I quit my job as a retail pharmacist just 16 months after graduation.
You may think I'm crazy for leaving behind my six-figure salary, but the paycheck was truly the only benefit of being a retail pharmacist. This job was affecting both my mental and physical health - needless to say I was pretty miserable. Which is what prompted me to write this post: I don't want other young students in pharmacy school to make the same mistakes that I did.
In addition to outlining what I did not like about my previous career as a retail pharmacist, I want to share below how I've started an amazing career as a pharmacy journalist.
So is being a pharmacist worth it?
To answer this question, I've outlined 10 things you must consider before becoming a retail pharmacist.
1. Student loan debt
Let's face it: college isn't cheap. Especially pharmacy school, which can total to either 6 or 8 years of school when it's all said and done. According to The Pharmacy Times, the average student loan debt for PharmD graduates amounted to $157,425 in 2016, which is an 8.8% increase from 2014.
I completed a 6-year program, but it was a private university aka I have a ton of student loan debt. When I was hating every single day of being a retail pharmacist I felt trapped by my debt. Luckily, when I chose to quit my job I was able to start pursuing my passions while still making enough money to pay the bills!
2. The long shifts
As a retail pharmacist, 12 to 13 hour shifts are standard. For me, I would have to leave the house by 6:30 AM to get to my 8 AM shift (hello, Atlanta traffic) which would last until 9 PM. On a good day I would leave by 930 PM. On a bad day....well let's just say I'd be lucky to make it home by midnight.
The job of a retail pharmacist also involves having to be on your feet the entire day. There are some pharmacies that have stools, but even if there is a stool it is almost impossible to sit down with having to run to the shelves to grab drugs, dash over to the prescription drop-off area to greet a not-so-friendly customer, then sprint back over to the verification computer to make sure the waiters are checked in the set amount of time. One pharmacist even said, “Walmart pharmacy does not even allow stools to be present in the pharmacy. In other words, if a worker is tired and wants to sit down, the only place to sit is on one of the spring-loaded footstools.”
While these long shifts may only be two to three times a week, they are brutal both physically and mentally! Did I also mention that there is no lunch break?
3. The dangers
The dangers can range from something relatively easy to deal with, such as an angry man yelling across the counter, “Why ain’t my Percocet ready yet?!” to actually being robbed. Yes, I have personally known retail pharmacists to get robbed at either gun or knife point! I don’t know about you, but I definitely do not want to have to think about that kind of stress on a daily basis.
4. EVERYTHING is always YOUR fault.
In reality, you have no control over the majority of the problems that people can angry about. For instance, let's say a patient's doctor prescribes a brand name medication (only because the drug rep is bringing the doctor free Starbucks and lunches, FYI.) It's not covered by the insurance company... and somehow this is the pharmacist's fault. You get screamed at for the medication being so expensive and not covered and all you can do is submit the PA or call the doctor for an alternative.
5. You have to take multi-tasking to an unhealthy level
As a pharmacist, you have to verify prescriptions, take doctor calls, make doctor calls, take patient calls, call patients to harass them, type prescriptions into computer, deal with insurance claims, consultation, ring the register, ETC. All of this multi-tasking takes away from what a pharmacist should actually be doing: focusing on how they can improve their patients' health.
6. Finding a good technician is almost impossible
During my short time as a retail pharmacist I truly only had 3 technicians that I could count on to get their work done the right way. It was really sad how often other technicians would call off or show up to work and make my job even more difficult due to their laziness.
7. Are you ready to answer dumb questions all day long?
While this actually may not be a bad thing since at least you can enjoy some comic relief from their idiotic question after they have walked away, you still have to be able to be professional and somehow find an answer to their question.
8. Everyone is always in a bad mood
People are angry. Always. Which I understand, to some extent. For example, one day a woman was being extremely rude to me, and I later found out that she was diagnosed with cancer earlier in the week. I understood why she was acting the way that she was. Then, there was a man that would be swearing because his Viagra prescription wasn't ready yet. It's people like him that made me ask - is being a pharmacist worth it?
9. You can't be your own boss
Working as a retail pharmacist typically means working for a big corporate CEO who does NOT care about you! It’s always: how many prescriptions did you fill? Are your customers 100% satisfied? Is your wait time 15 minutes or less? I didn't feel respected as an employee or even as a person by my DM or any of corporate. I never felt like I was enough, which led to feelings of depression and worthlessness that I allowed to manifest even outside of work.
10. Prevention vs. Treatment
One of the most significant reasons that I could no longer work as a retail pharmacist any longer was my shift in belief that healthcare should be approached from prevention standpoint and not solely rely on treating the symptoms of diseases. While traditional pharmacy schools (like the one I went to) teach the Western approach to medicine, I have found that my beliefs align better with the Eastern approach to medicine. What’s the difference? The Western approach clearly divides the health from the disease, yet the Eastern approach considers health as a balanced state versus disease as an unbalanced state. Of course, medications can be helpful and even life-saving in acute conditions, but I think diseases such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension should first be treated with lifestyle interventions. Overall, I just didn’t find it morally right to keep dispensing these prescriptions to patients without addressing the real cause behind their disease.
Is being a pharmacist worth it?
So is being a pharmacist worth it? I think the answer varies from person to person. I know some pharmacists that truly love their jobs. But for me, being a retail pharmacist was not worth it.
However, I do love being able to use my knowledge from pharmacy school to write this blog and work as a pharmacy journalist. It's rewarding to me when my readers ask me questions and actually value what I have to say. Even though this is not considered a traditional pharmacy career, I love what I do now! I want to encourage other pharmacists or pharmacy students that might be feeling the way I was (stressed, miserable, trapped) to be open to different types of pharmacy careers.