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.



Interesting Post

I enjoyed reading your opinion. It is important for people to research the pharmaceutical industry before deciding to enter a career in the healthcare field.

Yes, a pharmacist can do much

Yes, a pharmacist can do much much more than just stad behind a counter and hand out pills.

There are those community pharmacists you described which may not be a great job for some but others don't mind..

There is a hospital pharmacist: They are responsible for the purchase, manufacture, dispensing, quality testing and supply of all the medicines used in the hospital. They advise medical and nursing staff on the selection and appropriate use of medicines, (which might be beneficial because they get to yell at the doctors and make a fool of them when they make a mistake especially the ones that act arrogant and superior) and provide help and advice to patients in all aspects of their medicines. They provide information about potential side effects and ensure that new treatments are compatible with existing medication. In addition, they monitor the effects of treatment to ensure that it is safe and effective.

Industrial pharmacist:
Industrial pharmacistswork alongside scientists in the pharmaceutical industry who specialise in other areas to discover new ways of combating disease and improving manufacturing and production techniques.

Regulatory pharmacist:work for Government bodies such as the MHRA which protects public health. Their job is to ensure that medicines submitted by drug companies are safe before they can be manufactured and marketed to the public.

Academic pharmacist: spend on average around 60% of their time working in hospital, community or industrial pharmacy and the other 40% of the time as a pharmacy teacher or lecturer. They also research drug design and the provision of pharmacy services.

Royal Army Medical Corps Pharmacists: responsible for the timely distribution of drugs, dressings and medical equipment in general to all units in the theatre of operations.

or Vetinary pharmacists: supplying a service to pet owners including treatments for cats and dogs for problems with worms and fleas. Pharmacists in rural settings supply medicines for farm livestock.

So there are tons of fulfilling, interacting, exciting jobs for a pharmacist. you just didn't do your homework =P

My opinion

Every single word you said is true.

Although I graduated in June 2004 , I already discovered the great inconvenience!!!

A pharmacist in Egypt has no good opportunities at all. Very depressing I must say.

There are many pharmacists who are very brilliant, hardworking with many skills looking for one single chance... everyone wants to travel abroad, but that in no longer easy like before.

I personally shifted my career to business and mareketing...WHAT A PITY!!!!!!!!!

Pharmacy in the UK

With regards to all your comments above, i would like to add and say that pharmacy in the Uk is no better. In terms of being mentally challenged, community (retail) pharmacy does not achieve that. It involves counting tablets and advising on minor ailments, not very challenging nor stimulating. However, the money is good. A retail pharmacist can expect a minumum of 35k doing a 9-5 job, but for myself i did not study pharmacy solely for the money.

I have worked as a retail pharmacist and a hospital pharmacist. Hospital pharmacy offers a wealth of development opportunities and gives you the respect you deserve. Often i had consultants approach me for advice. I actually felt i was making a difference and using my knowledge, unlike retail pharmacy. However, being a government job it doesnt pay well. You are in effect doing a lot more than a retail pharmacist but only being paid a fraction of their wages.

Hence, like Khalid i have left pharmacy for a career in business and IT consultancy - is this the right move? Who knows. All I do know is that retail pharmacy was boring and repetitive and righly so they are referred to as glorified shopkeepers. Hospital pharmacy was amazing but the rewards do not match up to the reponsibilities. In a nutshell being a director in hospital pharmacy after 15 years of work could be earning you the same salary as someone who has just completed their degree and is working in retail - not an incentive to stay in hospital pharmacy!!

Hope this gives you an insight of pharmacu in the UK. If you need any advice please do not hesitate to contact me (lowkey_uk at hotmail.com). I would be particularly interested in hearing from colleagues workiong in Hospital pharmacy in Pakistan, am intrigued to konw trhe salary and recognition you have there!




I just wanted to ask...because...alot of peoples told me being a pharmacist is awesome....

I dont get it...how is it a bad career...

I mean it does sound interesting...

Please refer back to me because im an eighth grader and this is what i want as a career...

So please help me through this...thanks...shady

I was surprised to read that

I was surprised to read that pharmacists might have a low self esteem and complain of doctors getting all the respect when the scourge of my life was a hospital pharmacist!! I trained as oncologist in the UK and I always did my homework and looked at the BNF and the local guide before prescribing to avoid being told off by pharmacy. All my colleagues had the same problem. In the UK, you always get a call from pharmacy saying things like, "You prescribed fluclox. It should have been Vanc" OR "Would you review the dose you prescribed for this patient" OR " We're not allowed to use this drug in this trust; not licensed..never mind if you used it elsewhere for the same condition" and the list is endless.

One day one of my consultants explained that "Steve" is a very experienced pharmacist so what he does is that he doesnt believe anything anybody tells him.If he gets a chemotherapy prescription sheet signed by Dr. A-Z he reviews it starting from the name and date of birth of the patient to check it's not a different patient with the same name, going through the patient's blood tests and ending by re-doing your dose calculations. If you want to work at the same level as Steve, what you need to do when he comes back to you with your prescription sheet is not beleive him; go through the whole thing in detail once again; do it his way!

So you see, it was our hospital pharmacist who set the rules of how we all function.

Want challenge, do hospital pharmacy in the UK. It could be easier than a whole career change for those who are contemplating it......but for those who already did, my respects; that is a brave move.


Abandoning Pharmacy

I am doing something I am now able to do- abandoning pharmacy as a career. Am tired of the long hours, rote ,tedious, but stressful work. Lack of intellectual and cultural stimulation. Etc, etc.

I would discourage any intelligent new student away from pharmacy- I would tell them to consider nursing- a wholistic profession with many more opportunities- an easier obtainable degree that can be used for so many things that a more narrow techncial discipline such as pharmacy can not. Nurses with advanced degrees will be the superior to pharmacists in almost every endeavor.

Moreover, regardless of what is being said now - there will be a glut of pharmacists in 4-5 years, as robotics become more sophisticated, and licensing requirements become more relaxed to expand the work of technicians. Pharmacy work can more easily be delegated to others than "hands on" professionals such as nurses, PT's, etc.

Pharmacy remains the most divided small profession, guided by many conflicting interests, with very little focus on income potential or quality of life issues. Every other profession has organizations fighting for specific income and life quality issues of its members-- but not pharmacy!! Most retail pharmacists can not eat when they want or relieve themselves when necessary- how many lawyeres or engineers are in the same position? All I can say is look at the field objectively.

Don't be fed a line of bull from ivory tower, money hungry educators who have no respect for those that have been in the field for years.


Hi, I'm a freshman and today was career day at my high school. When we learned about Retail Phamarcy I thought it was so perfect for me that I rushed home just to look up more information about it. I really think I would love being a Retail Pharmacist. I am soo interested in this medical field and I really think this career is for me. I love people and and love to help.I always knew I wanted to have a career in medicine and now I think this one is absolutley perfect for me. I know I have some time before I pick career but I am just so excited, so I have a few questions. I am just an average student, do you think I have a chance at even making it in a Pharmaceutical College? What kind of math grades are you expected to get? Do you know of any great colleges for a future retail pharmacist? If you have any advice at all please repond!

Thank you sooo much!

Advice...please (cont.)

Sorry..I forgot a question...Thanks so much.

What courses do you sugest I take in High School?



Well i know a couple of persons who really like what their doing. I guess you should take a job like this if it's your dream-job. Can't argue them can't we ?