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State can't get fill of pharmacists
Arizona Republic
February 28, 2005

"Better living through chemistry" is translating into more jobs for today's pharmacy workers.

The development of new and better drugs for the treatment of health conditions, the aging of the state's population and the influx of residents have caused a demand for qualified pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmaceutical sales people in Arizona.

According to Jessica Prunty of Arizona Pharmacy Alliance, Arizona is experiencing an acute shortage of pharmacists.

"It seems there's a CVS or Walgreens going up on every corner these days. We hear stories of competitors calling another pharmacy and offering jobs to the pharmacists on duty right over the phone," she said. "It's gotten that crazy."

Pharmacists in Arizona must hold a doctor of pharmacy degree. Midwestern University in Glendale offers an accelerated program, which can be completed in three years. Cost is about $26,000 yearly, and the equivalent of two years of college prerequisite courses are required to enter.

Beginning pharmacists earn $93,000 to $95,000 a year.

"It's an unusual profession in that starting salaries are almost on par with what pharmacists in the field are making with 10 years of experience," said Steve Lemahieu, a community pharmacist who has practiced for three decades.

Lemahieu has worked at an East Valley pharmacy for eight years.

His day-to-day duties include dispensing medications, managing inventories, counseling with patients about their prescriptions and/or over-the-counter medications, and dealing with doctors, insurance companies and regulatory agencies.

Lemahieu works eight- to 12-hour shifts, averaging 40 hours a week.

Lemahieu's job has become more administrative each year, he says.

"When I moved to Arizona 20 years ago, about 20 percent of the population had prescription insurance," he said. "Today, the figure is 95 percent.

"That's a big jump."

The increase translates into more time on the phone and online with insurance companies, Lemahieu says.

"This takes me away from the patients," he said.

Those interested in entering the field should have a strong bent toward chemistry, math and biology.

"A sense of compassion and empathy also is critical. If you don't care about the patient, you won't be willing to go the extra mile," he said.

Not only are pharmacists getting more scarce, assistants are becoming harder to find, in part because of new legislation enacted in Arizona.

The state requires pharmacy technicians to be certified, and technicians who are employed are allowed two years to complete the process.

"This is a position that an 18-year-old with a GED used to be able to fill," Prunty said.

Scottsdale Community College offers a 10-week training program for pharmacy technicians. The next course begins March 22, with new classes offered each semester. Cost is $890, including materials. Candidates for the non-credit program must have a high school diploma or GED.

Marilyn Kirkman completed the program at Scottsdale Community and works as a pharmacy tech for CVS Pharmacy in Scottsdale. The former nurse left the health care field years ago.

"I was tired of the stressful environment," she said.

Kirkman spent the past 12 years working in the bakery of a grocery chain, where she learned about the pharmacy technician program.

"I didn't want to return to health care as a nurse but as a pharmacy tech," she said. "The work is rewarding without the level of responsibility."

Kirkman works eight-hour shifts under the supervision of a pharmacist, filling prescriptions, answering the phone and waiting on customers.

Kirkman, 53, works with techs in their 20s and 30s.

"This is a good career for independent workers of any age," she said.

According to the Arizona Pharmacy Alliance, pharmacy technicians in Arizona earn $10 to $16 per hour to start, plus full health benefits.

Pharmaceutical sales representatives also are needed in Arizona, says Richard Kneece, CEO of Beginning reps earn in the mid-$40,000s a year, with perks such as a company car. Salaries range to $90,000 with experience.

Pharmaceutical sales representatives should be self-motivated, personable and technical minded, Kneece says.

"Candidates who hold college degrees in nursing, biology or chemistry will have an edge," he said.

Sales representatives work with doctors and other health care professionals to market their company's product.

This is not strictly a sales position, Kneece cautions. A good pharmaceutical representative will do his or her homework.

"A big part of the job is educating doctors about a drug's benefits," he said.

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