As existential questions go, it's a big one for pharmacists. Here's Dennis Miller's answer.
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.
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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.
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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.
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.
One day my district supervisor walked into the store and asked me why I wasn’t wearing my white coat. I told him the truth: “The air conditioner in this store doesn’t work very well.” He had a short, simple, direct answer: “Well, you still need to wear it [the white coat].” Obviously chain uniformity was more important than my comfort.
I don’t know about you, but when I’ve worked 12-hour days back to back, I find that the overhead fluorescent lighting sometimes became oppressive. The lights seem to be just too darn bright. A few times during my career, I took the drastic action of actually going to the circuit-breaker panel in the stockroom and turning off one row of lights in the pharmacy. I felt like a criminal for making such a bold move. I feared that my district supervisor would walk in on one day and read me the riot act.
Students graduate from pharmacy school with their egos elevated to stratospheric levels by their professors. Newly minted PharmDs graduate with a belief that they will be God’s gift to our healthcare system. Those who go to work for the chains immediately after pharmacy school very often experience profound culture shock as the realization sinks in that they’re nothing more than highly paid hamburger-flippers. In pharmacy school, their drug knowledge was their biggest asset. Working for the chains, their biggest asset is the speed with which they fill prescriptions.
If you are looking for creativity in your career, chain pharmacy is not likely to be the place where you will find it.
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Dennis Miller is a retired chain-store pharmacist living in Delray Beach, Fla. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. His books "Chain Drug Stores are Dangerous" and "Pharmacy Exposed" are available at Amazon.com.