County Judge, Veronica Escobar

  • Acute pharmacist shortage hurts El Paso
  •  
  • By Diana Washington Valdez / El Paso Times
  • Pharmacist Celia Rubio, left, and certified
  • pharmacy technician Joe Moreno work at
  • the Good Shepard Pharmacy on Alameda
  • Avenue. Rubio, 80, says she fills about 250
  • prescriptions a day. (Victor Calzada / El Paso Times)
  • El Paso has such a critical shortage of pharmacists that some pharmacies are calling on retirees for help while others are offering hefty bonuses to sign on.
  • "There's a terrible shortage of pharmacists, and we've had this situation for a long time," said Barry Coleman, a retired pharmacist and former El Paso pharmacy owner.

  • "The big chains like Walgreens and Wal-Mart offered sign-up bonuses of $10,000 to $20,000, but our operation was too small to do that, and we lost pharmacists," said Coleman, who is on an advisory board for the University of Texas at El Paso College of Health Sciences.

  • At Good Shepard Pharmacy on Alameda, Maria Barraza, an assistant at El Parque Adult Daycare, helped elderly customers pick up their drug prescriptions at the store.

  • "We've never had any problem getting medications filled at this pharmacy," Barraza said.

  • Emmanuel Obi, owner of two Good Shepard pharmacies, said he's fortunate to have a pharmacist who came out of retirement to help him, and a longtime professional who grew up in the pharmacy business.

  • "Irma Saucedo came out of retirement, and today (Friday) Celia Rubio, who usually works at the other store (in East El Paso) is filling in for her," Obi said. "We have a hard time holding on to pharmacists."

  • Rubio, 80, said she fills an average of about 250 prescriptions a day.

  • "I grew up in a pharmacy and didn't know anything else," she said. "I'm always needed here because there aren't enough pharmacists to go around."

  • Obi and Rubio said younger pharmacists tend to leave El Paso for bigger cities. "They want to be where they think the action is, places like Austin and Dallas," Rubio said.

  • Coleman said new, more-stringent requirements and the lack of a local pharmacy school also contribute to the scarcity.

  • "When I became a pharmacist, I had a bachelor's degree. Now, they have to have a Ph.D.," he said. "The pharmacy program with UT-Austin and UTEP gets about 300 or more applicants but accepts only about 10 students on average. The big salaries they can get these days is also a factor."

  • Mark Miles, director of the El Paso Pharmacy Association, said El Paso has 299 pharmacists "but needs about 100 more."

  • UTEP's pharmacy program allows students to complete pre-pharmacy work in El Paso, then take two years of pharmacy courses at UT Austin, and finish their last two years back at UTEP.

  • Since 1999, the program has graduated 46 pharmacists. A 2003 study showed El Paso had 42 pharmacists for each 100,000 population, compared with the Texas state average of 73 per 100,000 population.

  • A pharmacist fresh out of pharmacy school can command a salary of about $85,000.

  • Walgreens cut back hours at four of its El Paso retail stores, and is looking to fill pharmacist positions for its new store set to open in August at George Dieter and Zara goza.

  • "Four of the stores in El Paso have shortened their hours by about an hour for the summer," said Carol Hevely, spokes woman for Walgreens' corporate office in Deerfield, Ill.

  • She said none of the current 24-hour stores would change their schedules.

  • With the new store, Walgreens will have 25 outlets in the area, including three in Las Cruces. Seven of the El Paso stores operate around the clock, according to the company's Web site (www.walgreens.com).

  • "We are expanding in El Paso, and are looking to fill pharmacy positions at the new store. We know there has been a shortage of pharmacists (in El Paso) for a long time," Hevely said.

  • Diana Washington Valdez may be reached at dvaldez@elpasotimes.com; 546-6140.


  • County Judge
    Veronica Escobar