Local News

Pharmacist Shortage Means Longer Wait For Prescriptions

Posted August 2, 2000

— More retail pharmacies are having a hard time attracting pharmacists. Long hours and fights with insurance companies over prices are encouraging them to take other career paths.

When Julie Ann Harrelson injured her knee several years ago, she depended upon the local independent pharmacy to deliver her medicine.

"It means everything to me," Harrelson says. "If I had to rely on the big stores, I don't think anyone would bring me my medicine if I couldn't get there."

Personal service is a tradition at independent pharmacies which attracts customers and pharmacists alike.

"An independent pharmacy is a pharmacy where you know all your consumers. You've had their parents trading with you, two or three generations of people trading with you," says pharmacy owner Mike James.

Chain stores are having trouble filling vacancies. They are offering big salaries and, in some cases, company cars to attract pharmacists.

In the past decade, there has been a 23 percent increase in the number of pharmacists in North Carolina, but there has been a 52 percent increase in the number of prescriptions filled, which means pharmacists are working longer and harder than ever.

David Work, president of theNorth Carolina Pharmacy Board, says long hours and the advent of managed care make retail pharmacy stressful.

"It's the pharmacist out there where the rubber meets the road where they're meeting the public. They get the complaints from the public when they really can't control those prices," Work says.

For consumers, the shortage means longer waits and less personal service unless, of course, you frequent the corner drug store.

"I have instant access to a pharmacist, and I can't say the same thing for the big stores. It takes too long," Harrelson says.

Pharmacy owners say this trend will probably continue. Most pharmacists are now getting a Pharm. D., an advanced degree, which allows them to work for large drug companies. Pharmacists who spoke with WRAL say managed care is making the retail jobs less and less attractive.

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