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Hospital Executives Report Widespread Pharmacist Shortages

Kate Traynor

One in five U.S. hospitals has a "severe" shortage of pharmacists, according to a recently released survey (PDF) of hospital executives.

On average, 12.7 percent of budgeted pharmacist positions went unfilled last year. The vacancy rate at a facility was considered "severe" if at least 20 percent of the positions were unfilled despite recruitment efforts. One in 25 of the responding executives said that at least half of their pharmacist positions went unfilled in 2001.

The survey, which took place last August and September, was sponsored by the American Hospital Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Federation of American Hospitals, and the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems. Nearly 6,000 hospitals were faxed a copy of the survey, and 18 percent of the surveys were completed.

The vacancy rates for four other health professionals—nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses, imaging technicians, and registered nurses—were also found to be at least 12 percent during 2001. Imaging technicians, with an average vacancy rate of 15.3 percent, topped the list of unfilled work slots.

Staffing shortages of pharmacists were evident in all areas of the country and in urban and rural settings. Vacancy rates were slightly higher in rural areas than in urban settings and were highest in the West and lowest in the South.

Some 53 percent of the responding executives said that pharmacist recruitment was more difficult last year than in 1999.

These recruiting difficulties apparently coincided with an increase in the demand for health professionals between 1999 and 2001. The number of budgeted pharmacist positions in hospitals increased by 11 percent during that time.