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.

Feedback

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.

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Comments

excellent

excellent

I am a pharmacist in the UK

I am a pharmacist in the UK with >5 yrs qualified experience.

I started off in retail, chasing the money as a lot of people do, then got bored of the management crap and moved on to locum work. That paid very well (£55,000) for a 50 hr week but was deeply unsatisfying. I needed to find another avenue but without a PhD entry into an industry placement was impossible and with a mortgage to pay, stepping backwards into hospital pharmacy (£26,000) was not an option.

I am now a Pharmacy advisor within the NHS working a 40 hr week for £40,000. I work flexible hours, get an excellent pension and don't need to worry about arranging locum cover wehn I'm on holiday as I used to do in retail.

The professional benefits of meeting with doctors and developing guidelines and offering advice on prescribing make you feel much more useful. On the negative side a lot of what we do is to save money but then we have an NHS and need to protect it.

I would like to do something else although I've never found what it is. For now however this job offers security, a good wage, pension, flexibility and multi-disciplinary learning. What more could you ask for? you may think??

The answer... a challenge!

I agree fully with the comments on this site which said ingelligent people should not do Pharmacy. Don't get me wrong, you need some, and determination to get through the 5 yrs of study but in my eyes you just need to be good at remembering things nothing more.

If I had my time again I would be a journalist or architect as I have more of an interest in these subjects. For now though I get to go home at 5 and not have to worry too much about the future. The grass is always greener... lets wait and see.

Anon

Aus pharmacy sucks

Everyday I regret even starting my pharmacy degree here in Australia. I look back with regret at having lost all those years and money pursuing a career that sucks. Having worked in many different careers I can say without a doubt that being a pharmacist is not worth it in terms of pay and what you have to go through. I have worked in jobs that require no qualification and involve very little stress that pay more than what a fully qualified pharmacist makes here in Australia. For anyone even thinking about pharmacy as a career then I would advise against it unless you like:

- To stand on your feet all day with no stools or chairs to sit on even for a minute. Imagine yourself in this situation.
- Very little room to move or go for a walk.
- Pay is not worth all the responsibility and stress you have to go through.
- Very little career advancement
- Dealing with sick people all the time
- Spend 4 years at university when you can get a similar job that pays the same and doesn't require a degree.

I agree. That's why I'm doing

I agree. That's why I'm doing hospital for my graduate year this year (2010). Now that it's been pointed out to me by family, I realise I haven't been happy since the day I started pharmacy. Four years is a long time to be miserable. And hear hear to this blog!

Hi, I'm a freshman in college

Hi, I'm a freshman in college and I've been searching the web a lot during my winter break for career info. I'm trying to weigh the pros and cons of certain careers and pharmacy seems good. I'm interested in advice about pharmacy vs either being a doctor or going into academia.

I like studying and being in school and find bio and chem interesting, so I'm pretty sure I want to go to school for at least another 4 years, whether it be PhD, PharmD, or Med School.

Things I value: Making a pretty good salary, at least 70K when I'm 30, having time for a family when I'm 30, not being dead tired from work, doing something creative and fun, doing something useful that directly helps people

What I don't like about med school is as an attending, would you still work ridiculous hours and not devote a lot of time to family? I like forensic pathology because it seems fun and you can work 40-50 hour weeks and earn a good wage but I hear its really hard to find jobs,

I was thinking of getting a PhD in either psyc or bio, studying neuroscience or mental illness, but its very tough to get a job in academia and I would hate to have a PhD and then be unemployed, also long hours for low pay especially until you get tenure,

I hear there's a lot of jobs in academia for pharmacy, does anyone know how are the pay and hours? Also, could you do retail pharmacy 40 hours a week and be a part time lecturer at a university or community college? I'm interested in mental disorders so does anyone know if it is rewarding to specialize in psychiatric pharmacy?

Thanks

left pharmacy to do......

I can't believe I stumbled across this after googling pharmacy, jobs, egypt. Maybe it's a sign :) I left pharmacy but don't know what i want so I'm thinking of going back to pharmacy because at least it's a stable carer path. Pharmacy is boring and repetitive and doesn't offer the mind stimulation required but it's difficult especially in the current climate. I studied in UK but I moved back to Egypt which is interesting given that half the medicines used here are not used anyhwere else in the friggin world. My email is hakuptah@gmail.com. If anyone's in a similar situation and wanna get in touch, please do!
It's good you were able to slot into another job after pharmacy and hope the rest of us can find similar fulfilling career paths!

Hello, very interesting

Hello, very interesting article. I've read all the replies.

