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CPhA – it’s time to take stock of our workforce

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Data collection and analysis must improve in order to respond to the demands of a changing pharmacy practice.

By Alistair Bursey

High-quality pharmacy services are a critical component of sustainable healthcare in Canada.

Changing pharmacy practice calls for a coordinated national approach toward pharmacy workforce intelligence and planning to ensure appropriate education and training that responds to health system needs. Changing global standards in health human resources planning are prioritizing the collection of comprehensive health system data to support the development of a sophisticated supply and demand-driven workforce planning models.

It’s time for the pharmacy profession to support the collection of comprehensive, centralized, and timely workforce intelligence to ensure that Canadians continue to have access to high quality pharmacy care and medication management services.

From 2006 to 2008, the profession undertook a major evaluation of pharmacy human resources in a project called Moving Forward: Pharmacy Human Resources for the Future. Changes affecting the profession have been significant since 2008; as well, the pharmacy profession has consistently ranked among the fastest growing health professions in Canada. In 2008, there were 31,011 licensed pharmacists; by 2017, this number has grown to 42,584.

During this time, projections showed that Canada faced a shortage of pharmacists, and there was a rapid influx of internationally educated pharmacists. From 2008 to 2015, the percentage of internationally educated pharmacists rose from 21.5 per cent to 29.2 per cent of all licensed pharmacists in Canada. We have also seen the introduction of regulated pharmacy technicians, which has changed how pharmacy is practised.

Official labour force projection models predict shortage conditions for pharmacists between 2015 and 2024. While shortage projections have fueled the entry of a growing number of international pharmacy graduates, there is evidence to suggest that the Canadian pharmacist labour market has shifted from a shortage to a surplus. Recent graduates report changing employment conditions, such as difficulty securing pharmacist employment and lower wages.

However, short-term decisions based on available information may have a significant impact on the long-term availability of pharmacists.

To ensure the profession is equipped to respond to the changing demands of pharmacy practice, CPhA and The Association of Faculties of Pharmacy of Canada (AFPC) have formed a multi-stakeholder committee to better understand current and future pharmacist supply and demand.

The Committee’s preliminary findings show that pharmacy workforce data collection and analysis must improve in order to respond to the demands of changing pharmacy practice. This group is tasked with developing recommendations to ensure pharmacy is prepared to contribute to the demand-driven inter-professional health human resource modeling tools of the future.

Pharmacists continue to be seen as trusted health professionals.  The expansion of scopes of practice has significantly enhanced the level of care that we can provide our patients. It is vital that we now take stock of our workforce in order to allow us to continue to meet the needs of our patients.

Alistair Bursey is the Chair of the Canadian Pharmacists Association.