Monday, February 2, 2015

Should You Stay Away from a Community Pharmacy Career?

A few weeks ago I was invited to read Swankpharm's blog post entitled, "Stay away from community pharmacy if you want a successful career" and offer my opinion.

This post basically says that if you're in pharmacy school, you should seek a career outside of retail. Swankpharm paints a declining pay scale for the future of retail pharmacy, based on the simple economic principle of supply and demand. With an increased number of pharmacists chasing after fewer jobs, those willing to work for less will get those jobs. Swankpharm sees a future where retail pharmacist salaries decline. As stated:

"In the past, salaries were competitive because companies had to offer the best salary to attract pharmacists since there was a shortage. Not anymore. The uncapped pharmacy student numbers has created a surplus and the big chains are loving it." 

I'm not sure I agree with that. I've heard rumors about new pharmacists taking fewer hours or a lower hourly wage, but I haven't seen it anywhere in my state. My hourly rate has only increased over the years. We're always about six months behind the bigger guys, but we do get pay increases. The only thing I've seen for sure is that sign-on bonuses are completely gone, except for a "moving bonus" offered to work in some obscure rural part of the state.

Swankpharm further says: "My advice for graduates is to try to secure jobs in hospitals or the pharmaceutical industry. At least there is a chance to progress up the ranks. There is no future in retail pharmacy unless you plan to open your own business or attempt to progress up the cut-throat corporate ladder in the big chain environment."

After working several years now for Goofmart Pharmacy, there really is no future for you in any retail pharmacy IF you wish to advance up a corporate ladder. And I tell you this from someone extremely educated. I have a Bachelors Degree in business management, an MBA from an extremely renowned university, and a Doctorate of Pharmacy from a prestigious pharmacy school. I also had years of experience in retail business management BEFORE I switched careers to pursue a pharmacy degree.

With all my education and experience, you would think upper management at my company would be interested in pulling me in for use in management decisions or at least for corporate consultation. In any normal company, human resources scours the employee pool to find top notch people already advanced in the corporate culture for career advancement. My company? One regional manager personally actually told me to keep the fact that I have an MBA to myself. 

I have, on occasion, presented various projects and analyses to my RPM and emailed copies to upper management. Basically I've shown them skills beyond that of an ordinary pharmacist. They're not interested in that. No, I've been completely ignored... almost. One of my best ideas was tweaked a little and then presented as a completely unique corporate directive. No mention or credit was given to me.

At my company, regional management positions have been given to regional managers that worked for competitors. Oh, we have very capable pharmacists in my region that would make great RPMs (especially myself), but the rare times positions become available they are given to people headhunted from outside the company. "Promote from within" isn't the norm. Career advancement? Not at Goofmart Pharmacy.

You might ask why I continue at Goofmart Pharmacy. There are two things going on. My friend and Twitter cohort Dave Walker can tell you about the "Golden Handcuffs" of retail. The pay is higher in retail and you get locked into depending on that pay scale. Hospital pharmacists typically make less, and once you've become accustomed to the higher pay (due to your personal debt load) it is hard to escape. 

The second thing is that my personal situation is cozy. I live literally minutes from work, which is right around the corner from where my kids go to school. Being close to work requires less money spent on automobile fuel and more time to sleep in each morning. I don't spend time commuting to and from work. And while I don't find my work environment particularly stimulating or rewarding from the Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory of Satisfaction, the aforementioned "satisfiers" are extremely appealing to me.

One of the classmates I graduated with worked for Goofmart Pharmacy for a couple of years and then a headhunter talked her into working for a local hospital network. She took a pay cut and transitioned from retail into hospital pharmacy. She busted her rear for years and advanced in her hospital from manager to senior manager and then to director. She is highly respected among her employees, upper management, and among other directors in her hospital chain. And for all her hard work and the long hours she puts in now, and after all that advancement, her pay is not much more than mine as a miserable staff pharmacist with miniscule management responsibilities.

So yes, the advancement possibilities outside of the retail world are much greater than that on the inside. And yes, there really doesn't seem to be much concern over how educated you are in retail. Quite frankly, big chain pharmacies and grocery pharmacies are run by people with little education. Why would they care about educated pharmacists? As long as you keep the numbers up and complaints down, upper management could care less whether you're "academically gifted" or not. 

For that matter, most of the "academically gifted" people I went to pharmacy school with ended up in retail. I'm not sure adding additional degrees is going to matter, especially in retail. It sure hasn't mattered in my situation. So if you want money, retail seems to be the way to go. If you really need the satisfaction of career advancement and the non-monetary accolades that go along with it, then pursue a career outside of retail pharmacy.

Regarding the "new roles" in pharmacy, I do agree that pharmacists giving immunizations is much more of a burden and much less a "prize" for the pharmacist. My company treats it like a cash cow and despite the increased workload, we're constantly told "we don't have people to send you" when we ask for more help. It appears that the company views MTM (Medication Therapy Management) in the same venue. As an example, somehow we're going to be expected to work 30 minute interviews of patients in during our overlap times. No allowance for handling it appropriately is planned.

For all my doom and gloom opinion, I do think there are career opportunities available out there for pharmacists. Once pharmacists are recognized as healthcare providers the doors will open. What those doors are remains to be seen, but it is a heck of a lot better than having no doors at all. Retail pharmacy chains will try their best to make provider status serve their purposes, but that's not what it is really about. I think our stance, as pharmacists, on this matter is to make provider status about the pharmacist and patient relationship, not about another revenue stream for the retail giants. That's why we must be driven and centered on the future of provider status. Our concern must stay focused on patient safety, not company profit.


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Anonymous said...

"Should You Stay Away from a Community Pharmacy Career?"

Yes. God yes.

Anonymous said...

You are fortunate not to have become jaded and cynical. And I mean that sincerely. However, I would urge anyone to stay away from pharmacy, period. Those "clinical" and "research" jobs are also drying up. You will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of borrowed money and years of your life and neither your company nor your customers will give a hoot. Provider status will only increase the work load and pile on more tasks to measure. The "patient relationship" is determined by 'how much does it cost and how long will it take?" Our customer survey does not include a single question about real patient care. For the past 20 years we have been told that pharmacy would evolve. I have seen that evolution and it is not pretty.

Anonymous said...

You mentioned that once an RPH is recognized as a provider or can prescribe medications opportunities willl open up. In Washington pharmacists are considered mid-level providers and are able to prescribe.Do you have any thoughts as to why this is not happening in more states and if it is,indeed,leading to more opportunities?