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Major staff shortages at over half of Finland's pharmacies

The shortfall is so severe the pharmacy association is encouraging people to get pharmacy degrees and switch careers.

Farmaseutti selin apteekin hyllyn edessä
Patients need their medication in the summer too. Image: Toni Pitkänen / Yle

More than half of Finland's pharmacies are understaffed and have difficulty recruiting new pharmacists, according to the Association of Finnish Pharmacies.

The problem is most severe during the summer, when pharmacists sometimes need to skip vacations due to the lack of personnel.

Pharmacies have a steady flow of customers, and a reciprocal need for workers, year-round. However, in places such as the southern coastal city of Kotka, pharmacies have had to reduce their opening hours by 2-3 hours per day during the summer months.

The Association of Finnish Pharmacies said the worst situation for pharmacy workers is currently in the Päijät-Häme region in southern Finland, where 94 percent of pharmacies reported having recruitment problems within the last year.

Northern Savo had the least problems with staffing due to pharmacists being trained in nearby Kuopio and graduates staying in their home region to work.

'Conversion training'

It is not only summertime temporary workers who are hard to come by, according to Kotka pharmacist Minna Collin. Permanent or tenured positions are becoming more difficult to fill as well.

Collin said she has seen an attitude change among young pharmacists.

"Many want to travel and work on and off, and that is a challenge in a service industry job like this, with long opening hours."

Collin added that staffing agencies can sometimes help during busy periods, but the pharmacy association's chief Charlotta Sandler believes what would really help is education.

"We can increase the number of people graduating from pharmacy school by offering additional training," Sandler said.

The programme is known as "conversion training" (muuntokoulutus) and is open to individuals with previous completed professional training of any kind. The Association of Finnish Pharmacies has utilised the training scheme before in an attempt to drum up regional employment.

Pharmacists are trained in three institutions in Finland: the University of Helsinki, the University of Eastern Finland and the Åbo Akademi University in Turku. Pharmacist training programmes take three years to complete.

The Association of Finnish Pharmacies sent out a survey to all of its member pharmacies in early July. Nearly 80 percent of the 468 member pharmaicies that received the poll took part in the survey, according to the association.

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