacist employment at non-retail settings is projected to increase by 6.9% by 2028. The biggest growth will come in hospitals (+3,600 pharmacists; +4.4%) and outpatient care centers (+1,900 pharmacists; +36.5%). These latest projections are comparable to the forecasts that BLS released in 2017.
These projections have important implications:
  • Pharmacists at specialty pharmacies and hospitals work with fewer patients than pharmacists in retail settings, but have more intense interactions with each patient. Pharmacists will therefore need more clinical expertise and must have superior skills at counseling patients with complex conditions. Pharmacists will need to understand more about the reimbursement and insurance system.
  • Hospitals, physician offices, PBMs, Amazon, and venture-backed start-ups are all expanding their presence in pharmacy. Pharmacy schools need to connect effectively with these and other nonretail industry participants so they can place their graduates. 


Considering a new career? Click here to view BLS’s projections for the fastest-growing occupations. Topping the list again are exciting careers as a solar photovoltaic installer or wind turbine service technician.

Check back in 10 years to find out if the BLS projections are correct. I'm sure the boffins at BLS already know the first rule of forecasting: If you live by the crystal ball, you must be prepared to eat broken glass.

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