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 pharmacy students concern!

What about options like pharmaceutical biotechnology ?? not only do I find studying pharmacy boring but i am equally tensed with my career. I would so not want to end up in a boring job as that of a retail pharmacist nor would I want to go crazy with all the medicinal chemistry in case i ended up in drug development or such fields..
Pharmaceutical Biotechnology seemed interesting to me as i like genetic engineering related studies..only God knows why I ended up studying pharmacy!..I also have another option of shifting to Pharmaceutical marketing ..Umm..what would you suggest me!?..plz reply!!

glad but dissapointed

glad because i didn't think that every one like me donot like what happens in our career
i have been graduated in2007 in faculty of pharmacy in egypt i have the idea that every thing is easy finding job ilove with asatisfied salery except i was shocked salery very low boring job what can i do?most of my friends either chang career or married and stay at homeor medical reps which is avery stressful job
i was thinking to study clinical pharmacy but this field also it's amazing not used in Egypt that much what can i do if any one has a solution
or even suggestion of new career please reply

u do not apply clinical

u do not apply clinical pharmacy, as a hospital practice? how about medication error. what are u gonna do with that?

Why so much blabing ?

I would like to comment on what i have read in this article. If u people dont like pharmacy because it is as u say, then u would not write about it like that. i am sure that people are justifying their failure is such a great and challenging branch of science.Besides u can make a lot of money and u can start your own business if u want and then employ others and dont have to a work full time...
i wanted to study medicine but i thought that i could save 4 years of studying and start my life earlier.
and i would like to encourage any one who would like to consider pharmacy for studying. please, guys dont get affected by this lame article.

I work in computers...

The pay is just as good (80k) but after 9 years in computers I am ready to hang my hat. The computer field changes rapidly and the younger generations run the industry. The challenges are great but the changes become tiring - you may not see it now but you will soon remember Windows XP like I do DOS or windows for workgroups (don’t get the guy next to me started on mainframes, green screens, or commodore 64's). Oh and don’t worry, if you are the younger generation, the next kids in line will trump you as well. Good luck with any profession you choose and don’t be fooled by the hype.

Changing fast is not a reason

"Changing fast" is not a reason to abandon a field. If you are interested enough in something, you will enjoy keeping up to date.

The same can be said for new medicines, new regulations from government organizations, new medical research showing results of clinical studies, toxicity, interactions, ...etc.

As for the younger generation running the show, if you are good, and interested, then your value should continue to be there. Perhaps not as a programmer, but a team lead, a manager, a consultant, ...etc. You can't expect to remain a programmer for 20 years. It is boring to do the same thing (anything!) for 20 years, or even half that.

By the way, I have been in the computer field for about a quarter of a century, and still going. I have changed from working for government, to working for a technology provider, and from programmer to consultant, to running my own consulting business.

Do not conflate "where I work" with "what you do at work".

i lost my target

hi every body
i am 26 yr
graduated from hellwan university ,faculty of pharmacy 2005
i was dreamingto work as apharmacist in cannada or australia
but now look at me after working 2.5 years as medical representitive in egypt then 1 year in ksa i dont know what to do
i hate m.r job and cant afford money or time to make pharmacy license and ilets to immigrate to canada
yes i have enough money but i am planning to use it
if theres any suugetions about an easy way ,no need for large amount og money or time to achive my dream ,please reply

pharmacy pay in Australia and career options

As a naive school graduate in Australia, I chose pharmacy because I believed it paid 100k/year as a pharmacist and 200-300k as a pharmacy business owner while granting opportunity to interact with appreciative people. (my parents were the ones that told me these figures - but they had obviously been basing it on American standards of pay)

In Australia retail pharmacy pays an average of AUD$70,000 a year for a 38 hour week. (hourly pay rate varies between $28 - 40/hour)

The return on investment of pharmacy business is about 10%. ie. a business that makes a profit of 200k will cost you $2,000,000 (most of the cost is due to goodwill and scarcity - there is a government limit on the number of pharmacies that can exist in any area and this limit takes into account population density). In comparison the interest paid on a term deposit varies between 3-8% in Australia, while other investments such as shares and property return much higher averages.

Hospital pharmacy pays an average of $40,000-70,000 depending on level of experience.

