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.
De La Soul (not verified)
Pharmacy in the USFri, 2009/07/10 - 13:38
Actually, working in a pharmacy in the US is well respected, well paid, and have the best hours in the medical field. I am a pharmacy tech that graduated from the SCI Texas pharmacy tech program: http://www.scitexas.com - and from what I've seen, pharmacists usually work a 9-6 shift, with weekends being optional (except at big pharmaceutical chains), get paid quite well, and have a relatively stress free work life (besides being yelled at by unhappy patients).
Although doctors are perhaps seen as higher status, it is viewed as such only in elite social circles.
RN in Canada (not verified)
Nursing to PharmacySun, 2009/07/12 - 04:54
Thanks for writing this. I work as a Registered Nurse in Canada and have been thinking about changing careers to Pharmacy. Upon further investigation, I discovered RNs make more than pharmacists where I live, with the exception being PharmD MS. With tedious unvaried working conditions described, I think I'm better off staying with my current career despite the lower level of 'social respect'.
5th Year U.S. P... (not verified)
Great to find this board.Sat, 2009/07/25 - 07:30
Great to find this board. Why am I putting "pharmacist" and "career" and I find this link as one of the first few? And why is it that I put "pharmacist" and "career" together, this link of "bad career choice" comes up? Because it's true. As a pharmacy student in the 5th of a 6 year program, I can say that the profession in the U.S. has gone towards the road of something I wouldn't have chosen. Pharmacy professional organization in the U.S. wants to advance, "do more," and the organization has gotten to a point where pharmacist can immunize and offer medication therapy management to patients. That is great, but what happens is because of the new roles the organization says the pharmacy profession should have, our role overlaps other health sciences careers. Through my education, I have learned how to read lab values and pathological signs. The curriculum mirrors other health professionals so much, and more specifically, I am pointing towards the medical field. My education allows me to even make rational decisions on diagnosing patients, but I am not allowed to by law. And this is very frustrating, because I entered pharmacy school to learn about medications, not about how to cater to people at the retail drug store and take their crap in screaming and yelling at me.
So I considered going into hospital pharmacy instead of retail pharmacy. I do not think I can be in retail pharmacy for the long run, because people are disrespectful towards you as a person, not appreciative of what you do, treat you even worst than someone who works at a fast food restaurant (at least at fast foods people actually WAIT for their food, there is a misconception at a pharmacy that we just put pills in a bottle and when you try to education patients they don't care and they scream even louder), and I come home being very frustrated and put it out on the wrong people (my family). I come home depressed and very sadden by how the profession have become. So back to hospital pharmacy -- I spoke to other pharmacists. Many of them do the medical doctor's work, as in look at lab values and make adjustments to the patient medication regimen (e.g. warfarin dose management is one such thing). It upsets me that while the pharmacy profession is expanding, you still do not have the permission to make diagnosing decisions. I might as well be diagnosing patients because I do receive a lot of pathology and medicinal chemistry (about 2 years worth). I am limited in what I can do as a pharmacist, because I am not legally allowed to use all of my knowledge.
And I want to use my knowledge, I don't want to just learn topics, pass exams, and then move on to the next class and then graduate to get a "nice paying job." I want to be able to use my knowledge to help others and while it's a cliche, it's true. You become a health professional because you want to help other human beings with their illness. And I can't do that as a pharmacist. No one wants to say they chose the wrong profession or gone into the wrong profession, but this profession is not what it used to be. I can't help anyone at the pharmacy, because as a retail pharmacist I'm going to be just standing in one spot all day in front of the computer, doing human proofreading of a prescription, making sure the right pill is in the vial, and bag it and dispense. I'll be on the phone making insurance phone calls all day because the patient can't get their vacation supply of Plavix, or calling to ask for prescription refills. Rarely does the pharmacist get a chance to talk to a patient about their medication, or answer questions about them. The career becomes a monotonous job, using a small portion of your knowledge.
ThanksSat, 2009/07/25 - 15:40
Thank you for your informative and thoughtful reply. It shows that the profession suffers from the same limitations globally, not only in one place.
