Just your average apothecary (pharmacist), feet firmly planted behind the pharmacy counter, whose mortar and pestle are hitched to a star.
Retail Pharmacy: Why This May Not Be the Job for You
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, a policeman or a 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:
- How exactly is my vacation time calculated? By days? Hours?
- What is the process for requesting vacation time, and who exactly is ultimately responsible for covering my vacation time?
- If I have to work longer than my scheduled shift, how exactly will I be compensated for this?
- How will you provide support for me when I am left without enough techs to help fill prescriptions?
- How are Holidays handled? Will I have to work every Holiday?
- How often will I get a review, and when do salary adjustments take place?
- How will the company handle a situation where I have been involved in a prescription error?
- Will I be assigned to a single store, or will I be expected to float to various stores?
- Will I be compensated for travel to other stores?
- 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 frequently be working until the pharmacy closes at 9:00 PM, 10:00 PM 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 of years you may earn two weeks' vacation. If you stay with the same employer for seven years (depending on the chain), you may reach three weeks of vacation. Anything beyond three 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 9:00 AM here, it was only 5:00 AM 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, 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 who are 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 "overreaction" to the pharmacist shortages ten years ago (in the mid to late 1990s). Pharmacy schools started popping up everywhere. Some states, like Massachusetts, went crazy and opened more pharmacy schools 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.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Death of a Dream on June 21, 2020:
Yeah XXXXXX in debt with odds of finding a local job being 0% and odds of finding a job in general roughly 1% it feels like. I plan on doing whatever I can to do PSLF if I don't make it in pharmacy. Pharmacy isn't just dying though. I believe within the next 10 years many of these pharmacy programs and the profession will be dead with 143 school starting to put more and more out who are unable to find work. I have even read online where high tier named schools of pharmacy were calling independents to find them jobs. I mean if your school tells you you'll have to be competitive to find work as a doctoral degree in health care then you know something is wrong and also believe that the school is failing its students, because in a lot of ways it is like saying... "We got what we wanted from you bye". Government needs to start clawing back on these school loans when students either cannot find a job in their chosen field of study or are underemployed. Additionally these school are dropping requirements for students and this in turn means accepting lower caliber students who struggle with basics in Algebra... Schools must start being held accountable if the boards of pharmacy will not accept responsibility, because a pharmacist who does not practice becomes a civil casualty to a "prescription" error in many ways.
Ed Fritz pharmacist on January 31, 2018:
Amen brother. I speak to high schools and give them the bad news about where pharmacy is headed. I won’t lie to them. You hit it right on the head.
xander figler on October 12, 2016:
this was very interesting and tells me pro and cons but this still make it seem like the job for me in life. only thing that seem bad to me is pressure.
Thomas Cerullo on March 03, 2015:
I am a clinical pharmacist and attorney
Involved in all regulatory compliance
Issues affecting manufactures, retail ,hospital , nursing homes and regulatory agencies. The complexities of compliance to meet over reactive laws are overwhelming for most professionals.
Beth Perry from Tennesee on May 01, 2014:
Very interesting topic. I have known a few pharmacists but never realized what all they have to put up with on the job. Thanks for enlightening me!
Jason Poquette (author) from Whitinsville, MA on March 15, 2014:
You're right. I do love it. It isn't right for everyone, and for some it is definitely WRONG. But it suits me pretty well.
yourhealthmatters on March 14, 2014:
But you wouldn't have it any other way, though, right? pharmacist, I really enjoy all of your hubs, and this one especially! Having experienced many of these very issues working retail pharmacy during college, I decided to pursue the hospital pharmacy route, only to find a completely different set of issues, equally as frustrating! The grass is always greener on the other side!
Imtiaz Ibne Alam from Dhaka, Bangladesh on January 02, 2014:
I really can't understand why most of the pharmacists in US choose a job only in retail chain shop and hospitals. There are still many job opportunities available for a pharmacist.
I'm also a pharmacist, but the scenario in my country, Bangladesh, is totally different than yours. We study Pharmacy only focusing jobs in pharmaceutical industry. Don't recommend jobs in a manufacturing company?
