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.



Pharmacy Practice in Brazil

I'm a pharmacist in Brazil. In our country, every citizen has the right to own a pharmacy. You don't need to be a pharmacist to open a pharmacy. A pharmacy is considered a simple business like any other. Few pharmacists are pharmacy owners in Brazil. They are obliged to work for people with absolutelly no qualification and earn very low salaries (US$ 9000,00 a year). The government do not include pharmacists in the national health programmes. The population don´t respect pharmacists as health professionals and usually treat them like pharmacy clerks(in our country one doesn´t need to be a pharmacy technician to work in a pharmacy side by side with a pharmacist. These unqualified people are like shop clerks in other countries).
For these reasons many pharmacists abandon the career in Brazil. They feel very frustrated because of little recognition of their work and very low earnings.

Very true, Antonio de

Very true, Antonio de Freitas...I work as a pharmacist in Southern Brazil. It´s a joke...Plus, you don´t need a prescription to buy most drugs...And in some drugstores they´ll even sell controlled drugs (aka Valium, Lexapro, Frontal, etc) without a prescription...Hey..but that´s Brazil...

i am mohammed said 5th year

i am mohammed said
5th year student at
faculty of pharmacy
helwan uni
study science called "clinical pharmacy" and i am interested it very much and search for any ONE in this field so
you are already a clinincal pharmacist
where do you play your role as aclinical pharmacist?
thank you ,

i agree

i agree


Hi there, I want to go to pharmacy school and I've taken most of my prereqs at a community college and I'm not sure if I should transfer to a UC to get my bachelors then go to pharmacy school or if I can go directly to pharmacy school from a community college. would I have a better chance of getting accepted if I graduated first with a BS then applied?

Hey there, I just got into a

Hey there,
I just got into a Pharmacy school in NYC with a BS in Biology and I suggest that you get a Bachelors aswell.
Applying with a bachelors only gives more strenght to the rest of your application and definitley makes you a strong candidate.

wow! u sure do noe a lot! i

wow! u sure do noe a lot! i bet u have done some research. Just wanna ask ur opinion and suggestion. I am interested in nutritional medicine as well as oncology. If my direction is in oncology, r there any course or further studies i can do? Phd or master specializing in oncology pharmacy?thanks ya

Can someone with a degree in

Can someone with a degree in pharmacy do a direct entry into the medical school to study medicine?

proud of the first clinical

proud of the first clinical pharmacist in egypt.. i am a fresh graduate and i would like to be a clinical pharmacist. how can i begin my way to be a clinical pharmacist???

Many, many thanks to the

Many, many thanks to the retail pharmacist who posted the positive upbeat message!! I sent it to my son who is graduating with his Pharm.D. in 2 months from a school here in the U.S. He's been offered jobs that pay $100K with a $35 signing bonus in retail and is depressed because it's all so automated and he doesn't feel he's using his knowledge. I work for a medical practice where the doctors work 15 hours, 6 days a week. They have almost no family life. They're beyond exhausted. Their medicare reimbursements are so low that their practice is barely surviving. But they're "doctors" (yay!) and fantastic docs...the best of the best.

The thing is we all want to have jobs that have prestige, in which we feel creative, in which we use our knowledge and education, and...in which we make big bucks. And..by the way, allows us time to have a satisfying personal life. Sorry, but there's a lot of whining on this board. A lot of you need an attitude adjustment to appreciate the positive side of what you have accomplished and what you have in life. So what if a couple of pharmacists changed careers. Most people change careers 4 times in their lives. Doctors do it too...all the time. It doesn't mean you made a bad career choice out of school. It's all a journey. Make the big bucks now, save your money, and if you want to pursue something else...even go to medical school..or become a nurse...or go on to business...then go for it. Remember, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Re-read the posts from the retail pharmacist and the clinical pharmacist who loves their jobs. I know lots of young adults who wish they had what it takes to become a Pharm.D. and have the opportunities you have.