Why being a retail pharmacist is a bad career choice?

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.



I just read your website

I just read your website describing the boring career of a retail pharmacist.
Can someone with a pharm.d. degree do something much more interesting like work in drug development in a pharmaceutical company?

In theory, yes

In theory, it is possible.

A bachelor's degree in pharmacy prepares you for such a job.

However, in reality, it will depend on your geographical area, and the pharmaceutical industry there. They may require higher degrees such as a masters, or a Ph.D.
Khalid Baheyeldin

are you sure you can't do

are you sure you can't do something more interesting with a pharm.d. degree?

Pharmacy is what you make it


A PharmD is difficult to obtain, but offers endless opportunity.

Retail practice is by far the most popular route for new grads, and it pays well, 80-120k (USD) right out of school.

Hospital pharmacy offers a completely different aspect of pharmacy, allowing the PharmD to utilize his clinical knowledge of pharmacology and disease states to improve patient care and outcome. Both dispensing and clinical positions are available in hospitals and the traditional salary gap has been closing with most hospital pharmacists making 80-90k right out of school.

In my clinical pharmacy position, I visit patients on the medical floors every day, and make changes to their medication regimens as appropriate. Physicians inquire daily as to appropriate therapies for difficult patients, and actual written orders for consults such as "antibiotics per pharmacy" are becomming more common.

Other PharmD opportunities include Managed Care, Long Term Care, Nuclear pharmacy, Consulting pharmacy and Compounding pharmacy. The list is truly endless. A career in pharmacy is what you make of it. Pharmacists are recognized as the drug authorities in health care. Their knowlege is highly sought after by physicians and other practitioners.

I truly hope people take the time to explore the options a PharmD would give them before being negatively persuaded by articles such as this.

Hospital pharmacist comments

I'm a hospital pharmacist in Karachi, Pakistan.

Dear, as far as your comments regarding clinical pharmacy is concern ed I do agree but for people like me who are working in ambulatory care services the challenging and creative work is very limited, nothing to do except filling prescriptions as written by doctors.

So in my view as far as one remain in ambulatory settings nothing challenging at all ....

what type of pharmacist jobs

what type of pharmacist jobs are there that doesn't require late shifts or on-call duty?

Retail Pharmacy is excellent!

Retail pharmacy is great! I am 35 & have been working as a retail pharmacist for 12 years. Because I invested most of my money early in my 'career', I was able to work part-time beginning 2 years ago.

Part-time work makes all the things in life you would like to a reality.

I am the father of 3 children &, thanks to retail pharmacy, I am able to spend so much time with them & to get to know them very well.

You help many people, you have specialized training & knowledge that no other profession has else has. The public can be very rude, demanding, & insulting, just keep your ego in check & you'll enjoy your work.

In order to enjoy work, tell every person that comes to the pharmacy it will take over an hour. If they complain for a legitimate reason, fill their prescription sooner. Always eat when you are hungry, no matter what.

Always use the bathroom whenever you need to. Retail pharmacy is not emergent care.

Whenever possible, sit down. Pharmacists who don't sit are the ones who develop the worst back, leg, & knee problems. I just finished 1st place at the local 5k race, because I take care of my physical health. You will not be doing anyone a favor, if you don't take care of yourself.

Happiness in Retail pharmacy is very simple to achieve!

Rule #1) Don't try to be a fast food pharmacist-you'll just end up killing a person, usu. elderly or child. Besides, it demeans & degrades our profession.

Rule #2)If you start feeling stressed, tell every new customer that walks up to the pharmacy it will be AT LEAST a 2 hour wait. The public is ignorant. Don't expect them to understand what is in their own best self-interest (& yours) This tactic works wonderfully for me in my retail experience. 90% of customers are just fine about coming back. 5% are truly critical prescriptions & so go ahead & fix those ASAP. 5% will go the the fast food pharmacist down the road who is digging themselves & some unlucky customer an early grave. So let that 5% go, your focus & sanity is well worth it!

