What to do, the case of the unhappy pharmacist

I read an article today at the CEO Blog of the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) that talks about the predicament of the retail/community pharmacist.

According to the post “Pharmacists feel it when they’re asked to fill hundreds of prescriptions per shift, provide immunizations on demand, make outbound calls to promote adherence with patients and to do so with less technician help because management just saw another big contract pricing level get cut. And pharmacists are feeling less respected as the supply of pharmacists has increased and employers find positions are easier to fill.”

It’s strange to see the same issues pop-up day after day, month after month, year after year. I remember the exact sentiment coming from organizations and community/retail pharmacists when I entered the workforce back in 1997; almost verbatim. The author of the article goes on to say that “we [APhA] are doing everything we know to advance medication use and improve patient care by creating and promoting new opportunities for pharmacists”, but that too is the same thing the organizations have been saying for more than a decade. The problem isn’t necessarily at the level of the professional organizations, but rather at the grass roots level.

I tried retail pharmacy for a brief period of time shortly after graduating from pharmacy school. I quickly realized it was no place for a pharmacist. The environment has very little to do with patient care and everything to do with business, i.e. making money. I dare say the pharmacy is a loss leader for many large chains. Of course the true community pharmacy often provides real patient care, but those pharmacies are becoming extinct.

I worked part time in a community pharmacy at the same time I was working the night shift in a hospital in the bay area. It was one of the best jobs I ever had. I still hold the pharmacist I worked for in high regard as his knowledge of and compassion for his patients was second to none. He took pride in building relationships with every person that walked through his door in need of a prescription, advice or simply an understanding ear.

With that said I see retail pharmacists continually complaining about their work environment, their patients/customers, their employers, their hours, their lack of help, the general lack of quality personnel, etc. What I don’t see are those same pharmacists doing anything to change it.

The way I see it there are three things you can about a bad situation:

  1. Live with it, in which case you should stop complaining about it. This is what my wife tells me when I start whining about something at work. For me this rarely works as things that bother me tend to grow in irritation over time. Kind of like a rock in your shoe.
  2. Change it. I’ve done this a couple of times. If you don’t like something about your work environment and have the power to make it better by all means change it. This works better when the problem is small or not dependent on a large organizational change.
  3. Leave. I’ve done this a few times in my career. It’s not worth the headache or the negative impact on your life, or worse, your health.

If you follow any retail/community pharmacists on Twitter or lurk in their chat rooms you’ll find a lot of very unhappy people. I’ve never understood that. Why do that to yourself? The professional organizations have the ability to recommend practice changes, but they can’t force a business or healthcare organization to adopt those recommendations. You, on the other hand, can make an immediate and permanent change in your situation. And don’t try to tell me that I don’t understand or don’t know what I’m talking about because I’ve been there and done that.

I’m just sayin’.

9 thoughts on “What to do, the case of the unhappy pharmacist”

  1. I like a realist, and knowing you for some years now, I see you haven’t given up on your principles.

    I’ll have to agree with your comments above since what you have talked about, specially in the retail industry, still holds true today more than ever. I almost lost my principles just trying to fit in with the expectations of a major pharmacy retail chain. It’s almost inhuman to say the least.

    I’d like to go to my grave knowing that I held my principles as high as I could, but from what I have seen in the last 20 years of working in pharmacies starting as a technician, I’m sorry to say that many pharmacists out there are a bunch of cowards to say the least. Many of them see the walls and roofs of our profession crumbling down, and many just keep hoping that things get better. I would just say wake up and run for cover.

    Who knows…perhaps the pharmacy profession is doomed! It’s my hope that some of us will continue to take a stand for the profession, and not let anyone from another profession, or worse, someone with a business background tell you what is good for our profession. Money may be good, but money doesn’t buy professional satisfaction, and that’s why I ditched the retail pharmacy industry. I hope my words don’t come back to bite me in the future, but I rather work at Pep-Boys doing oil changes than having to go back to work in the retail environment again unless there’s a major change in the nature of the retail industry, but that probably won’t happen in my lifetime.

