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Confronted by overwhelming workplace challenges, pharmacists sometimes forget they have options. It's time to step outside the limits of habitual thinking and take a look around.
Mike SchuhAs clinically trained professionals, pharmacists have a hard time understanding retail employers and the decisions they make. We are here to make sick people well or improve their existing health, we say. Retailers only seem to focus on production, or the difference between last year’s sales and this year’s, or an improved gross margin, or decreased store or departmental costs. They don’t appear to value our clinical expertise.
Chain pharmacy execs are trained to maintain or improve the financial health of their organization, just as execs for any other organization, profit or nonprofit, must do. Regional and district managers are responsible for their “territory,” just as you as a pharmacy manager are responsible for the financial health of your department. Just as the pharmacist is trained in human health, executives are trained in financial health. In both cases, when the patient, whether human or organizational, suffers enough from bad physiologic or financial health, it dies. Period!
The chains are beholden to the company stockholders. They need money, as capital to create jobs, provide products and services, and to pay employees … us! We have to be productive enough to pay our way in an organization or we are not useful to it, and thereby subject to organizational extinction.
Profit is not a four-letter word. It is merely whatever funds are left over after all the bills are paid. More profit means more expansion of available products and services, more stores, more employees hired, and more ripples of the financial multiplier effect that expands the economy.
We may not like the way our organization handles our work environment, but that is what we signed on for when we took the job. Some folks like a brisk pace, filling lots of prescriptions and doing high Rx volumes. Some don’t need to talk to patients. Some do. Some want more clinical activity in a community setting than they can get in the context of chain pharmacy. If you don’t like the environment, why go after a job in it and then complain?
I know there may be a shortage of career opportunities in a given location, but in today’s economy, the increased competition for pharmacist jobs means that we have to be flexible in our choice of geographic areas anyway.
What should we do about the dominance of chains? Try going back to the future. To create the practice you want, open a pharmacy alone or with other pharmacists. Then you can keep the extra money to expand available products and services, buy more stores, and employ more people to expand your personal economy. Smaller practices have less overhead and can be more nimble in the marketplace by providing better and more personalized service. All chains began by starting small. Is this easy? No. Is it possible? Yes.
Only we can save our profession or ourselves from what we don’t like. If you don’t like the working conditions with the big boys, obtain employment elsewhere, start your own pharmacy, or organize with a union for better representation if you can sign up enough folks.
Don’t look to the pharmacy organizations. They are not unions. They provide professional services to us in our capacity as healthcare professionals, and the largest ones generally support all categories of pharmacy, not just the rank-and-file behind the Rx counter, but those who employ the rank-and-file or don’t work at an Rx counter at all. The organizations support us professionally as advocates, but they are not our personal legal representatives.
I suggest that we take a step back, look at the positives, and think about how best we can accomplish more diversity in pharmacy practice.
Right now, the best move is to support APhA and other pharmacy organizations that are working to obtain provider status for all of us. Should we become providers under the Social Security Act, I predict an explosion of clinical practice opportunities and almost infinite ability to choose how we want to practice, to take care of our patients as the clinical professionals we are.
Mike Schuhis a clinical MTM pharmacist in Jacksonville, Fla. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.