HUNTINGTON - A recent study shows Huntington is a great place to be a pharmacist.
Online consumer advocate group ValuePenguin conducted the nationwide pharmacist career study by analyzing median salary, cost of living and location quotient metrics in 396 small, mid-sized and large cities. Location quotient was determined by number of jobs and demand.
According to the study, Huntington was not only the top small city - fewer than 100,000 people - but also the No. 1 city overall because of having the third-best location quotient and is the most affordable city in which to live among the top-five small cities - 15 percent cheaper than the average American town.
Another factor in Huntington claiming the top spot is that two of the city's largest employers - Cabell Huntington Hospital and St. Mary's Medical Center - are in the healthcare realm. Also boosting Huntington is Marshall University and its pharmacy school.
The first group of pharmacy students will graduate from the school in the spring of 2016. Dr. Kevin Yingling, dean of the pharmacy school, said the institution is uniquely positioned to meet the demands shown in the study.
"In terms of demand, the study is accurate," Yingling said. "West Virginia, the South and the mid-Atlantic region have all been showing an increase in the demand for pharmacists for the past three years or so."
Further validating ValuePenguin's assessment is the Aggregated Demand Index, or ADI, also known as the Knapp Index, Yingling said. The ADI collects, analyzes and disseminates data on the supply of licensed pharmacists in the United States, the demand for pharmacy services and related pharmacy student and workforce issues for educational, scientific or charitable purposes.
Yingling cited four reasons for the high demand for pharmacists in Huntington as well as the state of West Virginia: Medicaid expansion; proportion of elderly residents in overall population, chronic health burdens and collaborative practice opportunities.
"Medicaid expansion has obviously increased the need for pharmacists in Huntington, the state of West Virginia and the region," he said. "West Virginia also has the second-most elderly among its population behind Florida. As a result, this area is also prone to diabetes, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure and other ailments I call chronic health burdens."
As for collaborative practice, Yingling said Huntington's medical community offers opportunities for pharmacists to work with physicians and other medical experts to manage large groups of people.
An ancillary benefit to what the ValuePenguin study shows and ADI statistics support is Huntington's No. 1 placement on the list of best cities for pharmacists is not related to the city's drug problem, Yingling said.
"What these statistics show, with the quality of life and location quotient, disproves the theory that Huntington is No. 1 because of a drug problem," he said. "Along with the other factors I mentioned, it is also a result of the complexity of health care in the region. More hospitals mean more pharmacists. It's a make-a-difference profession in a place where health care is a needed commodity. This study speaks against the idea that Appalachia is not a place of economic value."
Michelle Pauley, of the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy, said there are 87 active pharmacists in West Virginia with Huntington addresses. As of this past September, there were 2,330 licensed pharmacists in the state of West Virginia.
Follow reporter Brandon Roberts on Twitter @brobertsHD.
Best Five Cities for Pharmacists
1. Huntington, West Virginia (includes Ashland, Kentucky)
2. Modesto, California
3. Stockton, California
4. Florence, South Carolina
5. Sebastian, Florida (includes Vero Beach, Florida)
Cities were separated into three categories: population fewer than 100,000; midsize cities with populations between 100,000 and 500,000; and larger cities with populations more than 500,000.
See the results here: http://www.valuepenguin.com/2015/10/best-cities-pharmacists