Anonymous (not verified)
Pharmacy is good, but stay out of retailThu, 2009/08/27 - 00:13
I am a pharmacist in the US. I worked 12 years in retail, changed to hospital 8 years ago. I felt retail was highly stressful (and I didn't work in high volume stores) and bad for my legs. Find a good hospital job (there are bad hospital jobs, as well). I'm currently making $55/hr, very low stress. It's like a vacation compared to retail. Big pharma is bigger than big oil. They've got everyone sucking down pills like it's mother's milk. Great future in this business, it's a no-brainer.
Anonymous (not verified)
would a Pharm D. be agood idea after a PhD in pharmacology?Fri, 2009/08/28 - 23:02
I'm working on my PhD in pharmacology here in the US and thinking about a Pharm D after I'm done. What would be the real benefits of that given that I'm interested in research. Would a Pharm D help in clinical research and if so how?
Anonymous (not verified)
Stay out of pharmacyWed, 2009/09/02 - 01:18
Pharmacy sucks but I don't believe with all the spelling and grammatical errors I've seen from both the U.S and non U.S ignoratti any of you would make the cut. You have to be smart to be a Doctor in Pharmacy, many courses, many tests, many presentations (in front of Doctors), many seminars, and many rotations. Not to mention, an internship, and for all you non English speaking wannabe's... YOU MUST BE ABLE TO ARTICULATE A FLUID STATEMENT THAT IS INTELLIGIBLE. GOOD LUCK....HAHAHAHAHa
Anonymous (not verified)
Its amazing how, just becauseThu, 2009/12/10 - 15:12
Its amazing how, just because a person can spell and come up with words such as ignoratti, they perceive themselves to be better than others who aspire to be more.
I've usually found, having known a few, that people like you are deeply insecure and simply enjoy to make others feel bad.
Hopefully natural selection will soon ensure that your vile opinions cease forever.
Until then I've only one thing to say to you and anyone even remotely like you:
Get over yourself you cock!
Anonymous (not verified)
I've read all the repliesFri, 2009/10/02 - 15:34
I've read all the replies during this 5 years!
I am kind of in the same situation, a dilemma. I took all the pre-reqs, and when I am ready to apply, I started working as a pharm tech. I think the customers are Okay, I have pretty good EQ, I act nice until they really get my deep nerves. I like the prestige, I like to help.
But whenever I thought about giving 100K and 4 yrs for this life long career, delicate my brains to remember names (drug and patients) and reactions. I struggled.
I don't know if it's my experience or it applies to all pharmacists. Most of the pharmacists I work with can't really generate new ideas (except for one, he is the owner of the pharmacy), they follow strict orders and they are very good at memorizing facts. They don't have chances to think about ways to do things differently. Most of them looked really into their zone when they are working.
Other people might be okay with that, but for me, I always have this idea of being smart. And most of the pharmacists I've met didn't give me that impression. They are knowledgeable, but they aren't smart. They aren't given a chance to.
And for me, I really want to experience all different kind of things, I want something that's more flexible. And, in the back of my mind, I feel like if i devoted 100K and 4 years in a career, I probably won't have a chance to do a career change later. I will be doing this for the rest of my life and have babies.
There is a good and bad side for each career. There's always some sacrifices to be made. Either a stable life, or a fun one. I still can't decide...
KareenMc (not verified)
Pharmacy School & Pharm.DFri, 2009/10/16 - 13:38
I got my bachelors in business and marketing. I was one of those lost souls in college who didn't know what they wanted to do or what they were good at. Unfortunately, I didn't really apply myself and ended up with a less than spectacular GPA. Now, I know that I want to be a pharmacist. I enjoy working with medications and understanding the ingredients and side effects of each. I enjoy helping people. And, yes, I enjoy routine work. I am somewhat introverted, but am currently in sales while taking my prerequesites. I am also getting a second bachelors in Spanish as the academic advisor at the pharmacy school I want to go to suggested that it would bring up my GPA and make me more attractive because of being bilingual. I would like to work in retail pharmacy and find a way to also work with indigent populations at the same time.