As someone who has changed careers from pharmacy to computers, I am not totally unbiased. However, I have some objective points to make against being a retail pharmacist.
Let me first qualify what I am about to say about retail pharmacy as being influenced by how that job gets practiced in Egypt, despite finding many similarities with the way it is practiced in the USA and in Canada as well.
- Studying Pharmacy is a lot of hard work
Studying pharmacy consists of a lot of theory in lecture form, as well as a lot of laboratory hands on work. It involves a lot of senseless memorization, if you do not really love what you are studying. There are frequent exams, almost every month. At mid year and end of year, there are "big" exams. The end of year exams are written, lab and oral.
- Studying Pharmacy crosses many disciplines
Studying pharmacy has a lot of medical sciences, three types of chemistry (analytical, organic and pharmaceutical), biology, physiology, botany, microbiology, pharmaceutics, pharmacology, pharmacognosy, pathology, ...etc.
- Retail pharmacy is monotonous
The day to day work is repetitive. It basically involves deciphering the bad hand writing of physicians on prescriptions, and handing it to the customer. In Egypt, there are no bulk packaging, and dispensed packages. The medicine comes prepackaged and is dispensed as it is. No counting of pills, no labels, ...etc. So it is a lot simpler than in North America. You are also responsible for a lot of administrative type of work, such as stocking the shelves, ordering medicines that you run out, as well as the adjunct products you sell, such as baby diapers, female makeup, sanitary pads, children toys, ...etc.
- Retail Pharmacy requires little mental challenge
If the doctor prescribes it, then you as a pharmacist dispense it. There are of course exceptions to this, such as medicines interactions, but these cases are few and far between. In reality, being a pharmacist and a pharmaceutical assistant is not much different, except for the accreditation and responsibility/liability levels.
- Retail Pharmacy involves long hours
All retail pharmacy outlets involve long hours, and opening on weekends, and even on public holidays. This is particularly true if you own your own pharmacy. This is not a medical profession as much as it is a retail outlet that has to cater to the public needs and hours. If you choose to be open on limited hours, another nearby pharmacy will only be glad to take your customers (and revenue) away.
- Retail Pharmacy is ridiculously regulated
Prices of medicines are normally fixed by a government authority, and the price is printed on the package. Therefore, the profit is predetermined as well. Moreover, a pharmacist is subject to several types of inspections, including those that apply to any retail store (taxes, balance/scale accuracy, ...etc.), as well as those from health authorities.
The bright side is that this job normally pays well. A pharmacist has some "social prestige" as well, although it is seen as beneath physicians.
Of course, there are other careers a newly graduated pharmacist can pursue, but they are not much better.
- Promotional pharmacist
This is basically being a salesman for pharmaceutical companies, and promoting their products at physicians, clinics, hospitals, ...etc. This is a marketing job that involves being a salesman first and foremost. You have to be a sweet talker, do a lot of relationship stuff, give away promotional items and samples of the drugs you are pushing, as well as writing sales reports on everything you do, and collecting information on every physician and how your drug sells in pharmacies nearby!
There is little if any creativity here, let alone much to do with pharmacy. The field is full of veterinarians, physicians and even dentists doing this line of work beside pharmacists.
- Quality Control in pharmaceutical factories
There is virtually no jobs for pharmaceutical research in Egypt. Most of the drugs that are manufactured there are either generics, taken out of Pharmacoepias, or manufactured under license from international pharmaceutical companies.
There is however a market for quality control pharmacists in these factories. They are supposed to test batches for the correct quantity of active ingredients, as well as disintegration time for tablets, ...etc.
This job is very demanding, since it requires the person to be standing all day. I know a pharmacist who is suffering from varicose veins in his legs because of that job. Moreover, the job requires you to follow procedure manuals and file results and reports. There is no room for creativity here either.
- Academic pharmacy
Academic research in pharmacy is restricted to universities in Egypt. If you do not get an academic job at a university, you do not get to do research.
It is no wonder that the pharmacist is ridiculed as a "Clean Grocer" or "French Grocer" in Egypt. I have found that pharmacists generally suffer from low self esteem and feeling inferior to other medical professions. I have met a pharmacist in New York City who expressed those same sentiments as in Egypt, saying that the doctor has more prestige.
During my studying pharmacy (late 1970s, early 1980s), there was a new and promising job called "clinical pharmacist". This was designed to utilize the full potential of pharmacists capabilities knowledge and training, by making them the experts on anything relating to drugs. They would be a member of a team of health professionals, including physicians and nurses, working in hospitals: the diagnosis would be made by the physician, but the best medicine and dosage was to be prescribed by the pharmacist, taking into account drug/drug interactions, patient history, allergies, ...etc.
I have not seen or heard that this was put into action anywhere so far. Until it does, I advise people who want to do something creative and challenging to stay away from pharmacy, like I did.
Since publishing this article on my web site, I have received feedback from several pharmacists who have abandoned pharmacy as a career. One of them made the same switch, from Pharmacy to Computing. The other went from pharmacy to the stock market. You can read about some of them in the feedback page.