'It's just been crazy': Pharmacist shortage impacting hometown pharmacies

NOW: ’It’s just been crazy’: Pharmacist shortage impacting hometown pharmacies

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Hashim Zaibak has been working his fair share of overtime at Hayat Pharmacy. In fact, the CEO tells CBS 58 he's only had one weekend off since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's just been crazy. Crazy," Zaibak said. "We can't find enough pharmacists to come and work the shifts, so I've been working a lot of hours. It's seven days a week."

The hiring struggles aren't exclusive to Hayat or Milwaukee. A survey by the National Community Pharmacists Association showed 88% of responding pharmacies listed hiring technicians as their number one challenge.

In 2022, The Wall Street Journal reported Walgreens was offering up to $75,000 in signing bonuses to help address the pharmacist shortage.

When asked for comment, Walgreens provided this statement to CBS 58:

"We have hired hundreds of pharmacists and returned hundreds of stores to normal operating hours over the past few months. Staffing challenges have impacted retailers, healthcare entities and countless other industries. We continue to proactively address staffing shortages through additional measures such providing competitive compensation, reducing workload and taking other steps to enhance our working environments."

Not only is the workplace experiencing a shortage in technicians and workers, schools training them are noticing it too.

"All of our (nation) pharmacy schools are actually seeing quite a bit of a decline in our applicants," explained Nancy Stoehr, an associate professor and director of admissions at Concordia University of Wisconsin's School of Pharmacy. "Patients can walk up to a pharmacist and they can ask a question, no appointment needed, and no charge given, and that's something really important for our communities."

Stoehr says it's her job to increase the awareness about the profession and share the importance with perspective students, starting in elementary school all the way through high school.

CUW's pharmacy program currently has roughly 200 students, including Cedarburg's Hannah Yurske, who is excited for the opportunity to help serve her family and neighbors in southeastern Wisconsin following graduation in 2024.

"When these shortages are happening, it makes me want to jump in where I can," Yurske explained. "A big part of why I started pharmacy school was in order to help people and build these connections with others."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 13,600 jobs in the industry are expected to become available annually over the next few years. Zaibak says students now have a better understanding of the workload and what's expected, and is hopeful prospective students will give the industry a try.

"The demand has increased for pharmacists, but it's an excellent field, you can do a lot more today with a pharmacy degree than what I did back in 1999 when I graduated."

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