Pharmacy doesn't pay very well compared to other professions and the pay is even more insulting if you take into account the marks that you need in order to be accepted into this course. Here the course requires a percentile of at least 97% on average as well as marks in medical admissions tests.


Aside from pay, the job involves hours of standing and work pressures are not due to challenging or intellectually stimulating tasks - your stresses come from dealing with unhappy or frustrated customers/patients/other health care professionals.

My suggestion for students who have not yet chosen pharmacy as a profession is to avoid it UNLESS you highly value:
- Flexible hours/Flexible locations
- Standing all day intead as opposed to sitting all day (eg. sitting a desk)
- Quick tasks that are completed in the course of the day as over projects that take place over many days/weeks or longer
- Being rewarded for having a patient and consistent approach to tasks as opposed to a creative approach
- Overcoming a standard level of competency in order to achieve a similar level of pay as other colleagues as opposed to having performance-based pay
- Stress arising from dealing with unhappy/frustrated stakeholders as opposed to stress arising from the difficulty of the tasks at hand
- Interacting with sick clients as opposed to healthy clients (eg. other retail businesses) or paperwork (eg. some office jobs)
- Having a support role in the overall healthcare of a patient rather than being the leader in their healthcare (ie. doctors are the medical managers who draw support from other disciplines such as pharmacy, physiotherapy, radiography etc)
- Health sciences / continuous learning in health sciences (ie. Khalid, the author of the original article doesn't mind continuous learning in IT because it is a field that he is passionate about. As a high school student, can you really say that you like medical drugs? A lot of you can comfortably say you like writing, sport, cars or computers but how many of you can say you actually like medical drugs if you haven't actually worked with them before?)


Options beyond retail/hospital pharmacy if you are seeking higher pay from your pharmacy degree - for those that have already enrolled into pharmacy and do not want to transfer to a different course. (the following information applies only to pharmacy students in Australia)

- Studying hard in theoretical science in order to obtain very high marks and therefore qualify for further study / research to obtain a Ph.D/doctorate degree
- Applying for pharmaceutical industry

Given my general dissatisfaction with retail/hospital pharmacy, I have decided to utilised some the knowledge gained from my degree in order to pursue pharmaceutical industry within the medical departments (as opposed to clinical research departments which appears to require either experience in clinical trials at a hospital or a Ph.D / doctorate).

The pay is better, bonuses are offered for greater performance, the working conditions are better (you get to sit down at a desk), you get much more support from other departments, there is more opportunity for personal development, the jobs offered are more intellectually stimulating and there is more opportunity for horizontal and vertical movement.

The positives I have listed about pharmaceutical industry are not intended to encourage high school students to chose pharmacy - It is very difficult to get into pharmaceutical industry (there are not many jobs available - i'd say out of 200 graduates, 1-3 pharmacy students will get a job in industry in their 1st year after qualification) and again doctors have more power here - to be a medical director of a unit within the medical department you have to possess a medical degree.

PS. I can't give average ranges for pay because it varies so much - pay is often based on performance. Try doing your own research.


To anyone bashing Khalid for his comments - grow up and come up with convincing counter-arguments. The author's intention is to help prospective students in making career choices, not further chip away at the self-esteem of existing disgruntled pharmacists.

Thanks for your presepective


Thank you for a thoughtful and comprehensive post.

The amazing thing is that retail pharmacy is pretty much the same everywhere.

Similar to Australia, in Egypt there are restrictions on how close pharmacies can be (100 meters or more apart I think). This restriction does not apply to other type of retail (e.g. groceries ...etc.) Moreover, in addition to visits from various government inspectors (scales and balances, tax, health), they get visited by additional types of inspectors. I think someone counted a total of 7 types of inspectors who can fine or close a pharmacy, and the owner/operator has to comply with all those regulations.

Those reasons, among others, gave rise to the joking expression "ba22al nedeef بقال نظيف", meaning a pharmacist is merely a tidier/cleaner grocer.

At least in Canada and the USA, the salary somewhat makes up for those shortcoming. Not true in Egypt nor Australia.

Wish you the best with what you aspire to do, and thanks again.

I agree 80% with you but as

I agree 80% with you but as you Know we are forced by job oppertuinties and if I didnot chose Pharmacy as career what career can I Chose.