SoMany Blessings from USA on January 04, 2013:
Pharmacy has its perks and benefits as well. If anyone needs any guidance, feel free to message me. Great hub and sadly, some of this is very true :(
Dale Metcalfe from Chicago & Phoenix on September 24, 2012:
As a retired pharmacist I can honestly say I do not miss the current state of pharmacy. I knew going in that I would work a lot of nights, weekends and holidays as well as Holy days. Putting up with corporate BS was the final straw when I was instructed to follow an unethical policy. Pharmacy is still a great profession and I hope that the new pharmacists can stick by their high standards and not be forced into unethical conditions. As for being an easy job with high pay - there are dozens of jobs that are easier and pay more - to those who think pharmacists are over paid - you would quit after one day standing in a pharmacist's shoes so don't be so quick to think that being a pharmacist is easy - you have no idea what you are talking about.
Jason Poquette (author) from Whitinsville, MA on June 06, 2012:
Look for where the MOST pharmacy schools are...and stay away from there! LOL. Best to start networking with friends. Best wishes!
joe on June 04, 2012:
I am wondering what areas of the country need pharmacists (where are the jobs?). I am in central NJ. I can't tell if there are jobs here or not.
Hung on March 12, 2012:
I think I can put up with most of the items listed here. One thing I know I will have a problem with is the constant change in rules and laws. If I got better at doing one thing they asked last week, and they suddenly changed it to a different thing the next week, I'm going to have trouble.
Another is the robberies and assaults. I saw on TV what many pharmacy have experience, and I'm quite frighten.
Well, despite all that, if I somehow made it to pharmacy school and graduated, I think it is worth it putting up with these things.
LTaylor99 from USA on January 23, 2012:
Great Hub! You hit the nail on the head! The job market is very tight in my area, yet these schools are steadily growing their class sizes. Just think about the amount of loan money they receive on behalf of these students! It's just disgusting. There has to be something we can do to preserve the integrity of our profession.
sharewhatuknow from Western Washington on December 09, 2011:
Your hub really gave me food for thought. So the next time I visit a pharmacist I will keep everything you said in mind and tell myself that they are doing a tough job.
Not that I have ever been rude or demanding to a pharmacist.
But I suppose that when working with sick people, whether it be a chronic illness or a cold can be challenging.
Voted up and useful.
Debby Bruck on December 08, 2011:
Dear Pharmacist ~ Voted up and useful. Very practical and down-to-earth points for someone thinking about this career to consider first. Blessings, Debby
Pollyannalana from US on December 08, 2011:
I think pharmacists are great and I have gone around with doctors who don't like me thinking pharmacists know more about medicine than them. Gee...it is like lobbying seeing these little black bag people running in and out of their offices and I have turned down more drugs...I want to know what is wrong, not how to hide the symptoms.
RedElf from Canada on December 08, 2011:
Excellent overview - thanks so much for sharing your expertise so proficiently. I particularly appreciated the list of questions to be asked before taking the job.
Karen on December 06, 2011:
I was reading an article on yahoo about the most depressing jobs in america; for all those reasons you listed maybe pharmacy should be included. I personally wouldn't mind put up with these reasons unless it threatens my health. I worked at a call center for AT&T for 3years, had to quit after developing all kinds of symptoms AND GRAY HAIR, not to mention drama over the phone and on the floor; never had any problems nor any gray hair every since i left. Sitting for 8 hrs is just not for me; but i am being warned about standing for long period of time also. I'd rather move a lot keeps me awake and lose weight at the same time.
Jason Poquette (author) from Whitinsville, MA on December 06, 2011:
@Sonia - Both are good options. Don't let these realities discourage you.
@Tamaera - Keeping rooting. It is a very good career.
@Andrew - Yes sir. I have written a lot on the positive aspects of our career too. May 2015 come quickly for you!
Andrew on December 05, 2011:
The reasons you listed are not even half of the bs other health professionals are dealing with on a day to day basis; even office work, business investors, pilot, bartenders deal with negativity at their job and not get paid as much as pharmacists. No matter what one says I am still pursuing my dream to become a pharmacist b/c of the endless opportunities and the fulfillment I get from helping others. Go PharmD 2015!!!
