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

Overall, pharmacy is a great career.

I'm a pharmacy student. I chose pharmacy partly b/c it gives you so many options at a great salary. The most popular option out of graduation is retail/community. What if you don't like that? Work at a hospital. Don't like that? Do residencies and work as a specialist. Don't like that? Do research. Don't like that? Do compounding. Don't like that? Do academics.

Don't do something just for the money. You won't be happy for long. Find something in pharmacy that you can do for the rest of your life. Peace out.

- Pharmacy Kid

How to have a rewarding and satisfying pharmacy career:

Pharmacy is a GREAT career! For all you high school and early-college students out there, I have the following advice.

1. There is NO PERFECT JOB! All jobs have positive and negative aspects. Yes, the hours are long in retail pharmacy (12-hour days), but I only work 7 days every 2 weeks! I work 2 days on, 2 days off, 3 days on, etc...

2. Look at the whole package, not just the salary. Be sure to look at benefits, 401k, insurance, etc... Although salaries are generally the same in retail pharmacy in a given geographic area, the benefits can vary greatly. Also look at how much technician help you are given and who you report to. Is your supervisor a pharmacist?

3. Being a pharmacist is better than being a physician in many ways!
a. In retail pharmacy, you are never "on-call." You can leave work at work.
b. Also, the malpractice insurance rates are so much lower it's ridiculous. Most employers provide it for you at no cost to you. Physicians pay thousands a year...
c. Pharmacists get to see more patients in a day than physicians do. You have the opotunity to interact with patients and help people with a wide variety of conditions and ailments. Many people come to the pharmacist FIRST, to find out if their condition can be treated over-the-counter or if they need to see a physician.

4. Do it for the right reasons. Anyone who chooses a career based on salary is a fool and is setting themselves up for failure. Choose pharmacy because you want to help people. Plain and simple.

5. Retail pharmacy is not just pharmacy. It is a business career as well. Never forget that retail pharmacy is a business. Read "How to Become a CEO" by Jeffery Fox.

6. Never let your ego get too big. Patients will feel more comfortable if you talk to them on their level. Do not try to talk over their heads. Do not put on heirs. Your staff and your patients will respect you more if you just be yourself.

7. Be kind to people. Treat all of your patients the same way you would treat your grandmother. Rude pharmacists lose business.

8. Explore your options. There are a lot of careers in pharmacy. Retail and hospital are only the tip of the iceberg. Look at nuclear, teaching, consulting, prison, military, government, FDA, cruise ship, etc...

9. TALK TO EVERY PHARMACIST YOU MEET! Ask them what they like/don't like about their job. Ask them how they became a pharamcist. Pharmacy is a VERY SMALL WORLD! It's not what you know, it's who you know.

10. Become a well-rounded individual. Read books outside of your field. Start a hobby. Travel. Don't let your career define who you are.

I have been a retail pharmacist for 5 years. In my opinion, there is no better career.

hi, i am a college student

hi, i am a college student in my second year now here in uk...and am thinking of taking pharmacy course when i get into university but i am kind of scared and worried with the amount and type of work involved inthis course....i would like to ask you about what you personally think of taking this course and what sort of perosn would be most suitable in this field...thank you very much:)

Hi I currently work with

Hi I currently work with Walgreens right now. I was wondering about which shift is better. Walgreens has shorter shifts, the 8 hr shifts. I was wondering if you think the shorter shifts are better or working the longer 12 hour shifts with another retailer are better??

...thank you...

Thank you...I was beginning to lose faith in my decision to become a pharmacist after reading all this until you spoke up. Now I know I'm doing the right thing.

Pharmacy

Gosh what cynical folks about pharmacy

I started in a drug store as a kid and immediately respected the pharmacist for his knowledge. I left retail practice after school and have been a pharmacist over 23 years, I truly love my profession and I am now a Director of Pharmacy. Computers give me a break or IT I say boring

I am a pharmacist. I have

I am a pharmacist. I have completed B.Pharm(4 years)and M.Pharm.I would like to work as a pharmacist in any pharmaceutical arena.

Afraid

Hi, I read most of the comments and have found them very helpful. I have changed my major to prepharmacy! (I duel enroll at a community college) my only concern is if I will make it through the schooling. I have always been about an average student by making A's and B's and I have heard that pharmacy school is hard. I am afraid that I am going to invest all my time and money and not make it. Is the school as hard as they say?

idk wat to do

hello!
i am a junior in high school and i am already thinking of being a pharmacist....
but i am wondering if i want to choose my few last courses what courses would yu reccomend and if i want to become more familiar with pharmacy before i actually go into college do i have to do some pharmacy work?
like help out and take notes??
-please help

More to a Pharmacy Degree

I was just wondering is there potential for growth in retail pharmacy. For example can I make more than $120,000 by staying in retail or can I only make more than $120,000 if I start my own business

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