LAS VEGAS - Booming growth in Southern Nevada is creating a growing need for pharmacists, and raising concerns of state officials that pharmacy schools will not be able to keep up with the demand.
Adding to the problem is the fact the number of medications that doctors can prescribe has doubled in the past 10 years and the population is maturing to an age that requires more medicines.
Keith Macdonald, Nevada State Pharmacy Board executive director, says the shortage could become a serious problem. He hopes to head off any problem by encouraging a pharmacy school to open a Las Vegas campus.
A shortage could lead to overworked, fatigued pharmacists making mistakes, a lowering of patient-care standards and a lack of the kind of one-on-one attention Nevadans are accustomed to, he said.
''The number of graduates is virtually flat,'' Macdonald said. ''There might be 6 or 10 percent more graduates in 2005 while the number of prescriptions filled nationwide is estimated to go from 2 billion in 1999 to 4.8 billion or 5 billion in 2005.''
Macdonald said about 90 pharmacists are hired in Nevada each year, 75 to 80 percent of them in Las Vegas, but there are 135 new jobs to fill.
This need may help a California university decide that Las Vegas is a good location for its next pharmacy school campus.
Officials of Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, Calif., hope to open in the fall of 2002 with 75 students.
The school's Board of Trustees will vote Dec. 11 whether to open a Las Vegas campus, Dr. Carl Trinca, acting dean of the university's Pomona campus, said.
If the board approves the plan, Western University would open the first postgraduate pharmacy program in Nevada, Trinca said.
''Chain drug stores that we have been working with indicate that 110 new pharmacists are needed in Nevada each year. So far, Nevada has had to import that work force,'' Trinca told the Las Vegas Sun.
A new flow of pharmacists would help, but Macdonald says technology might provide some relief as well.
Last month Sunrise Hospital became the first health care facility in Nevada to employ ROBOT-Rx, a robotic device designed to automate storage, dispensing, restocking and crediting of medication dosage.
''One of the most tedious jobs a pharmacist has is plucking the various medicines off the shelves,'' said Dr. Bill Martin, director of pharmacy services and materials management for Sunrise Hospital. ''With the introduction of ROBOT-Rx our pharmacists will be able to do the more research-oriented analysis they trained several years for.''
Martin said the typical human error rate in any hospital is one in 2,500, while the robot's error rate is one in 10 million.
''Automated dispensing has the ability to reduce prescription error,'' MacDonald agreed.