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Critical shortage of pharmacists likely to continue

Madison — Pharmacists who practice in the state are licensed and regulated by the Mississippi Board of Pharmacy. Currently, there are 2,658 licensed, and the board’s executive director, Leland “Mac” McDivitt, says there is a critical shortage that will continue to grow for the next five years.

“Everyone is getting into the pharmacy business — stores like Sears now have pharmacies — and the military is wanting more pharmacists,” he said. “A high percentage of pharmacists are women who don’t work full time. Also, pharmacists are getting signing bonuses, and that’s drawing them out of the state.”

Graduating pharmacists right out of school are starting at salaries ranging from $86,000 to $104,000, McDivitt said.
The University of Mississippi has the state’s only school of pharmacy and graduates between 50 and 60 students each year. It is now a six-year program but could increase to eight years. McDivitt says the trend is toward pharmacy schools requiring students to have four-year degrees before beginning a four-year pharmacy degree.

After completion of a degree from a school accredited by the American Council on Pharmaceutical Education, a graduate must take a national exam and a test on Mississippi pharmacy law and regulations administered by the Board of Pharmacy. The test is given once a year, and candidates must score at least 75 on the national exam and 75 on the state portion. However, McDivitt says those tests are not obstacles for licensure. “The pass rate is 100% because the smartest people are getting in pharmacy school now,” he said. “Of the 50 students approved for early enrollment at Ole Miss, 40 have 4.0 grade point averages. Failing the license exam is not a problem.”

His advice to anyone wanting to become a pharmacist is to make all A’s in high school because the professional schools have 300 to 400 applicants for the 60 to 80 available slots each year.

The North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination is required by all states. There are provisions for pharmacists licensed in other states and countries to obtain a license in Mississippi. McDivitt says it’s a good provision, but there are more pharmacists transferring out than in, although quite a few foreign-educated pharmacists have come into the state from India.

Other provisions for becoming licensed stipulate that an applicant be of good moral character, pay a fee of $200 and submit documented evidence of 1,600 hours of practical experience. This experience can be gained through clerkships and externships while enrolled in a professional pharmacy program. It must be under the direct supervision of a pharmacist registered in the state and in good standing with the Board of Pharmacy.

“Licensure by the state is important to ensure public health and safety,” McDivitt said. “It’s necessary to make sure drugs are legal, not counterfeit, and that they are dispensed in an environment that is clean, legal and in compliance with state laws.”

Additionally, state-licensed pharmacists must be licensed by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to handle controlled substances. Every pharmacist in the state, along with every physician, has a DEA number.

“The pharmacists go through us to get it,” the director said. “It’s not hard to get if they are in good standing, have a state license and have no convictions.”

Pharmacists must provide the state board with their current addresses, telephone numbers and evidence of completion of continuing education to maintain licensure. Twenty hours of continuing education are required every two years.

McDivitt says those hours are not difficult to earn. “They can get them online, through correspondence and at weekend meetings and national conventions where they can learn about new drugs and trends,” he said. “There’s a lot of it.”

A long list of regulation infractions can result in a pharmacist’s license being suspended, revoked or not renewed. Enforcement agents with the Board of Pharmacy make sure licensed pharmacists are not impaired in any way and comply with state laws and board regulations.

“Keeping them legal is getting to be more of a problem every day,” McDivitt, who is a pharmacist himself, said. “Pharmacists are responsible for legal drugs that can become a problem. It’s white collar crime.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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