Magazine article Drug Topics

Alaska RPh Shortage Expected to Worsen

Magazine article Drug Topics

Alaska RPh Shortage Expected to Worsen

Article excerpt

If pharmacy jobs look tight, think of Alaska. Nearly a quarter of the pharmacist positions in the state are open and pharmacy employers report that the typical RPh vacancy takes 1 5 months to fill. Physicians, nurses, dentists, and other healthcare professionals are in equally short supply.

"I believe the pharmacist shortage in Alaska is getting worse, not better," said Robert Sewell, health program manager for the state Department of Health and Social Services. "The sky isn't falling, but the shortage is developing into a severe situation."

Alaska has about 400 licensed pharmacists and close to 100 open pharmacist positions, according lo a 2007 state healthcare-provider vacancy survey. A new vacancy survey to be released in the fall is expected to show an even larger shortfall.

The pharmacist shortage is most severe in small towns and rural areas, but even urban settings such as Anchorage are perennially short of pharmacists. Other largely rural states sudi as Wisconsin, Idaho, and Montana have similar RPh shortages, said Amber Biggs, president of the Alaska Pharmacists Association, but Alaska has a unique set of problems. Recruiting pharmacists to Alaska is tough; retaining them is even tougher.

Alaska is a three-day drive or a long plane flight from the rest of the continental United States, which Alaskans call the Lower 48. And while Alaska is twice the size of Texas, it has only about 665,000 residents.

"You are somewhat isolated in Alaska," said pharmacist and Anchorage resident David Campana, the state's Medicaid pharmacy program manager. "Families can find that they are a long way from relatives. We also have some distina advantages, like mouth-dropping scenery in every direction and long summer days. On the other hand, winter nights get to be pretty long."

According to Biggs, Alaska's physical and psychological isolation repels as many people as it attracts. Pharmacist employersface even more barriers, starting with education. Alaska residents who want to study pharmacy must go out of state. Few return.

"We are the only state in the country that doesn't have a pharmacy school," Biggs said. "And we're almost the only state that doesn't have a loanrepayment program or some other kind of financial assistance for pharmacists. When you look at the debt burden that most new pharmacists carry, that puts us at a distinct disadvantage.

For a recent pharmacy grad, choosing Alaska over almost any other state is a real financial sacrifice. …

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