Tamaera S on December 05, 2011:
And you'd think after all these reasons NOT be a pharmacist would diminish the amount of students who apply into pharmacy school; I heard it's the most sougth after degree on every campus behind nursing. I am still rooting for pharmacy though!! ooh....ooh!!
Sonia on December 05, 2011:
I guess I am easily discouraged; reading this makes me reconsider my choice about becoming a nurse practitioner rather than a pharmacist; but even nurse practitioner has to deal with constant bs from both PCP and interns; I know b/c my oldest sister is a NP and has encouraged me to go for pharmacy instead due to high salary and better retirement package. Reading this makes me wanna go crazy!
Jason Poquette (author) from Whitinsville, MA on December 05, 2011:
Thanks for your kind words to this pharmacist! You made my day.
RTalloni on December 05, 2011:
Interesting--good insights to share. Maybe there should be a "Be kind to pharmacists campaign."
Bonny OBrien from Troy, N.Y. on December 03, 2011:
Gee I did not realize that being in your job is really hard. I also did not know you job could be so stressful. Nice hub.
Jason Poquette (author) from Whitinsville, MA on November 30, 2011:
Thanks again for the kind words. I'm glad you had a good experience with a local pharmacist. Sounds like you found a good one. Blessings!
Helen Murphy Howell from Fife, Scotland on November 30, 2011:
An excellent and very honest hub about pharmacists in the retail side of things.
When I worked for a housing charity caring for elderly people (this is in Scotland) we had a local pharmacist - Alec. I don't know how many times this wonderful man helped us out with various concerns and prescriptions - usually because, dare I say it, doctors at the local GP centre or the hospital hadn't filled in the prescriptions properly or there were medications of the wrong dosage etc. He would always help us out with these issues and put things right.
This man worked long hours indeed and was constantly under stress, but he always put his customers first. And because we were a care home, he really pulled out all the stops to help us. So I really enjoyed your hub and I at least appreciate the hard, stressful but essential job that you folks do and I salute you for it!
Great hub + voted up!
Jason Poquette (author) from Whitinsville, MA on November 29, 2011:
@Frank - LOL - thanks!
@Millionaire Tips - A bad day writing beats a good day in the pharmacy! Do what you love. Take care!
Shasta Matova from USA on November 29, 2011:
This is very useful information. My family members routinely recommend becoming a pharmacist as a way to become rich, but minimize other ways to make money. Maybe they don't carry as much prestige. I have great respect for you and what you have to deal with
Frank Atanacio from Shelton on November 29, 2011:
wow how not to encourage..lol clever.. insightful super hub
Jason Poquette (author) from Whitinsville, MA on November 29, 2011:
Faceless39 - Wow, thank you for the kind words, for reading and for voting this up. Glad to be of service in whatever ways I can. Best wishes!
Jason Poquette (author) from Whitinsville, MA on November 29, 2011:
Yes, sometimes even the angry and upset situations can be quite funny when looking back at them!
Jason Poquette (author) from Whitinsville, MA on November 29, 2011:
@laurathgentleman - Right! I think it is helpful to display both sides of any profession or job. Sort of like medicine - it helps...but may also have certain unpleasant side effects!
Kate P from The North Woods, USA on November 28, 2011:
Voted up, useful, and interesting. I'm not pursuing a career in pharmacy, but have always respected pharmacists and always find talking with them helpful (more helpful than talking to doctors about medicine by far.) This is a fantastic hub; very well-written, informative, and great layout. Thanks! :)
NATURESMOTIONS from Oregon on November 28, 2011:
Great story. It is always good to know the pros and the cons of any career one may choose.
I love interacting with crazy people. Although it frustrates you at first in the end it is funny as heck.
laurathegentleman from Chapel Hill, NC on November 28, 2011:
This is a great Hub! I wanted to be a pharmacist throughout high school (until I reached Chemistry class... then I quickly changed my mind!) But these are definitely the things that they don't tell you in school - and it's probably better for someone to come to the realization that they DON'T want to be a pharmacist BEFORE they have to pay for all those classes and get out in the real world and realize it...