    Just my 2 cents,

  2. Phil,

    It’s good to see you haven’t compromised your principles since you and I met. The truth of the matter is that there are many pharmacists out there that still believe in the profession, but somehow fail to make their voices heard. We’re a weird bunch to say the least. We complain incessantly, but never take the time to improve the profession as a whole. Truly a conundrum.

    Glad to hear from you. It’s been far too long.


  3. Hi Jerry,

    I like your blog post, it rings true for me.

    I began my pharmacy career in retail pharmacy, for a large UK chain. I loved it. When I had my children I moved into hospital pharmacy for a while and when they were at school thought I’d go back to community pharmacy. It took me precisely three Saturdays to discover that it was no place for me. I could not compromise my standards nor my integrity by working under those conditions.

    I remained in hospital, working my way up the clinical ladder, finally managing a large hospital pharmacy. Over the years I have seen the introduction of technology into pharmacy and have now specialised in health informatics.
    I would not have missed my years as a retail pharmacist manager but I certainly would not want to go back there now (though as you say, that may be tempting fate to say so), even though in the UK community (retail) pharmacists seem to be much more involved in patient care than in the US.

    To all those unhappy pharmacists I say either change the profession or change your domain, life is too short to be unhappy and unfulfilled.

    Keep up the great blogging!

  4. This sounds like the story of my life right now! I am a retail Pharmacist and I’m being left with no help, seemingly on purpose, and then being reprimanded for “not smiling” at customers. I’ve been with this company for 15 years but that doesn’t seem to matter right now, as the only pharmacists my supervisor seems to care about are the ones who do her the most favors and respond to her threats but never stop smiling!

    I truly believe she has lost connection with what it’s like to work with the public, and what’s worse is she’s getting away with her threats and policies. There’s too many pharmacists who are not standing up for themselves, and I am completely fed up with it!

    I am ready for a change, but I also want to make my voice heard on this issue… Life isn’t fair but a workplace should strive to be fair!

  5. Hi Joe – Sorry to hear about your troubles. Sound like many pharmacy stories I’ve heard over the years. I’m continually surprised that pharmacists allow themselves to get into this type of situation. Best of luck. – Jerry

  6. I stumbled upon this blog post by accident, but I am glad that I did.

    I am currently a pharmacy student in Australia and I have certainly seen much complaining from other students at uni and workmates at our local community pharmacy about the unhappiness associated with the job, particularly community pharmacy.

    On my first day as a pharmacy student our lecturer was saying that pharmacists are more respected and trusted than doctors, dentists and many other medical professions.

    Nothing could be further from the truth.

    We are like doormats to our patients. In their eyes, we are allowed to sell drugs because we did a course at uni. We’re just like an upgraded checkout chick at the supermarket.

    People often forget that we are medical professionals with an understanding of therapeutic drugs better than doctors. That’s our area of expertise. We don’t even get a “Dr” to our names for that, but that’s a smaller issue.

    I blame all of this on the businessmen who try ever so hard to dehumanise our profession in the name of making more money for THEMSELVES.

    While most of them are also pharmacists, I wouldn’t be surprised if actual businessmen took over pharmacies in a few years.

    Additionally, most pharmacists that I know of don’t have a particularly “set” job either (they have to work at multiple pharmacies, not just one). Some see this as a good thing, but I personally don’t. I feel that this situation is caused by too many pharmacy graduates looking for work.

    And why don’t we take appointments? I have yet to figure out. Doctors and physios do, so why not pharmacists? It’s like our time isn’t important. Patients always ask to speak directly to the pharmacist. We have a lot of scripts to get through, on top of doing other tasks. Our time IS important.

    It doesn’t help either that people who can’t wait complain that we need to hurry up and give their medicine to them. Truly ridiculous.

    I agree that we should stand up for our rights and entitlements, but I also agree that many pharmacists are too submissive to do so.

    As soon as I graduate, I will be looking into another profession.

    Pharmacy’s not worth it.

  7. Easier said than done
    We all have bills to pay, families that depend on our paycheck. I was fortunate enough to find a job in a community pharmacy and leave the big chains. We are not all afforded that kind of opportunity. If it comes your way grab it. A small paycut is worth your happiness and piece of mind.

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