Your pharmacist can be permanently outside
CVS and Walgreens are limit the amount of formula milk you can buy – a grim reminder of what shortages mean and how dependent we have become on retail chains, especially when it comes to vital supplies, including medicines.
Perhaps you have noticed that there are more and more people in CVS or Walgreens these days while you are waiting for an article, a vaccine or a medicine.
Maybe you were put on hold for a pharmacist and eventually gave up. Perhaps you argued with a pharmacist or stood in line while someone else demanded better service from the pharmacist.
At major drugstore outlets, you will often see a sign saying “We are hiring”. What I never considered is that the people they need to hire the most are critical to our health.
Recently I was living in Massachusetts and picked up a prescription at my local Walgreens. A sign on the pharmacy counter read “Closed for the weekend” along with a list of nearby locations. I later learned that the pharmacy was closed due to a shortage of pharmacists. And COVID-19 was not the culprit.
Here is what I learned.
American pharmacists are struggling and many are leaving the profession. Over the next 10 years, he is estimated that America will see a nationwide decline of at least 2 percent of its pharmacists, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.
That might not seem like a lot until you consider the new growth in prescriptions in the United States is out of this world. Last March, the volume of prescriptions increased by 34% compared to the previous year. These are largely mail-order prescriptions, which do not require a pharmacist. But there are some things that require a human pharmacist, including vaccines, advice on drug side effects, help finding a generic brand to cut costs, and even what to do if you don’t. can’t find formula milk. Pharmacists are also magicians to deal with insurance companies on your behalf.
The problem for pharmacists today, I have learned, is not pay. A good pharmacist can earn $75 an hour. Not bad.
The problems are related to working conditions of pharmacists. A pharmacist from a large chain told me that he doesn’t drink water until after his 1 p.m. shift because he doesn’t have time to go to the bathroom. The phones ring constantly. Angry customers demand refills. And the average pharmacist is supported trying to prioritize competing demands for antibiotics and inhalers. Volume is up, staff is down.
Unruly airline passengers got the lion’s share of the attention this year, while pharmacists themselves faced angry customers. It’s time to admit that Americans have become increasingly angry.
What worries many pharmacists is that dismal conditions can lead to errors, accidents and shortages. A Survey 2022 by the American Pharmacist Association found that 74% of respondents said they did not feel they had enough time to safely perform patient care and clinical tasks.
The shortage of pharmacists comes at a time when COVID infections are on the rise and the supply of nurses and medical technicians is down. According to the American Hospital Association, almost every hospital in the country has a shortage of nurses due to COVID burnout. One study found that 35% of hospitals report a nursing vacancy rate above 10%. Whether or not you believe in vaccines is irrelevant if you need medicine, medical care or life-saving goods.
Yes, we know. America’s healthcare system is broken. There is no shortage of reports and commissions on the American health crisis. The answers on how to fix the healthcare system are as complex as the system itself.
But the narrow pharmacy sector is a good place to start reform. Large companies like CVS, Walgreens and RiteAid need to staff their stores with more qualified staff to ease the burden on existing staff. They can afford it. SVC recorded a profit last year by $7.9 billion, an increase of more than 10% over the previous year. Walgreens also had a Have a good year.
Another response to the pharmacy problem could be to shift some of the burden of vaccination onto internists who quietly avoided COVID by telling patients to test at home or get vaccinated at their local pharmacy.
Ultimately, we all want to support local small businesses, including the neighborhood pharmacy. But we still look to the big chains, confident that they will be open and well-staffed and will have products on the shelves. In this era of increasing resignations, there is no point in having pharmacists resign across the country.
Tara D. Sonenshine is the Edward R. Murrow Professor of Public Diplomacy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.