March 2024

Face to Face with Pharmacy Dean Sarah Michel

March 29, 2024    |  

“Pharmacies are not OK. Your local Walgreens and CVS and Rite Aid are not OK. It’s a soup of danger, with ingredients from companies who have lost the core belief of what we do, which is patient care and patient focus.”

Those words of frustration were uttered by an Oklahoma pharmacist explaining the impetus behind last November’s “Pharmageddon,” as thousands of pharmacists in 15 states walked off the job to protest increasing workloads, rising stress, and more frequent encounters with overwrought and distressed patients.

The past few years certainly have been tough ones for many pharmacists and pharmacy schools, made even harder by the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many experienced Baby Boomers and even older Gen X pharmacists in the retail sector have called it quits or moved to less-demanding non-retail jobs. At the same time, enrollments in professional practice — PharmD — programs have plummeted at schools all over the country.

That’s a big change from just a few years ago. A Pharmacy Times headline in 2016 worried, “Are Pharmacy Schools Growing Too Fast?” The website noted that from 2005 to 2012, “a minimum of 4 new pharmacy schools opened each year” and several existing programs expanded.

And no wonder. The Baby Boom generation was headed for retirement, and the pharmacists’ scope of practice was continuing to expand into medication therapy management, monitoring chronic diseases, ordering and administering vaccines, and even prescribing medication.

And that demographic shift isn’t over. The World Bank recently predicted by 2050 1.5 billion people will be 65 or older, facing more chronic conditions than ever and likely no end to high health care and prescription costs and other barriers to care.

Analysts expect that will push the job market somewhat away from dispensing roles toward positions in health care settings and patient care-oriented roles like ambulatory care. The most recent Demand Report from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacies (AACP) showed 61,000 job openings for pharmacists during the first three quarters of 2023, about 18 percent more than the previous year. Somewhat more than half of those were in the retail sector and about a third in clinical or hospital roles.

But as the number of available jobs continues to rise, pharmacy school enrollments are headed the other way. Ten years ago, the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy (UMSOP) had 635 spring semester PharmD students. Today, that number has fallen to 329. And it’s the same everywhere. AACP says the number of graduates from four-year pharmacy programs dropped from 14,223 in 2021 to 13,323 in 2022 — the largest single-year drop since 1983.

All of that, and certainly some residual impact from Pharmageddon, is spurring the industry to action. Last month, Walgreens announced the creation of the Walgreens Deans Advisory Council, aimed at strengthening relationships with colleges of pharmacy across the United States. According to a news release from the company, the goal is to better support pharmacists’ care to their local communities.

But pharmacy education is not just a numbers game, and it’s not all about PharmD programs either. Anyone who’s been around the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) knows about all the other groundbreaking aspects of our own School of Pharmacy.

UMSOP is one of the top research schools in the country. The school launched the nation’s first master’s program in medical cannabis science and therapeutics in 2019, just in time for faculty experts and graduates to guide Maryland’s transition to legal cannabis. UMSOP has very strong master’s programs in regulatory science, palliative care, and pharmacometrics, as well as PhD programs in health services research and pharmaceutical sciences. There is an array of dual-degree programs aimed at preparing students to fill the needs in all areas of pharmacy science.

And of course, UMSOP is the exclusive home of Pharmapreneurship. Entrepreneurial pharmacy is nothing new, of course. There’d be no Merck, Sharp, and Dohme without UMSOP graduates Alpheus Sharp and Louis Dohme (Class of 1842 and Class of 1857, respectively), no Covergirl or Noxema without George Bunting (Class of 1899), and no CorrectRx Pharmacy Services without Ellen Yankellow (Class of 1996).

No, Pharmapreneurship is not new, but it has been reinvigorated at UMSOP — and now trademarked.

So, what’s the plan for attracting pharmacy students and preparing them for a changing future? That was the topic of the March 28, 2024, edition of Virtual Face to Face. Joining UMB President Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS, was UMSOP Dean Sarah L.J. Michel, PhD.

Although Michel is in just her sixth month as UMSOP dean, she is in her 20th year as a member of the UMSOP faculty. During that time, Michel has served as chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, associate dean for graduate programs, president of the Faculty Senate, interim dean after Dean Natalie Eddington, PhD, FAAPS, FCP, stepped down, and also is highly regarded as a pharmaceutical researcher.

Watch the entire discussion, including questions and answers with the live audience, by clicking the link above.