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    Is job satisfaction too much to ask?

    Many pharmacists have sent me e-mails stating that the only thing they like about their job is their paycheck. They say they would never have gone into this profession if they had known in school what they know now. Many pharmacists have told me they would leave the profession tomorrow if they were capable of doing anything else that pays as well.

    Top Pick: Are pharmacists pill-happy?

    Know your priorities

    Your paycheck is nice, but your need for fulfillment and creativity will very possibly remain unsatisfied while you are working for the chains. Many pharmacists say things like “For what I’m being paid, I’ll happily ring up groceries all day long.” Can the allure of a nice paycheck sustain intellectually curious and creative people for their entire careers? For some pharmacists, it undoubtedly can. For others, it decidedly cannot.

    Editor's Choice: What I wish I had learned in pharmacy school

    Your career today is not a dress rehearsal for another career in another life. Do you want to spend your entire career filling prescriptions as fast as your hands and feet will allow, from the moment your shift begins until the moment it ends? Or do you yearn for something greater than a nice paycheck, something that satisfies your need for freedom, creativity, and fulfillment?

    For many pharmacists, this profession is a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. The nice paycheck allows pharmacists to live the lifestyle they want, even though they are miserable in the work that provides them that nice paycheck.

    In Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy-of-needs pyramid, at the top is self-actualization, not a nice paycheck. Self-actualization refers to a person's full potential and the realization of that potential. Maslow describes self-actualization as the desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be.


    One of the nice things about writing commentaries for Drug Topics is the creativity. I have the freedom to write about any subject that interests me, and I have the freedom to approach that subject from any angle. I can draw upon the sum total of my life experiences (63 years) to synthesize what is hopefully a coherent and compelling argument. Of course, the editors can (and do) reject some of the articles I submit, but I have great freedom in the creation of these commentaries.

    That feeling of creativity is something that was entirely absent in my career as a chain pharmacist. Creativity is a feeling that is foreign to pharmacists. You have the freedom to choose to fill Mrs. Smith’s prescriptions before you fill Mr. Jones’ prescriptions, but do you have the freedom to spend a half-hour teaching Mrs. Smith and Mr. Jones about the importance of major lifestyle changes that could lessen or eliminate their need for drugs?

    Which would have a greater impact on the health of your customers: major lifestyle and dietary changes, or major increases in the use of pharmaceuticals?

    If you want creativity in your job and you value creativity highly, don’t go to work for a chain drugstore. On the other hand, if you like to work in a highly regimented environment, in which you’re forced to work at maximum output for your entire shift, then maybe a chain drugstore would be a good fit for you.

    If you wanted to have a creative career, you should have been a writer, a singer, a musician, an actor, a sculptor, a painter, etc. — not a pharmacist. Remember Arts & Sciences from your college years? In choosing pharmacy, you chose a science, not an art. Creativity is more likely to come to arts majors than science majors, whereas a nice paycheck is more likely to come to science majors.

    Creativity eliminated

    The entire model for chain pharmacy is the complete elimination of creativity. Creativity causes chaos, which is the last thing corporate wants. The chain model is based on replicability and the repetition of the same tasks over and over. No matter where you work, at any store in the entire chain, you should have precisely the same experience. A pharmacist should be able to parachute into any of the thousands of pharmacies within a chain and find the same pharmacy layout everywhere, allowing pharmacists to reach full speed immediately, rather than needing a day or two to adjust to the new surroundings.

    A hallmark of a job with creativity is that you can pursue your interests in whatever direction you like or in whatever direction your discoveries lead you. Do you have any power to follow your interests as a chain pharmacist? If you feel that some change in the chain workplace would be beneficial, do you have any freedom to enact that change? In my career, the answer was an adamant No.

    You don’t even have the power to take meal- and bathroom breaks when you need them. And what about sitting? Can you sit when you want to? One day my district supervisor sent out a group voicemail in which he stated that stools in the pharmacy would be banned if he found they were overused. He said that stools should definitely not be used while we were using the pharmacy computer (i.e., the biggest part of our workday) because that created the appearance of laziness.

