Liz Davis. (U-I photo)

At the height of the pandemic, many Iowa drug stores cut hours or closed a few days a week due to staff shortages, and pharmacists and pharm techs remain in very high demand.

Liz Davis, director of admissions at the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy, says pharmacists play an exceptionally crucial role, as they’re arguably the state’s most accessible healthcare providers.

“You can just walk into your community pharmacy and chat with a healthcare provider about ailments that you might be having versus calling your doctor, making an appointment, trying to travel to that appointment, and getting in to see a physician,” Davis says. “Our community pharmacists are so important in building those relationships and keeping our community safe and expanding that access to health care, especially in rural parts of the state of Iowa.”

Given the added stresses of the job during COVID, the state lost several dozen pharmacists due to burnout. While the U-I program graduates about 100 new pharmacists every year, that’s still not enough to meet demand from drug stores and hospitals statewide.
“We are needing pharmacists in the pediatrics unit, in the emergency department, in the psychiatric units,” Davis says. “Over at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, there are probably 220 different pharmacists working there. They are all doing about 220 different jobs because they’re so unique in what they’re specializing in.”

Davis says the U-I’s Assured Admission Program is designed to create a direct path for high school seniors to start a pharmacy education, headed for the Pharm-D, or Doctorate of Pharmacy degree.  “If students are a part of the program, their spot in our PharmD program two years down the road from when they start at Iowa is theirs, as long as they pass all of their prereqs and dot all their Is and cross their Ts, that spot is theirs,” Davis says. “So it gives students that comfort, knowing, ‘Hey, as long as I do the things that they’re asking me to do, I can start the PharmD program.'”

The U-I and Drake University in Des Moines offer the state’s only pharmacy programs. Davis says pharmacy technicians are also vital to keeping operations running smoothly, and they’re in high demand as well. “Anyone who wants to be a pharm tech, you just have to be 18 and have a high school diploma in the state of Iowa,” Davis says. “That’s a really great job for anyone in college or who’s wanting even just a part-time position to be a pharm tech. Also, most companies will help you pay to become a certified pharm tech, which is also really nice.”

Davis says U-I College of Pharmacy graduates are now practicing in 94 of Iowa’s 99 counties, while five in every ten pharmacists in Iowa were trained at the U-I.