I have been a Pharmacy Tech here in the US for almost 12 yrs. in a retail Pharmacy. I am in my mid 30's and planning to go back to school now that my kids are older. I am considering Pharmacy school, Computer Science and X-ray tech but I'm looking more into Pharmacy school. After all, I have been used to the ignorant and disrespectful patients who yells at you when their medications are not ready or not covered by their insurances. Not to mention the Pharmacist who lack courage to help or defend you in this situation. Some even take advantage of you and make you do all the work and not even bother to counsel patients on their new presciptions unless they have questions. I know by law, technicians are not allowed to counsel but sometimes I find myself counseling patients on their antiobiotics and pain medications (those that are common) when the Pharmacists is busy with another patient and the customer cannot wait. It is such a stressful and frustrating job when you know you are almost as capable as the Pharmacist but you are getting paid 4 times less than what they are making. So that is why I am going back to school but my co-workers and Pharmacists are not helping with my decision. Some are supportive but others are discouraging me. I know that it might take me 10 yrs. to graduate. I know that there is a hiring freeze right now and I know it is even harder when you have little ones to take care of.

My goal is to make an upper class income by the time I graduate. So do you suggest B.S. in Computer Science with emphasis in a related field, or Pharm. D? Or just pursue a different degree or career that takes 2 yrs. to complete and make a decent income? Really need your guys help.

Has anyone also heard of Pharmacy Informatics? Pretty interesting field where you get to combine Pharmacy and IT knowledge. I don't know about pursuing that since I know that it will take me much longer to finish. But just letting you guys know that it's an interesting field if you like Pharmacy and Computers and have the time to study both.

Pharmacist opportunities

In Canada (my particular reference point), being a pharmacist leads many grads down the path of retail pharmacy: lick, stick, pour, count. However, in addition to doing these things, pharmacists in some provinces also complete other services for which funding is mounting. These include medication assessments, referrals, providing injections, adapting prescriptions (essentially prescribing) and working in interdisciplinary teams to achieve specific health outcomes (such as diabetes chronic disease managament). These clinical services, however, are still 'shiny and new' to the public eye.

There are many problems that plague the pharmacy profession, especially pharmacists' own attitudes. Often, when a pharmacist finds that for very little work in community/retail, they make 45 plus dollars per hour, in addition to many other perks, they settle for the status quo of lick, stick, pour and count. In many situations, pharmacists do not want to acknowledge their high level of education and experience by providing a higher level of care simply because it is easier not to bother. I am not saying pharmacists are lazy and inconsiderate of their patients' needs, only that they are human and therefore vulnerable to resisting change.

As a new pharmacist, I see many problems that have caused pharmacists to be very cynical about providing 'clinical' services. For example, patients are not educated about the type of training that their pharmacist has received. Secondly, the government itself, which reimburses pharmacies for drugs dispensed to low income individuals and seniors, set a small fee for 'dispensing' that has been mislabeled as a 'professional fee'. If a small pharmacy is to make money by just discpensing pills, they need to do this in high volumes and therefore spend very little time with the patients which often perpetuates the problems. If we are to move to a system where pharmacists, like physicians, provides services (as above) of a fee-for-service basis, perhaps patients, pharmacists and the general public would not only make a more appropriate use of this body of knowledge but pharmacists themselves would have greater career satisfaction. Maybe, just maybe (kidding, of course, because there is evidence to support this) having pharmacists perform clinical (also called 'cognitive') services will improve the health of Canadians.

For the time being, I truly enjoy calling myself a pharmacist and I hope to continue finding reasons to think that this profession is more than meets the eye. For me, for now, this happens one patient interaction at a time.

clinical pharmicist in Egypt

i've been reading most of the posted comments and my goal was to find an answer to one question.....am i really going to be acknowledged by the doctors/physicians as a clinical pharmicist who will priscribe the medicine or will they just ignore that fact and treat me as a pharmacist wo doesnt have the authority to do anythin but dispence the medicine prescribed by them only? and if you could enlighten me with the hospitals where clincal pharmicists actually do their job in egypt beside 57357 it would be kind of you.
thank you.

Not likely

It is not likely that doctors will acknowledge clinical pharmacists. The reason is that they will feel this is to diminish their influence. Another factor is the pharmaceutical companies. They send their representatives with free samples and brochures to the doctors. As long as there is power and money at play, things will not change much. Perhaps it needs new legislation, but again the entrenched powerbrokers will oppose it. The syndicate of pharmacy has push for this, but I think they have little influence. The situation is almost the same in Western countries as well.

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