Oregon Labor Market Information System
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Pills, Pills, Pills: Job Openings for Pharmacists Steadily Increase
by Melissa Greenaway
Published Nov-22-2013

My allergies have been insane since I moved across the state a few weeks ago. Stubbornly refusing to acknowledge my symptoms, I tried to stay busy with work and the boxes littering my new home. After three days of building sinus pressure and sneezing fits, I gave in and refilled my allergy prescription, finally getting some relief. Using prescription drugs is a common practice among Americans. In 2012, the National Center for Health Statistics found that nearly half of the population (48.5%) used at least one prescription drug during the previous month. The more prescriptions one has, the greater the risk of drug interaction (leading to potentially unsavory side-effects). Luckily, most of us have a pharmacist looking out for these risky drug combinations.

Pharmacists play a crucial role in the healthcare system. They are the distributors of drugs prescribed by physicians and other healthcare professionals and the main contact a patient has before starting a new medication. As such, pharmacists counsel patients about their medications and how they should use them. As noted above, pharmacists also check if an individual's prescription will interact negatively with other drugs he is taking or any existing medical conditions he has. Pharmacists are also qualified to advise patients about more general health topics, such as stress management, exercise, and diet. Pharmacists who work in a hospital setting are known as clinical pharmacists, and work more with patients than prescriptions. In 2010, more than 3,000 pharmacists were employed in Oregon, just a small portion of the 274,900 that worked in the United States.

Industries Employing Pharmacists
Pharmacists work in a variety of locations beyond your local grocery store. They may work in hospitals, health stores, nursing homes, the pharmaceutical industry, managed care organizations, or the federal government.

Graph 1 shows the industry distribution of Oregon pharmacists. More than half of Oregon pharmacists work in the retail industry, with nearly one-quarter of total employment located in health and personal care stores. This is much greater than the national concentration, which stands at 12 percent. Hospitals in Oregon provide one-fifth of pharmacist jobs, while grocery stores account for 10 percent of employment.

Graph 1
Industries of employment for Oregon pharmacists
A Very Particular Set of Skills
If you're interested in a career as a pharmacist, be prepared to hit the books. Though not as intense as that of a doctor or surgeon, a pharmacist's education requires years of study. Most pharmacists receive a Pharm D. professional degree, the standard for the industry. These programs average five to seven years (including undergraduate education), after which an aspiring pharmacist must study for and pass the licensing exam of the state in which they wish to work. In Oregon, that exam is managed by the Oregon Board of Pharmacy. This exam ensures that pharmacists have the necessary biological, chemical, and mathematical knowledge needed to accurately perform their duties.

Pharmacists also need to have non-academic skills to be successful. This includes active listening, computer skills, and administrative skills. In addition, pharmacists must be able to communicate technical information to those with little medical knowledge.

Show Me the Money
Pharmacists' wages are much higher than the statewide or national average for all occupations. The average Oregon pharmacist will earn $118,759 per year, nearly $76,000 more than Oregon's average annual wage for all occupations. That number includes higher wages in more populous areas like Multnomah County and lower wages in rural areas. In all Oregon counties, however, the average pharmacist is paid more than six figures.

Lastly, workers in many health care occupations are able to enjoy a more flexible schedule. And pharmacists are no exception. While most pharmacists work full time, roughly one out of five worked a part-time schedule in 2010.

Back to the Future
Oregon's overall need for pharmacists is projected to increase by 18 percent between 2010 and 2020, a growth rate roughly equal to the state average for all occupations.

Graph 2 shows projected employment growth rates for pharmacists through 2020 in select Oregon counties. Currently, pharmacist positions are expected to grow in Benton, Linn, and Lincoln counties by 22 percent, 4 percentage points faster than the state as a whole. Pharmacist jobs in Central Oregon are also projected to grow faster than the state average, at 20 percent. Pharmacist jobs in the United States, however, are expected to grow 25 percent through 2020, faster than anywhere in Oregon.

In Oregon, these job openings will be largely due to the need to replace existing workers rather than new positions. Nevertheless, an aging population that continues to use more prescriptions suggests that the need for pharmacists will not decrease any time soon.

Graph 2
2010-2020 employment growth rate for pharmacist positions