WOONSOCKET, R.I. -- Although CVS here said recently that it would explore international recruitment to help resolve its pharmacist shortage, supermarkets and analysts polled by SN say that option is complicated by stiff state licensing requirements.
CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis said the chain has expanded its recruiting resources throughout the world through on-location opportunities and through the Internet. Specifically, one part of the world CVS will look for pharmacists is the Middle East, he said. The overseas recruitment effort is part of a more widespread initiative that includes expanding recruitment to pharmacy schools in markets where the chain does not yet operate, among other efforts.
Although few supermarkets seem to be as aggressive as CVS in their overseas recruiting efforts, some have branched out to neighbors like Canada.
Joanne Gage, spokeswoman for Price Chopper, Schenectady, N.Y., said the retailer has started to look north of the border since a recent change in New York state law that previously prohibited pharmacists who were not U.S. citizens to be licensed in the state.
"It gave us another opportunity in being creative," she said.
Gage said Price Chopper is in the process of hiring a Canadian pharmacist at a Vermont store, but it may take months because of the lengthy certification process. Pharmacists who are not licensed in the United States must pass an English equivalence exam, a pharmacy equivalence exam, the National Boards of Pharmacy exam and a state law exam, she said.
Price Chopper's recruitment efforts also include maintaining a good relationship with a pharmacy college in Albany and employing a full-time recruiter.
Karen Ramos, spokeswoman for the drug division at Albertson's, Boise, Idaho, said the shortage has "propelled us to look harder everywhere, both in and out of the U.S."
As long as prospective pharmacists are licensed and meet the state and federal criteria, the retailer works with them, she said.
One pharmacy official at a large Midwest-based chain said he has hired a South African intern in the past, and he said he thinks some of the retailer's divisions have recruited foreign pharmacists from Canada and India via the Internet through a recruitment service. But, the source added, "We would have to proceed carefully -- not all are qualified."
Bill Beaulieu, a registered pharmacist and instructor at the University of Rhode Island's College of Pharmacy, Kingston, R.I., had doubts about using international recruitment as a realistic solution to the problem. With all the exams and internship hours the foreign pharmacists would have to complete, he said, "Unless the states waive these requirements, I don't feel it's a viable option unless they have a U.S. license."
Several supermarket retailers said they are sticking to the domestic labor pool.
"We have experienced a shortage like everyone else -- it was worse two years ago, but it has leveled off," said Bill Fisher, director of pharmacy for Bi-Lo, Greenville, S.C. He said Bi-Lo's 130 pharmacies have not reached the point where they need help from a third party or a headhunter service, and he does not see the need to recruit outside the United States in the near future.
Likewise, Bill Overkamp, specialist, Meijer, Grand Rapids, Mich., said the chain has "hired a handful of Canadian residents since we border Canada," and an occasional pharmacist from Asia, but is not actively recruiting outside the United States.
Don Dietz, vice president of Pharmacy Healthcare Solutions, a Pittsburgh-based pharmacy consulting service, said international pharmacy recruitment could be a viable option as long as the pharmacists pass the proficiency exam and are able to communicate effectively.
"How can they counsel a patient if they cannot communicate with them?" he said.
Ramos of Albertson's, however, said hiring pharmacists who speak other languages can be a benefit. "It's helpful for customers who feel more comfortable speaking in their native tongue," she said. The retailer hires Spanish-speaking pharmacists in predominantly Spanish-speaking areas and Polish-speaking pharmacists to accommodate the Polish community in the Chicago area, for example.