NEW YORK (PIX11) — As hospitals struggled to keep up with patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacists proved to be a first line of defense. But staffing shortages are leading some that offered round-the-clock service to cut hours of operation.

There are more job openings than qualified people to fill them. The number of college students pursuing pharmacy degrees has consistently dropped since 2015.

“Those numbers are down and that is true at all schools nationally, across the board,” said Dr. Anne Lin, who runs the pharmacy and health sciences program at St. John’s University.

Dr. Lin said there are fewer people pursuing post-graduate degrees in the United States, which is having a trickle-down effect on the health care industry.

“Pharmacists have the ability to improve the quality of life of patients. It’s educating the mind, but it’s also educating the heart. It’s not just what they know, it’s their ability to care,” said Dr. Lin.

Dr. Lin said as current practitioners age and retire, it is increasingly difficult to replace them. However, she is encouraged by the incoming 190 students at her school, which is among only three that offer pharmacy degrees in New York City.

“I’m just a people person. I love talking to people. I love being around people and I love being of service to people,” said pharmacy student Rianna Tharay.

Over 80% of COVID-19 vaccines are administered at pharmacies, in addition to flu shots and prescription services.

As spokesperson for CVS told PIX11 News that they are not seeing any unusual activity regarding unplanned pharmacy closures and are committed to providing access to consistent, safe, high-quality health care to the patients and communities.

A Walgreens official said the last few years have required an unprecedented effort from its team members, and they share their pride in this work — while recognizing it has been a very challenging time.

Tharay, the future pharmacist, said she’s bucking the current trends and is excited to join the profession.

“With a lot of people finding other career paths, creating their own businesses, influencers, people are being famous getting money for just posting themselves. I think a lot of people just don’t want to put in the work,” said Tharay.

Despite the current shortage in this health field, the university is focusing on the future and investing $105 million in the St. Vincent Health Sciences Center. It is set to open in the fall of 2024.