Retail Pharmacy Cutting Hours Amid Pharmacist Shortage

Retailers continue to make moves to combat nationwide labor issues
Marian Zboraj, Progressive Grocer
Walmart Pharmacy
Walmart is among the retailers cutting back on pharmacy hours amid a continued nationwide shortage of pharmacists and other pharmacy staff.

The latest retail segment to feel the impact of ongoing staffing issues is pharmacy. Retail pharmacy locations are scaling back on operating hours amid a nationwide shortage of pharmacists. CVS Health is expecting to cut hours at two-thirds of its 9,000 locations by March, and Walmart Inc. has also revealed plans to shorten pharmacy hours from 9 p.m. to 7 p.m. at most of its 4,600 stores in March, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.

Further, Walgreens said last month that it was reducing pharmacy hours due to labor shortages, USA Today reported last month.

“By adjusting hours in select stores this spring, we ensure our pharmacy teams are available to serve patients when they’re most needed,” CVS said in a statement.

The number of pharmacists employed by pharmacies and drug stores dropped 6% between 2019 and 2021, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

According to BLS, employment of pharmacists is projected to grow 2% from 2021 to 2031, slower than the average for all occupations. Despite limited employment growth, about 13,600 openings for pharmacists are projected each year, on average, over the decade.

The retail industry has been trying to improve the pharmacy working environment to entice more pharmacists to its stores. In June 2022, Walmart launched a new progressive- wage model. The company raised pay for its more than 36,000 Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacy technicians, increasing their average hourly wage to more than $20 an hour. Pharmacy technicians also get more frequent, automatic pay raises with the new wage model. For example, new pharmacy technicians get raises that can add up to $4 to their starting base pay over the course of four years. Pharmacy technicians will get raises every six months in their first two years with the company.

Walgreens has also made investments to elevate the role of its pharmacists. In response to feedback from its team members, the drug store chain eliminated all task-based metrics for retail pharmacy staff as part of their performance reviews. Moving forward, pharmacy teams will be evaluated based solely on the behaviors that best support patient care and enhance the patient experience, in line with the company’s core values. 

Walgreens also revealed that it’s investing in pharmacy and automation technology, including eight micro-fulfillment centers, to help reduce pharmacists workloads and ease pressure on understaffed stores.

To further entice new employees, Walgreens said in August 2022 that it was paying signing bonuses of up to $75,000 to pharmacists.

The reduced operating pharmacy hours come at a time when consumers are more interested in health care at retail. An October 2022 survey from CVS and Morning Consult found that nearly two-thirds (61%) of adults would like to get a greater range of health services from their local pharmacy.

"The Rx Report: A New Day in Retail Pharmacy" found that 74% of survey respondents said that they trust their local pharmacist and pharmacy team and agree that pharmacists should provide health care services when primary care is unavailable.

With its CVS Pharmacy subsidiary, Woonsocket, R.I.-based CVS Health has more than 300,000 colleagues – including more than 40,000 physicians, pharmacists, nurses and nurse practitioners. The company is No. 7 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2022 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America. Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart U.S. is No. 1 on The PG 100, while Deerfield, Ill.-based Walgreens is No. 5.

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