    Dennis Miller, RPh
    Dennis Miller is a retired chain-store pharmacist living in Delray Beach, Fla. He welcomes feedback at [email protected] His books ...


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    • Anonymous
      I am a disabled pharmacist who can no longer work do to a severe medical problem. Free now from fear of losing my job I can speak candidly. In short being a chain pharmacist is one step away from slavery. Let me list. 1-12 hour shifts 2-no breaks 3-vacation scheduling a year in advance 4-harassment from lecherous and themselves abused DMs 5-juggling 3 things at once while going as fast as you can 6-being the apologizer for the insurance companies 7-totally inadequate staffing 8-no training for new staff save on the job—which makes everything harder 9-a new hire if they have the character and brains takes months to develop 10-financial goals that are ofttimes impossible save for the few stores with favorable geograhic and socioeconomic locations 11-constant new tasks to undertake that managements calls initiatives and opportunity—i must laugh here. 12—ABOVE ALL ELSE—insultingly low pay for techs,a job that requires a great deal of skill and pays like a migrant picker 13-No collaboration in decision making, everything is from the top down 14 Your opinion or ideas are seen as an affront to upper management who expect us to worship their vast wisdom I could go on and on but who is to blame but ourselves however only to an extent. Let me explain. If we all worked in a huge office building together someone would pull a Spartacus and there would be a revolt and perhaps even unionization.Unfortunately we are all on our separate little islands suffering independently. Often we befriend the Pharmacists in near by stores and commiserate together. However if this is done without time and true friendship one always risks confiding in a tattle tale who would be happy to squeal just to gain points with a DM. If it was 1000 years ago or we lived in a different culture such slime would be dealt with most harshly. I can Dream. No professional organization or state board in my 30 plus years ever provided a counter to chain management and could care less about the unsafe and appalling work conditions. Organization is the answer but Im sad to say it remains a dream. Speak too loudly and be shown the door. Courage has been ever lacking in out profession. I have seen Nurses go on strike many a time for similar reasons. However we are managements cruel and lecherous utopia all trapped on our little islands alone and afraid. Good luck my friends. I hope before I die I see you all say “We have had enough and we are not going to take it anymore”--- Due to the current glut of pharmacists I don’t see it though. When we were in demand they just paid us off with higher salaries. There is a word for that and I was one of them to my everlasting shame. Organize! Do it in a group. Document and sue if harassed. Use a lawyer who knows the road. Otherwise live in misery. I thought when the Pharm Ds began graduating things would change. Its only gotten worse.
    • KentPurdy
      Anonymous...I "did my time" in chain pharmacy. I went to the chains when I decided that I didn't want to devote my life to a store of my own. Each place I worked started out ok, then got busier and busier every year to the point where it was, as you described, nothing short of slavery. In some places, store management would look at you like overpaid clerks, and they resented any salary differences. Another way out of it is to go to a hospital...preferably a small hospital. It was a godsend for me. I was having foot and leg problems from all the standing in retail, and this change enabled me to keep working as a pharmacist. Plus...I actually practice PHARMACY! Yesterday I was consulted to change the antibiotic therapy of a 12 year old girl with an abscess after an appendectomy. The surgeon feared that she would have to take the girl in for another surgery, and she was so sick she dreaded it. The patient had failed with her previous abxs. I recommended a change and the surgeon ok'd it. The girl is recovering without surgery. Now, THAT is what pharmacy is all about! In short, I concur with your remarks, and thank you for your contribution to the dialogue!
    • Michael VincentErcolano
      I agree wholeheartedly. We need to make it known to our state boards and professional organizations that we want action taken against the intolerable practices of the chains. But it starts with each individual pharmacist.
    • Michael VincentErcolano
      I agree wholeheartedly. We need to make it known to our state boards and professional organizations that we want action taken against the intolerable practices of the chains. But it starts with each individual pharmacist.
    • Michael VincentErcolano
      I agree wholeheartedly. We need to make it known to our state boards and professional organizations that we want action taken against the intolerable practices of the chains. But it starts with each individual pharmacist.