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.



The Ideal Ideal Scene Think

The Ideal Ideal Scene

Think on a five year time period. This is a useful trick that helps you avoid generating false fantasies and scenes that are too limiting or practical. Five years is a period of time that's long enough to be able to imagine great change in yourself, but also a period of time where you can imagine yourself looking similar, having the same personality, and general keep you from trying to wait for time travel and flying cars in order to acheive your goal. If you want big change to happen in five years, it might help to start working on it now.

Be as creative as you can be. The biggest limit to our own lives is our imagination. For example, take your fantasies and your practical scenes. How many other people would give the exact same answer to those questions as you do. Yes, everyone would like to win the lottery even though studies have been made that lottery winners are rarely happier after 5, 10, and 20 years than they were before… in fact, Timothy Wilson in Strangers To Ourselves gives some interesting evidence that lottery winners are less happy after winning than they were before. Try coming up with an ideal scene that fits your personality more than it fits anyone else's. Something custom-tailored to your passions, dreams, and view of the world. Let it get as wild as you wish… the imagination likes to be stretched.

Write it down. Draw a picture. Even if you can see everything perfectly in your mind for the ideal scene, write it down and keep it somewhere safe so that you can come back and read it in the future. This ideal scene should eventually become the dominant vision for your life. Stronger and more familiar than your doubts about it, more obvious as an eventual reality than as a forgotten daydream. Do everything you can to make this ideal scene feel real, tangible, and certain. Add to it over time, draw more pictures, fill in the details, and think about it often. Marc Allen claims that as soon as this ideal scene is burned into your consciousness, you can begin making concrete steps towards it. For now, just make the scene and see what comes out.

Some questions from the book to ask yourself that might help flesh out the ideal scene:

1. What kind of work and career do you have?
2. What is a typical day for you?
3. What are you doing to contribute to a better world?
4. Where do you live?
5. What are your most intimate relationships like?
6. What is your family life like?
7. How would someone close to you describe you?


I think people don't respect pharmacists and their staff as much anymore. I have no idea why not. They are medical professionals and generally know just as much, if not more, about medicines than do doctors.

Oh, no. I am going to be a

Oh, no. I am going to be a pharmacist myself. I have learnt it for 4 years and I do not want to give it up so easily. And if the money paying is good, I don't think doing this is worse than doing other jobs.

wow, I never write on the

wow, I never write on the web , but I just came across this web page by coincidence and I never thought I would find so many people who shared the same feelings about the profession...good and bad ones.
I graduated from Cairo University in Pharmacy in 1997..it took me forever to graduate- almost 9 years!Because I wanted to get into Journalism but you know how parents can get.In the middle east the practical sciences prevail as the most prestigious degrees for some reason. After much mental and emotional trauma, I finished, and I worked exactly 3 months in a well known pharmaceutical company as a medical rep. hated it,then immediately moved to New York City, got a Masters degree in Communication Arts and did documentaries, got married to a Brazilian, moved to Rio de Janeiro, worked as a second assistant director in international commercial campaigns & films plus my own projects and was even offered to work on a Hollywood blockbuster...sound glamorous? Well, you work just as hard as in any other profession. ...with the added factor of dealing with hollywood divas. And less money and stability.But it was a great experience.I had a good life.
But here's the thing: I moved back to nyc, after having a child you start thinking of money, social security, where you will be in the next 10 yrs. etc. etc. and now I am actually thinking of taking my pharmacy equivalency test here in the states, but sometimes the idea is scary to me ..it's such a life style change..or is it? A few letters here got me thinking maybe it's not such a crazy idea after all. I've lived in 3 different continents and let me tell you, anything near 70k a year is something alot of people in this world would not scoff at. The artsy life (my husband being a working musician also) is great but there is a balance. The skill is trying to tie in both worlds into one.Actually a salary like that can finance other projects one would like to do outside of the pharmacy world. Retail pharmacy may sound boring, but it pays the bills and leaves alot left over for good schools for the kids,and all the other practicalities of life. I guess it's something to think about.

i agree with Khalid. i'm a

i agree with Khalid. i'm a pharmacist in the US. i regret choosing this field. i hate the work and wish i never wasted my precious time in this nonsense. like an idiot i'm still working, only as i don't know what else to do know.

RE: wow, I never write on the internet.

I believe that this is a quintessential and practical way of viewing the profession of pharmacy. Many of us would like to dabble in a fabulous profession, but glamour only brings home the bread for a small percentage. In addition, the bottom line for most of us is stability and security...this
is part of the best of what careers such as pharmacy have to offer.

I think your practical insight into the profession raises a critical point...one should look to acheive a balance between creativity and financial security. I find it quite inspirational, and, for myself, foreshadowing, that you accomplished both. You obtained your degree in pharmacy while also holding on to your innate creativity.

Personally, the resouding message in your response is that the world, as the late Bob Marley's lyrics can attribute, is a "concrete jungle." It never hurts to have support.


I'm a senior in high school right now..and having a difficult time choosing between nursing or pharmacy. I've heard that pharmacists get paid REALLY well, almost double the amount that nurses do. Nursing is more hands-on work and you get to work with patients and do many things..whereas pharmacists simply pass out medication all day..although, pharmacy still appeals to me greatly. I can see myself working in both areas. Can you all pleeease give me some advice as to which career path I should choose?? (The pros and cons of each.) Another thing - I've heard that pharmacy is very hard to study. True?


iam a pharmacy student planning to go to canada to practice pharmacy.
can u give me some tips....
is canada a good place for pharmacists?

canada is definately not a

canada is definately not a good place to study pharmacy. there is not a lot of demand for them and when there is, it is hard to get into the programs and the money is not that good.
my dad and many of his friends were struggling to become lisenced pharmacists in canada but gave up and moved to the states. there is more oppurtunity, universities, scholarships and money in the states. you should really consider whether or not you plan to live in canada most of ur professional life. in the end, the choice is up to you but i recommend studying in the states. i just moved to the states and am planning to go into pharmacy as well.