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Even if CNCs are repealed, pharmacist shortage could hamper drugstore expansion

Pharmacies aim to get more students into pharmacy school


May 6, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

No pharmacist, no pharmacy, says the law. This means even if certificates of need and convenience (CNC) are repealed, the shortage of pharmacists wouldn’t allow pharmacy chains to expand aggressively, according to sources in Walgreens, which offers scholarships and internships to attract more people to the profession. El Amal executives agreed.

However, the Community Pharmacy Association (CPA) fears large chains’ aggressive expansion can occur anyway. Julie Hurtado, president of the CPA, said many prescription counters already are operating without a pharmacist on staff. She also said it isn’t true local students aren’t interested in becoming pharmacists.

"Repealing the CNCs doesn’t necessarily mean pharmacies are going to pop up on every corner as is being said. The law doesn’t allow for the opening of a pharmacy if a pharmacist for that store hasn’t been hired, and this won’t change even if the CNCs are repealed," Roberto Ortiz, pharmaceutical services supervisor at Walgreens, explained.

"The effect of repealing CNCs won’t be immediate," said El Amal Vice President Mohammad Yassin, agreeing this won’t provoke a rapid expansion of pharmacy chains.

Ortiz added that to get a license to operate a pharmacy, the operator must submit an application with the name of the pharmacist who is going to run the prescription counter, his or her credentials, and the hours he or she will work. "Without this license, you can’t even buy medicine to stock your store," he indicated.

According to Yassin, there are now a little more than 4,000 pharmacists working in Puerto Rico.

"Walgreens has offered 105 scholarships since 1999, so students can complete a doctoral degree in pharmacy at either the University of Puerto Rico’s School of Pharmacy or Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico," Rodríguez revealed. "Right now, there are 36 students using the Walgreens scholarship." These scholarships have been available for eight years, he indicated, and are obtainable by students already enrolled in pharmacy school.

Eight-week-long internships are also available. "During the past four years, we have had an average of 60 interns per year," Rodríguez explained. "They learn about the clinical part of the job, but also learn how to manage a pharmacy’s prescription counter and the retail area, too." The next internship round begins in June, he said.

Yassin explained El Amal doesn’t offer scholarships, but does offer internships. "We don’t have a scholarship program although we have considered it in the past," Yassin said, adding that each summer an average of 10 to 15 interns work at El Amal.

Still, Hurtado explained, the problem isn’t that interest in a career in pharmacy has dwindled. "That just isn’t true. Every year, UPR’s School of Pharmacy receives 600 to 700 applications and only 45 to 50 are admitted. It isn’t that no one is interested; it is just that the school is very competitive and selective," she said, adding the school is among the top pharmacy institutions in the nation.

Hurtado also warned the lack of pharmacists won’t necessarily be an obstacle to set up more pharmacies. "Something very unfortunate is happening. On numerous occasions, I have presented evidence showing prescriptions at Health Reform primary-care centers [known as IPAs in Spanish] are being given out by people who aren’t pharmacists," she revealed.

Hurtado explained the CPA is going to fight the Appeals Court in Boston’s determination to the end. "We are asking for a reconsideration and will take the case to the Supreme Court if we have to."

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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