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.



A 100 k??? You don't say!

A 100 k??? You don't say! That is something in the whereabouts of 60 K in English money. I think I might change my career to retail pharmacy now. It takes 10-12 years and, at least, two postgraduate qualifications for a UK doctor to start earning 50 K plus 30% supplement for on calls (before tax).

more than one career choice

I agree completely. I'm just beginning my pharmacy coursework and before that was working for large companies like JPMorgan Chase and Dish Network with a Finance degree. Being unhappy because I was just unable to help people the way I wanted to, I decided to go back to school for pharmacy. Finding the right career choice won't necessarily mean your first career choice. I plan on being a pharmacist but also doing photography in the future. Just focus on what you want and look at the bright side of every situation and KEEP MOVING FORWARD!

career change...

Hi, I am so happy I read your post!!! Did you finish your Pharmacy degree??? I also have a Finance Degree and I have been thinking of changing careers too, I always wanted to be a pharmacist but I did a Bachelor's in Finance instead... Now I am overwhelmed by the amount of courses that I have to take before going to the phamarcy school... How many classes did you take before beginning the PharmD? How hard it's been for you since it's a comepletely different career? thanks and I look forward to hering back from you....

for a long time i've been

for a long time i've been thinking about what i want to be when i grow up. at first it was a forensic scientist, then it was a doctor but now i finally made up my mind. i want to be a pharmacist but the only problem with that was that i didn't know what kind of pharmacist to be. i was torn between a retail or clinical pharmacist but after reading what you had to say about retail pharmacy, i've made up my mind. i like that there is time to be with your family because that is the most important thing to me besides school. i might only be eighteen right now but i know what i want to be when i grow up and thanks to you i have nothing to fear in the future when i enter my first job as a retail pharmacist.

This is soooo true!

You just made me feel soo much better about wanting to be a retail pharmacist! I am a pharm. tech. intern and i hear all the complaints about how i shouldn't go into retail pharmacy. There are times where my pharmacist tell patients "its going to be an hour because there is alot ahead of you" and its their choice either to stay or go down the street. Your health is very important and there are times when patients complained, but everyone want their medicines right away and it becomes hard when theres approximately 30 ADULTS who want their perscription NOW! i say your right ignore it!! I love what i do now and i cant wait until i become a retail pharmacist! i will enjoy myself when I get there!!

i agree wit u on the matter

i agree wit u on the matter of the ego.
I am impressed by your ability to assert yourself.
You couldn't do that in Kenya.Unless you do not do pharmacy for a living.
Here pharmacy regulation is poor.Many drug outlets are unlicensed,run by quacks , patients
poor and pharmacy=drug supply.

International Pharmacist

Wow! Congratulations! I feel inspired to hear you talking about your experience....It is very encouraging for us Pharmacists. I am a international pharmacist, coming from Brazil and starting to seek for opportunities here. I want to have a feel for pharmacy here and try to get my license... One thing that rushed me and worried me a lot was the possibility of not working at a fast pace at things here do. So thanks a lot for the calm of your experience. It surely helps. Do you have any suggestions for us, beginners? I wouldn't like to abandon my profession, my seems overwhelming at the same time....
Thanks and good luck always!


Hi, I would like to become a Retail Pharmacists, and I would like to know what it took for you to achieve this. Meaning, schooling and such...please feel free to inform me on all the details I would really appreciate that very much so.


Considering a degree in Pharmacy

I'm 37 and recently laid off work. Been in commericial real estate for 10 years, and have been thinking about a shift in careers for years now, but don't really focus on it when have a job. Real Estate is tough, and all the owners are jerks, (not making enough money for their ego)constant threat of being replaced, and not mention tenants and contractors too.
So is the career worthwhile? I hear a lot people complain about their jobs, but do they honestly know how good they have it? I have worked in some crap jobs too. I think I have more dealings with shady apartment dwellers, they con a doctor into a perscription, and then go sell the pills individually. But not only do I have to deal with them, I have to collect the rent, and or evict them!
Going back to school is going to be a big sacrifice for my family. I have 2 kids, 3 & 5, and I figure that if I'm to go back to school, can't wait too long. What am I up against from your perspective, as a man with 3 kids?

Valid Points

I agree with 100% of what you say. I was able to achieve the bliss you speak of when working for a private pharmacy. Unfortunately, your rules do not apply to retail chains. Losing your job takes one phone call from some disgruntled nut job on 10 different psychiatric meds telling corporate you took 1 hour to fill his state paid for medications, and had the gall to tell him things were not covered.