Reasons NOT to become a pharmacist
I have written before on the pharmacy career and have spoken regularly about "pharmacists" to student groups in my area. I love this profession. It offers me numerous opportunities to do the things I enjoy while engaged in a field that is mentally (and some days also 'physically') challenging.
But lest I be accused of wearing rose colored glasses and misleading anyone to pursue this career without first counting the cost, I would like to share a few personal thoughts on reasons you just might NOT want to become a pharmacist. I will limit my topic to the profession of retail pharmacy, which is the area I have practiced in for over 20 years.
Even the best drugs may have unpleasant side-effects. So it is with any career or job. Whether you are a full-time stay-at-home mom (or dad), an accomplished artist, a politician, policeman or prince...there are things you like about your job, and things you don't. This article is about the things you may not like about the retail pharmacy profession.
My goal is not to discourage. All careers have unpleasant aspects. Knowing some of the negative aspects of the pharmacy profession might help you make a better choice about whether this career is for you. And remember, I am only commenting from the perspective of my own experience and from within the realm of the retail (i.e. CVS, Walgreens, WalMart, Rite Aid, etc) pharmacy.
So, that being said, before deciding to pursue a career as a retail pharmacist, give some serious consideration to these things:
Questions for a Prospective Employer
If you are considering an offer from a retail pharmacy chain, here are some questions I suggest you ask before beginning:
1. How exactly is my vacation time calculated (days? hours?)
2. What is the process for requesting vacation time, and who exactly is ultimately responsible for covering my vacation time?
3. If I have to work longer than my scheduled shift, how exactly will I be compensated for this?
4. How will you provide support for me when I am left without enough techs to help fill prescriptions?
5. How are Holidays handled? Will I have to work every Holiday?
6. How often will I get a review and when do salary adjustments take place?
7. How will the company handle a situation where I have been involved in a prescription error?
8. Will I be assigned to a single store, or will I be expected to float to various stores?
9. Will I be compensated for travel to other stores?
10. What is the process by which my concerns about any procedure will be addressed?
1. Long Hours - Retail Hours
What time does the retail pharmacy in your neighborhood open? What time does it close? Do you realise that sometimes (though not always) the same pharmacist is working from opening all the way to closing? That sometimes means working a 12 hour day. It might include 30 minutes for lunch, but not necessarily.
Not only that, but even if you are not working the full 12 hour shift yourself, you may be working frequently until the pharmacy closes at 9:00PM, 10:00PM or later. Retail pharmacies are open for the convenience of the public (as they should be), not the convenience of the pharmacist.
If you have a family and children you should be aware that you will often be working times when other moms and dads are home with their kids. You will probably be working a weekend rotation, often every other weekend.
Of course, if you happen to end up working in a hospital...remember...hospitals (thankfully!) never close! Your shifts may be all over the place.
2. Chaos and Pressure
The average retail pharmacy is not designed for your comfort. It is typically designed to utilize the absolutely smallest amount of square footage necessary, so that precious retail space needed for selling the latest "as-seen-on-tv" gimmicks and heated slippers for puppies can be prominently displayed.
Not only that, but the retail pharmacy is DESIGNED to surround you with distractions while you try to work carefully with concentration. They want the phones near you - so you can call your district manager with the latest sales figures on the Elmo band-aids that you are featuring that week. They want you near the customers - so you can answer EVERY and ANY question they have - whether or not it has anything to do with drugs or diseases. And through it all, they will be blasting announcements over the intercom (which you are expected to listen to) and advertisements over the TV screens they hang every 27 inches around the store.
Things get crazy and stressful to say the least.
3. Limited Vacation Time
Most retail pharmacy jobs offer very limited vacation time benefits. Within a couple years you may earn 2 weeks vacation. If you stay with the same employer for 7 years (depending on the chain) you may reach 3 weeks vacation. Anything beyond 3 weeks is pretty rare, typically available only to those who have worked so long for a single employer they are about ready to retire anyway.
I think this is pretty significant. If you like to travel or like to have time off for other activities, a career in pharmacy (or retail pharmacy at least) may not be very enjoyable for you. While many of your friends in other careers are taking 5-6 weeks off per year and seem to be on vacation every other week - you and I will be working away, eagerly eyeing that precious week in the summer we HOPE we will be able to take off.
4. Dealing with the Public
Don't get me wrong - I love interacting with people. But dealing with medications, insurance, illness, etc. doesn't always bring out the best in people. You will be forced to interact with those who are angry and upset - sometimes expressed toward you - whether or not it is really your fault.
I remember a customer who was angry with me because the sun rises in the East. This was my fault. She wanted her prescription transferred from a pharmacy in Hawaii to my pharmacy on the East Coast. Well, at 9:00AM here it was only 5:00AM in Hawaii - and her pharmacy wasn't open yet. She was mad at me about that. It was my fault. And she proceeded to sit down on our bench and was determined to sit there and stare at me until the sun rose in Oahu.
5. Intolerance to Retail Bureaucracy
It is not enough that you have to be sure you are in compliance with all of the Federal and State laws pertaining to pharmacy. You will also have to manage to put up with the endless stream of new rules and procedures flowing down from omniscient bureaucrats within the upper levels of management in the retail pharmacy chains. And the things they will require will often make no sense, will be counter-productive to efficiency and safety, and will only make customers and staff upset. They won't care. You will need to just do it. They will invent "speed shelves" that slow down the filling process and develop software to ensure "safety" that will cause more mistakes. They will tell you what color pants you can wear and how to answer the phone and have you memorize the 14 steps needed to be documented any time you find a pill on the floor.
Absurdities such as these will come down from "the top" every day. And just to ensure that those making the rules still have jobs - they will proceed to change the rules every other week. Can you handle that? Some find the constant "change" of a retail setting more than they can bear. Others simply can't stand not being the boss. These things will either crush you, or you find a way to not let them bother you so that you can focus on the real reasons you became a pharmacist - to help people.
6. Safety Concerns
I cannot forget to mention the obvious concern for personal safety that many pharmacists in retail must consider. You hold the keys to drawers full of addictive narcotics which sometimes and sadly results in attempted robberies and assaults.
I know pharmacists who have been held up. It is nothing anyone wants to go through. Although there are many safety measures in place to limit the frequency of these things, they still happen. Occasionally someone gets hurt. Dale Cochran from Medical Arts Pharmacy experienced such a robbery: "They jumped over the counter, pinned me against the wall and said give me your Oxycontin." [quoted on NBC, November 4, 2011]
Some pharmacy chains have stopped carrying drugs which are frequently the objects of such thefts. But most pharmacies continue to carry them, and such concerns will continue.
7. Job Saturation
When you spend over 100K on a career, it is pretty disappointing to graduate and discover that there are no jobs waiting for you. Unfortunately that is beginning to happen in some areas of the country for pharmacists.
It is very likely that students currently enrolled in pharmacy school will NOT be able to find jobs very quickly and face the enormous pressure of loans they cannot repay.
The reason for this is primarily due to an "over reaction" to the pharmacist shortages 10 years ago (in the mid to late 1990s). Pharmacy schools started popping up everywhere. Some states, like Massachusetts, went crazy and opened more pharmacy school in 1 state than all of New England combined. This created a surplus. And while it has driven salaries down yet (it will) it has at least created challenges for new graduates to find jobs.
Some areas of the country still have a good balance of supply and demand though, so it is not all doom and gloom.