Around 50% of pharmacists intend to quit by 2033: Study

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

5/04/2023 4:50:57 PM

And with pharmacy already experiencing workforce shortages, the RACGP Vice President is concerned expanding their scope of practice will make matters worse. 

Overworked pharmacist
Pharmacists working in the community were more likely to say they are dissatisfied with their current career than those in other settings.

Research published in the International Journal of Pharmacy Practice has found that 10% of registered pharmacists in Australia are looking to leave the profession in the next two years – while 47% indicated that they do not intend to continue practising for more than a decade.
Undertaken by researchers from the University of South Australia and the University of Western Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic, 546 participants, ranging from registered pharmacists to students and interns, took part in the cross-sectional online survey.
Dr Amy Page, a consultant pharmacist and biostatistician who is a NHMRC Early Career Fellow at the WA Centre for Health & Ageing, was a co-author on the paper.
She told the Australian Journal of Pharmacy (AJP) that she and her colleagues were ‘shocked’ by the findings.
‘Those pharmacists that said they plan on leaving in the next two years are likely to exit the profession,’ Dr Page said.
‘Whereas it’s uncertain if those who want to leave within the next 10 years will act on that.’
Dr Bruce Willett, RACGP Vice President and Queensland Faculty Chair, said the findings are concerning given the sector is already experiencing a workforce shortage, with recent Pharmacy Guild estimates suggesting that Australia currently needs an additional 2448 full-time equivalent pharmacists.
He said it also raises further questions about plans to expand pharmacists’ scope of practice through initiatives such as the North Queensland Community Pharmacy Scope of Practice Pilot (NQCPSPP), as one of the justifications is increased access to care.
‘The thing we’ve been saying all along is that it makes no sense to raid one profession to prop up the workforce in another,’ Dr Willett told newsGP.
‘Pharmacy is facing shortages of workforce that are at least equal to – and in many cases more than – those in general practice, particularly in rural and regional [areas where] we know that pharmacy is far more maldistributed than GPs.
‘So having pharmacists being detracted away from doing their pharmacy work is likely to make access to pharmacists more difficult in the future.’
The Pharmacy Guild did not respond to requests for comment around how the shortage could impact initiatives such as the NQCPSPP.
In 2022, there were 31,720 registered pharmacists in Australia, with approximately 80% actively practising, most of whom work in community pharmacies and hospitals. There were also 1968 provisionally registered pharmacists and approximately 6700 pharmacy students.
While the study found participants had an optimistic outlook on the profession overall, those most likely to disagree with the statement that they were satisfied with their current career as a pharmacist were those who work in a community setting.
This does not come as a surprise to Dr Willett. He says it is in line with sentiments he is already aware of, and that he anticipates adding any further pressure onto pharmacists’ already stretched workload will only exacerbate the dissatisfaction.
‘We’re already hearing from working pharmacists that they feel under pressure to dispense and do their existing job at a rate that’s higher than they feel safe doing,’ Dr Willett said.
‘So, if we add to that the pressure of generating additional prescriptions, while at the same time making diagnoses that they’re not familiar with, I think that will inevitably significantly increase the strain on pharmacists and lead to increasing rates of burnout.’
The Queensland-based GP noted that the college does acknowledge that there is room for pharmacists to work in a ‘more expanded scope of practice’, but as part of a team – and not at the expense of fragmenting patient care.
‘We do support pharmacists working within teams,’ Dr Willett said.
‘We know that team-based care is more efficient, has better outcomes and is more cost efficient at the end of the day – and really, we should be heading towards that rather than away from that with pharmacists working independent in pharmacies.’
Dr Page did note that many of the pharmacists who indicated they would be looking to leave the profession in the next 10 years said they would be interested in trying a different work setting, such as transitioning from a community setting into a hospital or vice versa. She said exploring this trend further could be a useful strategy to prevent pharmacists from leaving pharmacy completely.
‘If that finding is correct, we as a profession may need to adjust our thinking to support an increased mobility between sectors to keep pharmacists engaged in the profession,’ Dr Page told AJP.
Dr Willett agrees and says this is where giving more pharmacists the opportunity to work in general practices would also make a difference – both for job satisfaction and retaining pharmacists, as well as improving access for patients.
‘We clearly need to make pharmacy a more attractive career; it’s getting less popular as a university course and that’s because people know that … the pay is not great and the working conditions aren’t great,’ he said.
‘That has a lot to do with the near monopoly that the pharmacy owners and the Pharmacy Guild have on pharmacy ownership that leads to a very distorted workplace.
‘We know that hospital-based pharmacy jobs are very highly sought after over community pharmacy jobs and so it would make sense, in terms of making pharmacy a more attractive career, to open pharmacy up to working within general practices. We would like them working in our practices and we know that pharmacists themselves are very keen to work in practices.
‘I personally have pharmacists working in my practice and they enjoy it. So, I think having that alternative career structure where non-dispensing pharmacists can work within general practice is a really important avenue for increasing the job satisfaction for pharmacists.’
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