April 27, 2021
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
Chicago State University
Dr. Vicky Shah: Trends for Pharmacist jobs has been an ongoing roller coaster for the past few decades as the supply of jobs become saturated for a few years followed by a surge of new opportunities. During 2020, the pandemic disrupted the job market in a drastic way as newly graduated students had difficulty obtaining licensure and the number of jobs decreased due to budget cuts and furloughs.
As we fight the pandemic, the opportunities for pharmacists have increased despite numerous limitations. Pharmacists have continued to provide patient care through these difficult times as well as expanding services through Telepharmacy and playing a major role in the vaccination process. The job market can only improve for pharmacists as the need for vaccine clinics continues to grow. Newer graduates may be concerned about a saturated market; however, as life transitions to the new normal, opportunities will continue to arise.
Dr. Vicky Shah: There are three skills which are needed for graduates to succeed in the world of pharmacy. Even prior to the pandemic, every graduate should be able to collaborate with others, communicate professionally and be able to utilize technology.
Collaboration is always key, even before the pandemic. Working in a strong healthcare team with nurses, doctors, nurse practitioners and many other amazing healthcare workers is a necessity to ensure safe and effective patient care. To collaborate with others, new graduates should be able to communicate professionally to dissolve any issues that may arise within the team. One piece of advice for graduates is to use "please" and "thank you" as simple gestures allow connections to develop much quicker. As pharmacy advances, technology does as well. It is imperative that graduates be able to keep up with all technology advances or they may fall behind.
Dr. Vicky Shah: Sign on bonuses are a thing of the past. Just a few mere decades ago, companies would provide sign on bonuses of approximately $10,000 for pharmacists to join them; however, as the number of pharmacists grew, the sign on bonuses dwindled away. As the years went by, the salaries for entry level pharmacists decreased. In the past, it was almost guaranteed that a new graduate would make at least six figures; unfortunately, the starting salary is much lower and dependent on where the pharmacy is listed. Like the demand of pharmacists, salaries will be a roller coaster as well; however, it is unlikely that we will ever get back to a time where sign on bonuses will make a return.
Concordia University School of Pharmacy
Emily Bryant: Absolutely, I do feel there will be a lasting impact. Students graduating during and after our pandemic have been forced to become familiar with navigating virtual meetings and interviews. They needed to be adaptable and resilient. They understand deeply the importance of human connection.
Many of them have experienced interruptions in their ability to attend experiential rotations and/or courses; which I hope has not impacted their learning negatively but that remains to be seen.
Regarding the job market, many roles have seen a shift from what have historically been entirely on-site to either partly or entirely remote. Some will revert back to in-person, but I think remote work for pharmacists in part is here to stay. The pandemic pushed our industry (healthcare) to increase availability of telemedicine, and pharmacists are part of that as well.
Currently without the availability of in-person interviews candidates can easily apply to geographically diverse roles without the constraints of travel costs and time; however this means there are more applications received and therefore more competition. I do believe virtual interviews will continue even after the pandemic. They are less expensive for employers with candidates who would otherwise need to travel and allow for a bigger applicant pool.
Emily Bryant: This is highly dependent upon practice area and specialty, but I can highlight a few that I feel make the biggest difference in qualification for certain pharmacist roles.
Pharmacy residency is not a certification/license/course but rather a competitive program involving one to two years of intensive training. While not the right fit for every graduate, completion of a residency program will open many doors. Board certification through the Board of Pharmacy Specialties (BPS) is available in fourteen specialty areas: including pharmacotherapy, ambulatory care pharmacy, and oncology pharmacy. Being board certified is often preferred and sometimes required in order to work in a clinical specialty.
Lastly, there is an immediate need for pharmacists and other healthcare professionals who are certified in administering immunizations (specifically for COVID-19). Pandemic aside, a certificate course in immunization delivery prepares graduates to provide services including influenza, pneumonia, and travel vaccines, among others, in a growing number of pharmacist job settings.
Emily Bryant: As I mentioned earlier, the pandemic has taught us just how necessary it is to be adaptable. Regardless of whether you work in a community pharmacy, clinic, industry, hospital, or a school of pharmacy we are faced with ever-changing environments. To be successful wherever their career trajectory goes, graduates must know how to adapt to change.
The Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) highlights a number of "soft skills" in the standards for schools of pharmacy to uphold for all graduates, including: problem solving, patient advocacy, interprofessional collaboration, cultural sensitivity, communication, self-awareness, leadership, innovation, and professionalism. Practically speaking, I would add critical thinking, time management, and a positive attitude to this list of essential soft skills.