Staffing shortages at Alaska pharmacies proceed after pandemic-related shakeup

Natalie McCay, Cate Kowalski and MacKenzie Peeler assist prospects at Petersburg Rexall Drug. (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

Alaska continues to see staffing shortages at pharmacies, made worse by the pandemic, but additionally because of situations affecting the state extra broadly.

It’s evidenced by diminished hours at retail pharmacies and longer wait instances to get prescriptions crammed, and, on the flip aspect, newly graduated pharmacists getting supplied enormous sign-on bonuses and scholar mortgage reimbursement as a result of they’re in such excessive demand.

State Pharmacist Dr. Coleman Cutchins, who additionally spends time educating pharmacy college students on the College of Alaska Anchorage, says the scarcity will not be a brand new drawback in Alaska, however the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated some underlying points.

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The next transcript has been calmly edited for readability.

Coleman Cutchins: Across the nation, there have been lots of people that left the well being care workforce. Most of them have been form of towards the top, you realize, they may have retired years in the past, they form of stayed in it. So we noticed — you realize, physicians, nurses, pharmacists — we noticed a variety of medical professionals retire or go away medical care and go on to one thing else. My idea on it, and what I’ve really seen by means of a few of my former college students and residents up right here is that opened up positions somewhere else gave individuals alternatives that they wouldn’t have had, with out, you realize, with out COVID. So the pharmacists, who I really feel like are distinctive that, you realize, I educated, that I labored with, have left — all left for a greater alternative some other place, or an identical alternative someplace with decrease value of dwelling, or related alternative nearer to household, as a result of they’ve younger youngsters. I don’t assume it was something actually particular about Alaska in the course of the pandemic, however I feel it was extra that a variety of alternatives opened up different locations, so individuals might go, you realize, in the event that they felt inclined or had a motive to. Does that is sensible?

Casey Grove: Yeah. And possibly not even simply particular to being a pharmacist. You see that throughout a variety of demographics. That out-migration is an actual factor. What sort of particular issues occurred in the course of the COVID pandemic do you assume contributed to pharmacists, you realize, leaving their jobs?

CC: I’ve talked to lots of people that work locally. I don’t assume it was a direct contributor. Now, the opposite piece of the puzzle right here that I feel was immediately affected in the course of the pandemic have been pharmacy technicians. It isn’t simply pharmacist staffing shortages which might be impacting retail pharmacies throughout the state. Extra so, the those that I talked to that work locally setting say it’s technicians, as a result of, you realize, your technicians are your ancillary workforce. They make it run. You possibly can’t run with out them. I imply, in most staffing fashions, you’re taking a look at two to 3 technicians per pharmacist. So if there’s no technicians, you’re nonetheless going to need to restrict hours. So the issue with technician shortages is, I imply, group pharmacy is a excessive stress setting. There was stress, there was anxiousness there, you realize, throughout COVID. And there’s a variety of different jobs they’ll do for a similar amount of cash. Sadly, you realize, the pay scale isn’t wherever shut, form of like we see with a variety of different paraprofessionals. And, you realize, they simply produce other choices that pay the identical or related and don’t have a variety of these these stressors that we see within the healthcare sector.

CG: I assume, whether or not it’s technicians or pharmacists in that retail setting, you talked about it may be form of annoying. And I feel one thing that we’ve seen by means of the COVID pandemic is, you realize, some negativity directed at these frontline staff, I feel it’s truthful to say that they’re. And do you assume that that’s possibly a part of it, too?

CC: You recognize, if I hadn’t talked to a bunch of those that work in these settings, I most likely would have mentioned, “Yeah, that most likely performs part of it.” However actually, I imply, of all the individuals I talked to, none of them talked about that as a motivating issue. So I might hear anecdotal experiences about, “Oh, this pharmacy, you realize, they’re getting hostility round vaccines after they’ve by no means had hostility round vaccines.” I imply, yeah, that most likely did occur. However I didn’t hear anybody, within the preparation for this, speak about, you realize, public hostility being a motive why they really feel like they’ll’t workers.

CG: Simply working in a retail setting of any variety, possibly, is annoying.

CC: Yeah. Yeah, possibly. And group pharmacy is annoying, after which it will get much more annoying whenever you’re shortstaffed. As a result of whenever you quick your hours, you may have the identical quantity of labor, it’s simply going to be in a shorter time interval. So I feel it form of compounds that stress degree.

CG: How usually are you in a classroom educating pharmacy college students?

CC: Extra this fall, on this semester? However I’ve all the time made it a degree to be actually concerned in pharmacy training, and I’m a lecturer for the School of Pharmacy. I’m there fairly a bit.

CG: So do you see younger individuals in these lessons which might be desperate to get on the market and assist individuals? And I’m, like, imagining them with the white lab coat, elevating their hand for each query. However, I imply, do you see that?

CC: I do. And I all the time have. I’ve been concerned in pharmacist training my entire profession, and in both within the classroom setting or within the observe setting. As a result of your fourth yr of your Pharm D (Physician of Pharmacy) program is all medical rotations. So that you’re rotating by means of numerous observe websites, form of like on-the-job studying, on-the-job coaching. So yeah, at this level it’s their life, it’s their career. You recognize, at this level, in the event that they’re not keen, possibly they need to have made a distinct selection in life. So hopefully they made these selections earlier than they signed up.

CG: Yeah, positively. Are they sporting the white lab coats although?

CC: Yeah, for the School of Pharmacy, they’ve a White Coat Ceremony the place they get their white coat after they enter their first yr and are ushered into being scholar pharmacists at that time.

CG: That’s so cute or one thing.

CC: However I’ll inform you, I don’t know that I’ve ever worn a white coat in observe. I don’t assume I ever have.

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