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    Which side are you on?

    David-Stanley, RPh
    The letter showed up in my e-mail inbox before the coffee could lift the morning fog from my brain. Reading something like this is far from the best way to start the day.

    I started as a pharmacy technician in 1997 and in 2004 decided to become a pharmacist. I knew it would be competitive, but with years of experience and a BA in my pocket, I got accepted to pharmacy school.

    In the last two years, the pharmacy I work at has cut the tech help in half, which means that our pharmacists now get to work 12-hour shifts by themselves …Onceflu season starts up, those 12-hour shifts become closer to 16-hour shifts, with no help, no bathroom breaks, no lunch, and no time to counsel. I personally have seen my pharmacist in the pharmacy with the gates closed well after 11 p.m. (we close at 8 p.m.), just catching up on scripts she had no time to fill during her paid shift.She ends up working closer to 60 or 70 hours per week, but she's only getting paid for 40.

    I am disgusted with this practice and with the state board just standing by watching the errors pile up. I am seriously concerned that I will be unable to find a job, and if I do find one, I'm even more concerned about what kinds of conditions I will be forced to work in. As a whole, I feel that pharmacists tend to be meek and avoid confrontation. This needs to change.

    By the time I graduate I hope a voice will develop that is strong enough and loud enough to speak for pharmacists and the patients who are suffering from this disservice. I would love to see a national union for pharmacists.

    Messages like this one show up far more often than you might think. I have been struck by the number of times people who send letters like this give the impression that they feel they are all alone. So let me be clear. It's not just your store. It's not just your chain. These types of conditions are to be found throughout retail pharmacy, and if you are struggling against them, you are far from alone.

    I was also struck by the line: "By the time I graduate I hope a voice will develop that is strong enough and loud enough to speak for pharmacists."

    After all, doesn't the profession already have an alphabet soup of dues-collecting organizations professing to be its advocates? As I've written before, by the very nature of its name, one would assume that the American Pharmacists Association would be looking out for the interests of practicing pharmacists.

    I decided to ask APhA what it would say to this intern.

    "I certainly feel for the situation that this writer finds herself in," said APhA CEO Thomas E. Menighan in a written reply. "If someone is feeling beaten up by the 'system,' no one can say they are wrong." He then quickly changed the subject to APhA's efforts to promote MTM and pharmacist immunizations, even managing at one point to work in the organization's slogan "Improving medication use and advancing patient care."

    Notice how there's nothing in that slogan about pharmacists. Such is the voice of our profession.

    "We have members on all sides of this equation. Our challenge as a membership is to unify," wrote Menighan, which I took to mean that APhA sees itself as representing pharmacists sitting in an office implementing staff cuts as well as those working unpaid overtime as a result. It is impossible to unify, however, when the interests of one group are diametrically opposed to the other. The pharmacist sitting in the office is interested in squeezing out another penny per prescription. The pharmacist behind the locked gate is interested in going home before midnight. Both cannot happen. A side must be chosen.

    I think APhA has made it clear which side it is on. I also think the other side will soon find a voice without it.

    David Stanley is a practicing community pharmacist in California. He can be reached at

    David Stanley, RPh
    David Stanley is a pharmacy owner, blogger, and professional writer in northern California. Contact him at [email protected]