In my previous blog post I mentioned a few things that had been in the back of mind since leaving the echo chamber, one of those being the increasing frustration of new graduates coming out of pharmacy school and being disappointed that the real world workplace was not what they expected. Was this just a nasty rumor?

I started internet research on “recent pharmacy graduate job satisfaction” and the results were pretty overwhelmingly negative. I found numerous blogs and internet discussions bemoaning the current situation that many recent graduates found themselves in, especially those who went to work in retail chain pharmacy.

Retail makes up more than half the jobs in pharmacy. It is estimated that between 60-75% of pharmacist jobs are in retail, so, it’s highly likely that a recent graduate entering a pharmacy career will end up in retail. Many of those involved in the internet discussions I reviewed swore not to go into retail and had their minds set on a hospital, academia or industry setting but discovered that opportunities in their desired career were limited or non-existent.

After reviewing over 100 posts on websites, blog posts and chat rooms here is what I found:

Disappointment 1 – “I will be a clinical pharmacist.”

With the academic focus being on clinical pharmacy many pharmacy students pictured their path being pharmacy school, residency and a hospital pharmacy job. Due to the limited number of residencies, there is a high probability that the only pharmacy jobs available will be in retail.

Disappointment 2 – “I’m going to be rich and successful.”

Pharmacy graduates fresh out of school command one of the highest starting wages or salaries of any healthcare professional with a comparable education. For the most part, many of the posts by the recent graduates revealed that, in fact, they had become a pharmacist because of the money. The percentage of their decision, for the most part, was 50% interest in healthcare and 50% of the money they hoped to make. Their calculations were they would have $150-200,000 in student loan debt, but with a salary of $100,000 that debt would be paid off in no time. The reality came to light when they received their first check and saw their take home was closer to $60,000, and most of this was needed to pay for every day expenses. When they took a closer look at their loan payment plan, they quickly realized it will be a long time before their net worth will be in the positive column. Those pharmacy graduates measuring success by how much money they will make are especially disappointed.

Disappointment 3 – “I will have ample opportunity to put my education to good use.”

Many graduates believed, that even as a chain retail pharmacist, they will be reviewing patient profiles, verifying prescriptions, counseling every patient, consulting with physicians on how to best optimize the patient’s care and optimize the drug regimen of every patient they see. This was their new reality:

  • The workload allows for no time to review patient profiles. No need to do that – the computer will “ping you” if an interaction is detected. Verification of prescriptions is definitely part of the job description, however the pharmacist’s workload is doubled because the pharmacy technician is interpreting the prescription during the inputting process, so the pharmacist must be careful to make sure the interpretation and input is accurate, confirming that the drug is appropriate and the directions make sense and then make sure the prescription is filled properly.
  • The workload makes it virtually impossible to counsel every patient. To comply with most state laws requiring counseling be offered, pharmacy techs simply ask “Do you want to talk to a pharmacist about your prescription?” Many patients look at the stressed face of the pharmacist and just say no thanks.
  • The workload limits the amount of time you will be able to consult with a physician. The choice needs to be made between stopping to call the doctor or falling behind filling prescriptions and letting the lines of patients waiting to get their prescriptions get longer. The reality is that the pharmacist will not even to speak to the doctor but more likely to a staff member who is not even a healthcare professional and be told that they will be calling back later. In the posts I reviewed, the numbers of call backs that actually happened were in the range 1-4 out of ten calls. Of the call backs that are received, again usually from a non-professional staff person, the message is frequently, your suggestion is appreciated but not accepted, or in some cases not welcome.

Bottom line – The reality for most of the new graduates posting on the internet – “I’m a glamorized drug dispenser” (their words not mine).

So, is this expectation versus reality conundrum just in the chain retail pharmacy world? I could not find this level of discontent on the internet of any other recent pharmacy graduates who chose different career paths – hospital, managed care, long term care or independent pharmacy. This begged the question – how happy are chain retail pharmacists in general? I began to research this question and quickly realized there is enough material available for another blog post, maybe even two. Until then, my quest to see outside the echo chamber continues.

How Happy are Recent Pharmacy Graduates?

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