Rule #3) Don't focus on what the customers think. Most are a bunch of spoiled brats anyway. Congratulate yourself & tune out all of the jerks.

Rule #4) Never let someone rush you. If you feel rushed, tell them to go get the medicine somewhere else. Haste makes waste, in our case Haste causes Death. Would you want your airplane pilot to rush? Or How would you like your heart surgeon to rush? Our job is just as critical & never let someone tell you otherwise. I prefer to polite ignore them.

Your comments are

Your comments are encouraging. (Retail Pharmacy is excellent). I am a pharmacy student now torn between the 2 career choices--to work in hospital or retail pharmacy. In my country, pharmacy students are only exposed to hospital and retail work through a short 6-week attachment to each area and a 9 month training after we graduated. Training equals to grilling by unforgiving pharmacists constantly with drug related questions and by self-observation while packing medications.Most pharmacy students on attachment sleep 3 hours a day in order to prepare themselves for the grilling the next day. After our six week stints, many of us were already demoralised. Many of my classmates have already decided that a marketing or research career is better for them.It is saddening to realised that, after spending so much tuition fees and four long years of cramming, what you study is not what you would make as your career. And you are ill prepared to venture into other professions. How I wished I have chosen dentistry or nursing for my tertiary education!

My experience as a pharmacy student in hospital was truly tramatising. All the memorising in school had already drove me crazy and I was driven to studying the bare minimum to pass my exams with above average grades. In the hospital, I could not remember the side effects of so many drugs, the many different methods of IV adminstration, and I was overwhelmed by the challenge to produce the drug information on the spot! I would break out in cold sweat when grilled by pharmacists. Imagine being consulted by doctors! haha. I am worried how can I be a good hospital pharmacist when I am so ill prepared.

Also, contrary to the above messages I find hospital pharmacist's work routine! Where is the excitment of poring through inpatient medical records day in day out? I felt that more interaction with patients brighten the dull work. Hospital pharmacists in my country are not respected by patients although the other health care professionals do appreciate our work. where do you get your movtivation when the exact persons you are trying to help doesn't appreciate you?

I was very demoralised and not sure of how I can catch up so that I would be better prepared for my nine-month training. I am worried I could not meet the demands of a hospital pharmacist, yet worried that retail work does not allow me to advance in my career. How did you pharmacists out there attain a high level of professionalism?

i am lucky being a group of

i am lucky being a group of the first clinical pharmacist in egypt
i would like to share with you all very positive experience and challanges with the pharmacy in the oncology branch in egypt and how we succeeded in introducing this new concept

Clinical pharmacists

I happened upon this webpage while trying to compile a full list of medications unavailable through retail pharmacies...and I have to comment.

Pharmacy is an EXCELLENT career. It is true that retail pharmacy can be less than rewarding as most patients tend to treat you like a drive through fast food restaurant. I have on several occassions been yelled at and called horrible names by patients (when I worked retail) but I have also found that most patients are ill-prepared and counseled by other healthcare professionals regarding their disease and medication. A pharmacist can provide a patient with knowledge given that the pharmacist can take the time to talk with the patient. Unfortunately, this service has absolutely no monetary reimbursement. I worked as a student retail for several years before deciding to change my pharmacy career path.

I am now specialized in clinical oncology pharmacy - and am VERY happy. I round with interdisciplinary healthcare teams, write all chemotherapy orders, decide on treatment plans, monitor adverse effects, see patients both in and out of the hospital, educate nurses, patients and physicians regarding medications...the list goes on and on.

The bottom line is that at the end of the day I am satisfied with my career choice and find that my work impacts patients in a positive way - and that is more rewarding. Don't choose a career because you think it may be a good choice because of the pay.

Of course, clinical pharmacy is only one option of many available to a pharmacist. Most pharmacists do not realize their potential and ability to work in an environment outside of retail. Use your imagination! Industry, long term care, research, journal editor, clinical manager, relief programs for indigent peoples....