Why Pharmacy Is Right for Now

According to a 2010 report from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, less than one-third of eighth graders in this country are proficient in mathematics and science. That failure to engage at an early age in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) has been demonstrated to have enormous ramifications for young people later in life, especially as they pursue post-secondary academic degrees and embark upon professional journeys in a particularly difficult jobs market.

Fewer than 15 percent of U.S. undergraduates receive their degrees in science or engineering, compared with 50 percent in China and 67 percent in Singapore. This academic gap results in the STEM workforce in the U.S. being under three percent of our total working population. The irony, however, is that STEM is where the jobs are. U.S. News & World Report reported in August that there will be over 1.2 million unfilled STEM jobs in the United States by 2018.

One STEM field in particular -- pharmacy and pharmacology -- is a notably growing and lucrative one. Kiplinger recently reported that the unemployment rate for graduates with pharmacy and pharmacology majors is 3.2 percent (compared to a national unemployment rate of 9.4 percent for recent college grads). Further, these jobs boast median salaries of $105,000, and a projected 25 percent job growth rate in the field between 2010 and 2020.

It is for these reasons that we created Pharmacy is Right for Me, a program meant to inspire the next generation of leaders -- particularly minorities and young people from low-income, underserved, and rural communities -- to pursue careers in pharmacy and the pharmacy-related fields. Pharmacy is Right for Me hopes to reach students earlier on in their education, so that they can start thinking about pharmacy and related professional paths, learn more about the opportunities the sector has to offer, and begin taking those first steps toward building careers in this diverse field.

OptumRx originally conceived this program as part of our STEM and social responsibility commitment. We initially partnered with American Pharmacists Association (APhA), the largest professional association of pharmacists and recently have been joined by the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), another organization that shares our excitement in being able to provide new resources to students across the country who might not be familiar with pharmacy as a potential career.

The program's centerpiece is a highly interactive website -- www.pharmacyforme.org -- that features engaging, easy-to-use elements including a self-assessment test, fun facts, a portfolio of career profiles and educational requirements needed through high school, and video testimonials from student pharmacists about why they chose pharmacy as their career path.

Educational units on the history of pharmacy, groundbreaking discoveries, and the challenges ahead are designed to provide teachers with useful classroom resources that heighten students' interest in pharmacy, science and medicine.

Pathways students might not already know about include working in the military as a pharmacist or even as a veterinary pharmacist working with animals. One of the website's more compelling features is a library of "real-world" videos profiling current pharmacists and students of pharmacy. These videos highlight people practicing in the pharmacy field who describe how they found their place in pharmacy and why it's right for them.

Other national programs that help motivate young students to consider future opportunities in STEM fields include the White House's "Educate to Innovate" campaign and SciGirls, an organization that reaches young girls in both English and Spanish to inspire greater learning and participation in STEM. The White House's effort is especially noteworthy for engaging both public and private sector institutions and organizations to help young students across the country excel in science and math.

Pharmacy is a vibrant, vital, and thriving industry. Engaging the next generation of pharmacy leaders, while getting students excited about exploring education and careers in STEM fields, is good for individual students, good for the health care system and good for our future employment forecast. It is imperative to show our nation's young people where pathways to professional success exist, reach them using the social media tools with which they are familiar, and begin doing so at an age young enough to allow for educational planning and preparation. Working together, we can help STEM flower in the United States and help put young people on strong career paths.