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    Which side of the line are you on?

    David Stanley, RPh
    I have no idea where exactly the line is. You know, the one that divides the 99% you've heard so much about lately and that elite top percentile who control and benefit the most from our economic structure, as those in the Occupy movement would have us believe. I do know though, what side I'd have told you I was on the day I graduated from pharmacy school.

    I remember, weeks before graduating, hearing a professor tell us that a pharmacist's life would make us comfortable, but if really wanted to be rich, we should have majored in business.

    I also remember that some people in the room laughed, and from the perspective of those of us in rural Ohio about to be turned loose in the era of the $300,000 McMansion, it seemed as if we had every reason to laugh. We were going to go back to our small towns and be among the elite of our communities — well paid and part of the business brain trust that ran things.

    Busted trust

    I settled into my corner of the state and took a job managing a pharmacy for a small grocery chain that had been built from the ground up by a local entrepreneur. Even though he had recently retired, his pride of ownership was still evident throughout the place, and that made it a good place to work.

    My second year as a pharmacist, I got a 10% raise. Shortly thereafter, though, the stores were sold to an investment banker, who, it was rumored, was mainly interested in the large pile of cash in the corporate bank accounts. Quality went down and prices went up. Gimmicks like a "200% produce freshness guarantee" were introduced, and customers soon realized they could double their money by taking advantage of the chain's lack of any effort to improve the fruits and vegetables.

    I managed to buck the trend, though; sales in the pharmacy department steadily increased as departments around me eroded. But the hard work of a lot of good people could not make up for what was happening at the corporate level, and around the turn of the new century, the chain filed for bankruptcy for the third time and ceased to exist. The investment banker who bought the place managed to walk away from the wreckage a very rich man.

    A new place to put a bonus

    I had seen the handwriting on the wall. I moved out west, took a job with one of the leaders in retail pharmacy, and got a sink-or-swim lesson in prescription-filling efficiency. It was exhilarating for awhile, and I took pride in being on the team of one of the busiest stores in the chain.

    Then we bought out the last independent drugstore in town and our business increased by 25% literally overnight. No allowances were made for the extra work that had to be done, however, and at times the line of customers at the prescription counter stretched the entire length of the store.

    After an incident in which another pharmacist filled a prescription for a 2-year-old child with nitroglycerin tablets, I told my boss that this chaos had to end and asked him what the plan was. He told me he would see about getting me a bonus if I didn't quit, thereby missing the entire point of the conversation. After telling him to do something that I think is anatomically impossible, I may have become the only person ever to quit a job because he was offered more money.

    Funny's not the word

    After that, my next position seemed like a walk in the park. We had an excellent staff and by and large were able to treat our customers the way people spending their money should be treated.

    Senior executives of the corporation, though, had found themselves on the wrong side of the law a few years before, in an accounting scandal that had devastated the company. Profits became scarce, and during her last year at the helm, the CEO who oversaw years of losses was paid over $4 million.

    By then, I didn't care. Reading about what was happening to those in the corner offices of corporate headquarters was like reading about life on some distant planet. Their world seemed completely unrelated to the world I shared with my co-workers, customers, and colleagues in the profession.

    Twenty years of watching their wheeling and dealing and the effects on those of us who fill and buy prescriptions have made it very clear to me.

    That 21-year-old kid laughing at his professor in that faraway classroom was flat-out wrong.

    I am the 99%.

    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]