Toyama Univ., Prefectural Gov. Push to Fill Pharmacist Demand

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Toyama prefectural government building in Toyama City

TOYAMA — The University of Toyama will set a quota that offers preferential admission to pharmacy students willing to work in Toyama Prefecture after graduation, a move the prefectural government intends to support with a scholarship system. The prefecture is home to a thriving medical industry built on the tradition of traveling merchants, but it is facing a major shortage of pharmacists.

The prefecture also has been sending fewer people to study in the pharmaceutical departments of universities nationwide than any other prefecture in Japan.

To secure personnel to work in the prefecture, the university’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences will establish a preferential quota starting from the entrance examination for the 2024 academic year.

The tradition of traveling medicine merchants in what is now Toyama Prefecture developed during the Edo period (1603-1867). They roamed the country selling their medicine, which they carried in wicker boxes on their back.

During the Showa era (1926-1989), these merchants gave away inflatable paper cubes to customers and their children along with the sale of their wares. The cubes became widely known, raising the profile of medicines produced in Toyama Prefecture.

Due to such promotion, medicine production in the prefecture developed into a successful pharmaceutical industry. The prefecture’s per capita pharmaceutical production in 2020 was the highest in the country at ¥639,000. This was well above the national average of ¥74,000.

However, the number of pharmacists in the prefecture fell by 6.6% over the 10 years to 2020, compared to a 16.4% rise nationwide. A prefectural survey showed that in fiscal 2022 only 53% of job openings for pharmacists at 23 public hospitals in the prefecture were filled.

“Positions that should be filled by pharmacists are being temporarily filled by other people,” said the prefectural government’s pharmaceutical affairs and guidance department.

Only a small number of high school students in the prefecture choose to study pharmacy at university. According to the Council on Pharmaceutical Education, there were 356 university students from the prefecture enrolled in six-year pharmacy schools nationwide as of May last year, the smallest per capita figure in the country.

Analyzing the situation, the chairman of the Toyama Hospital Pharmaceutical Association, said: “With the start of the current six-year system, pharmacy student quotas at national universities were reduced, and the University of Toyama’s Department of Pharmacy started to have more students from outside the prefecture.”

He also speculates that although the number of private universities where pharmacy can be studied has increased, mainly in urban areas, students from average households in the prefecture shy away from such opportunities because they would have to live on their own.

In the light of the situation, from admission for the 2024 academic year the University of Toyama has decided to create 10 slots prioritizing those intending to stay in the prefecture and work, out of the 70 total slots for students in its Department of Pharmacy. The university says that it is the first quota system of its kind at a national university’s pharmacy school.

Applicants for the quota slots will be required to give a presentation on community medicine at an interview during the entrance exam. After admission, the enrolled students will gain work experience at hospitals and pharmaceutical companies in the prefecture.

To support the university’s efforts, the prefectural government has begun to examine establishing a scholarship system in May next year. The system is designed to exempt students from having to repay loans for tuition and living expenses if they work in the prefecture for nine years after graduation. The prefectural government plans to draw up an outline for the system by around late July, when the university’s entrance examination guidelines are announced.

The Yomiuri Shimbun