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Arkansas pharmacist shortage may continue another 10 years

Updated:
LITTLE ROCK (AP) _ Like other states, Arkansas is experiencing a shortage of pharmacists.

And Bubba Arnold, director of pharmacy for St. Vincent Health System, says if the shortage worsens, Arkansas pharmacies may have to shorten hours and close on weekends.

Nationally, Arkansas ranks fourth in the availability of pharmacists relative to demand, according to the Pharmacy Manpower Project at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, Calif.

Stephanie Gardner, dean of the College of Pharmacy at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, says the demand for pharmacists is expected to continue to rise for at least another ten years.

The College of Pharmacy, the state's only pharmacy school, increased enrollment this year for the first time in at least 30 years. It increased its class size from 75 to 90, and received a record 234 applicants.

``We're getting an older population that's living longer. The number of prescription drugs people take is increasing,'' Gardner says.

Some Arkansas hospitals estimate they have doubled their pharmacists' salaries since 2000 and still struggle to keep a full staff.

Experienced pharmacists make around $100,000 a year at hospitals and chain stores, Arnold says. Starting salaries at hospitals might be $60,000 while chains offer about $80,000 or more to start.

Salaries for UAMS College of Pharmacy graduates has jumped significantly every year for the last five years, Gardner says. Graduates in 2004 earned an average of $84,318, up from $80,271 the year before.

With the competitive salaries, many hospitals and independent pharmacies find it difficult to attract pharmacy school graduates and they also face a generation of pharmacists approaching retirement, Gardner says.

``The chains have responded most rapidly, but everybody's had to keep up,'' Gardner says. ``It is hard for independent drugstores and hospitals to compete.''

Retirement among pharmacists is expected to remain high over the next decade, while more women than men become pharmacists, says Mark Riley, executive vice president of the Arkansas Pharmacists Association.

That means more part time pharmacists in the field because women find they can support a family on a part-time pharmacist's salary, Riley says.
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