Dear Drugmonkey

May 10, 2011

After reading David Stanley's April 2010 Viewpoint column ("The 4-second Rx review: Who benefits?"), Drug Topics reader and fellow pharmacist James "Goose" Rawlings sent David the following e-mail, which he has given us permission to share here.

After reading David Stanley’s April 2010 Viewpoint column (“The 4-second Rx review: Who benefits?”), Drug Topics reader and fellow pharmacist James “Goose” Rawlings sent David the following e-mail, which he has given us permission to share here.

David,

I read your blog and also your articles for Drug Topics. I am male, 57 years old, and have 34 years in the profession. I have worked in all phases of retail pharmacy, including independent, and now work in a hospital pharmacy. I have been here the last 4 years.

While I am discouraged about the state of the profession, I am encouraged by your posts and those on the other pharmacy blogs. Whenever I see a good one I print it and post it for my co-workers to read, keeping in mind that most of them have never worked retail. During my 34 years in pharmacy I have seen a lot, and I would like to share some things I have noticed or believe.

Your article on the Walgreen’s Power program caught my interest. I am an alumnus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Greg Wasson, CEO of Walgreens, is too. In 2009, around the same time this program was started, Mr. Wasson was named a Distinguished Alumnus of the Purdue School of Pharmacy. This award is given annually to several alumni who contribute positively to the profession. Walgreens contributes to the School of Pharmacy and has a very visible presence there. It does seem curious, though, that the university would laud the CEO of a company that is trying to eliminate jobs for their graduates.

Last year I received a phone solicitation from a Purdue pharmacy student looking for a donation. She asked if I had heard about Purdue’s new 7-year degree path to its Doctor of Pharmacy degree, starting in 2012. I reacted strongly to this, as I think 6 years is long enough for students who carry up to $100,000 in loans. I think the student was confused, because the school website still says that pre-pharmacy is 2 years. I’m confused also. Is pre-pharmacy at Purdue 2 or 3 years?

Where will this all end? Some universities now require a bachelor’s degree to apply to their pharmacy school. It’s just more money for the same job. My students tell me that Purdue is also recommending that they complete a 1-year residency upon their graduation. A residency is fine if you want to do it, but a resident’s pay is very low. Most students I talk to need to work and pay off those loans.

In addition to this, Manchester College in Indiana will welcome its first class to its new School of Pharmacy in 2012. Manchester is a small private school and will be even more expensive to attend than Purdue, a state college. The first class will comprise 70 individuals and will certainly fill up quickly. Manchester’s School of Pharmacy was established with a $35 million grant from Eli Lilly. I would hate to estimate what kind of debt these poor kids will have. Hope they’ll be able to find a job.

I work with several Purdue students and interns, and I can tell you that most of them want no part of retail. However, they have loans and they want to work, so they will take the retail jobs that are open and probably hate them. They hear at Purdue that they shouldn’t consider retail - this from a school that takes contributions from retail chains. But it really doesn’t make any difference; the job market is so tight, they’ll be working retail, and they know it.

As far as working conditions go at CVS, the other major player, things aren’t much better.

About 7 years ago I was in a program at CVS called their Emerging Leader Program. This is a training program for future pharmacy supervisors and district managers. While in training at CVS headquarters in Woonsocket R.I., I met with senior management at the VP level and above. It became pretty obvious that the only way they thought that pharmacies could become more profitable was to fill more prescriptions.

They thought that when all their automation was in place, each store would be able to do a lot more prescription business with the same number of people (or fewer). If you work retail, don’t get the idea more help is on the way, because it’s not. They were just looking for drones to regurgitate the company line. After being passed over for promotion several times, I left the program. The promotions always seemed to go to a younger person, so I got the message. A friend of mine at CVS said his DM was trying to get people to sign up. I got the impression they aren’t getting many.

The Board of Pharmacy in Indiana has quite a retail presence, but I have a friend on the board with no retail connections. The BOP has 7 members, but by law only 1 has to be a hospital pharmacist, and 1 is a consumer member with no connection to pharmacy. I’m sure the other 5 are retail people. My friend tells me the major chains are always trying to get the board to relax rules so they can cut staff. Indiana has a law that a pharmacist can only supervise 4 technicians at one time. The chains try to get this relaxed so that they can add more technicians without adding pharmacist overlap. My friend thinks this law just hurts the pharmacist and should be relaxed. I think that if this law is changed in favor of the chains, you will never see pharmacist overlap again.

I’m kind of jaded right now. I lost a friend of 35 years last week. He had a heart attack while working a shift at a local retail pharmacy. He could not be revived by emergency personnel. Just 57 years old, and he left behind a family that will miss him. I will too.

Remember what Winston Churchill said; “Never, never, never, never give up.”

Keep up the fight and the good writing, Drugmonkey.

Jim “Goose” RawlingsLafayette, Indiana

James Rawlingsis a senior pharmacist at a hospital in central Indiana. Many of his friends refer to him as "Goose," which has been his nickname since childhood. Currently he is working on a book about his childhood in central Indiana in the ’60s and ’70s. He can be reached atsnoozygoose@comcast.net.