The New Reality

May 15, 2013

Pharmacists report good-to-excellent compensation, yet stress levels impact job satisfaction

2013 ANNUAL SALARY SURVEY

Pharmacists report good-to-excellent compensation, yet stress levels impact job satisfaction 

Most pharmacists working in all pharmacy settings describe themselves as “satisfied” to “extremely satisfied” with their current positions, an attitude that can be attributed to low unemployment, good salaries and benefits, and annual raises.

This was some of the good news from data collected in Drug Topics’ 2013 salary survey, which tabulated responses from more than 1,400 pharmacists, including 661 community pharmacists, 454 hospital pharmacists, and 323 pharmacists working in other settings. The survey was deployed the first week of April and results were tallied in mid-April.

Job satisfaction was highest among pharmacists who worked in hospitals (83%), independent retail pharmacies (84%), and other settings (85%) such as academia, ambulatory care clinics, community health centers, long-term-care settings, and government pharmacies. However, only 64% of pharmacists who worked for chain drugstores reported being “satisfied” to “extremely satisfied” with their current positions.

Similar to last year’s findings, this year’s results show the ever-increasing workloads for pharmacists leading to more on-the-job stress levels.

The good financial picture

In 2013, most pharmacists are working full-time (85.8%), a rate slightly higher than the 85% reported last year. Only 1.2% are temporary workers or unemployed, compared to 2% in 2012.

Approximately 90% of hospital pharmacists who responded to the survey reported they were working full-time, compared to 88% of pharmacists working in other settings, 85% working for chain drugstores, and 74% working for independent pharmacies.

About half of the pharmacists in all settings are paid hourly, and more than half of these healthcare professionals make between $51 and $60 per hour. Approximately one-third are compensated at an hourly rate of $61 or more.

In the hospital setting, about one-third reported their hourly rates at between $51 and $60 per hour, compared with one-third of chain pharmacists, one-quarter of independent pharmacists, and 19% of those in other settings.

Among those receiving $61 per hour and above were 20% of hospital pharmacists, 25% of chain pharmacists, 11% of independent pharmacists, and 6% of pharmacists in other settings.

For pharmacists who receive salaries, 23% reported annual base salaries at $101,000 to $115,000; 44% were earning $116,000 to $140,000; and 12% made $141,000 and above.

The salaries reported in our survey were high among the hospital and chain pharmacists, with 24% and 20% reporting annual base salaries from $101,000 to $115,000, respectively.

In the $116,000 to $140,000 salary range, 44% of hospital pharmacists and 54% of chain pharmacists reported earnings, and in the $141,000 and above range, 15% of hospital pharmacists and 4% of chain pharmacists were receiving compensation at that level. Pharmacists in other settings also reported good salary ranges for these levels (25% at $101,000 to $115,000, 39% at $116,000 to $140,000, and 13% at $141,000 and above). Of the independents who reported annual base salaries, 21% earned $101,000 to $115,000, 32% earned $116,000 to $140,000, and 8% were at $141,000 and above.

Other income and benefits

In regard to additional income earned in the retail pharmacy sector, last year was a good year for pharmacists. Approximately 72% of chain pharmacists and 43% of independent pharmacists reported receiving additional income in the form of commission, bonuses, and profit-sharing. Only 34% in other pharmacy settings and 29% in the hospital setting reported additional income received in 2012.

The benefits that employers offered pharmacists in 2012 were good, with the majority of pharmacists reporting packages that included paid holidays, paid vacation, and health insurance. The majority of pharmacists working in the hospital, chain drugstore, or other settings also were offered paid sick days, dental insurance, life insurance, and 401K plans. Independents also were offered good benefits, but at a lower rate, with only 37% offered dental insurance, 32% offered life insurance, and 47% offered 401K plans.

For those who responded to the Drug Topics’ survey, in 2012 raises were given to 72% of chain pharmacists, 68% of hospital pharmacists, 60% of pharmacists in other settings, and 29% of independents. Most of last year’s raises were between 1% and 3%. Chain pharmacists (70%), hospital pharmacists (65%), and pharmacists in other settings (55%) expect raises in 2013, compared to only 30% of independents.

The right fit

Pharmacists working in the hospital, independent pharmacy, and other settings reported high satisfaction with their current positions. However, a higher percentage of hospital and chain drugstore pharmacists reported increased stress levels resulting from increased work volume, inadequate staff support, increased paperwork, and a negative workplace environment.

Almost 90% of hospital pharmacists reported increased stress levels compared with 75% of chain drugstore pharmacists. According to John Benson, PharmD, pharmacy director of Promise Hospital of Salt Lake City, Utah, workloads and stress levels have increased because drug therapy and medical care in general have become more complex.

“We continue to get more sophisticated in our understanding of disease and therapy of disease. There are an ever-increasing number of options to choose from to treat disease,” said Benson, who works for a small acute-care facility that specializes in prolonged hospitalizations. “So the complexity of healthcare has added to the workload with much more to know, monitor, and follow up on. In addition, the number of patients that we care for continues to grow.”

Because Medicare and Medicaid will continue to drive reimbursements for hospitals, Benson said, healthcare systems will have to continue to be able to function and perform with an ever-shrinking reimbursement.

Benson noted that he was extremely satisfied with his career choice. As a pharmacy student, Benson already knew that he wanted to pursue a career in hospital pharmacy, attracted by the level of engagement with patients, the ability to become more involved in drug-therapy decision-making, and the ability to collaborate with other healthcare professionals.

A personal connection

William MacDonald, BS Pharm, has been practicing pharmacy since 1970 and is a staff pharmacist for Rite Aid Pharmacy in Canton, Mich., a western suburb of Detroit. He too is extremely satisfied with his position; he has been working for the chain drugstore for seven years and says he knows about 80% of his customers by name.

MacDonald noted that pharmacists’ salaries have dramatically increased during his career. “There was a time when I thought if I could be making $20,000 a year, that would be great,” he said.

There are some challenges the chain pharmacists must contend with, such as a reduction in staff support due to declining prescriptions. “We used to do a high volume of scripts per week, but mail-order pharmacy has cut into that,” he said.

MacDonald and his pharmacist partner now work with two pharmacy technicians who split 36 hours between them. “We don’t have help after 4 o’clock, so the afternoon rush hour is the worst time,” he said. “But I just don’t let stress bother me a lot.”

Successful multitasking

Peggy Knight, BS Pharm, a staff pharmacist for Fruth Pharmacy in Gallipolis, Ohio, said that work volume is increasing as pharmacists take on additional responsibilities, such as immunizations, monthly inventory control, and medication therapy management (MTM).

MTM does consume a lot of time, she said, because of the need to identify opportunities for intervention, engage with patients, and contact physicians.

Vaccinations also have to be incorporated into the workflow. Sometimes if she is in the middle of an immunization procedure for a patient, she will continue to check a few prescriptions while the patient is filling out the paperwork. At times, she may have to ask patients to wait 15 minutes for a script to be filled because she is busy with an immunization.

In addition, inventory control has become an important task that now includes the participation of the pharmacist. After the occurrence of some pharmacy thefts, this yearly task has evolved into a monthly monitoring process in which she has to count the controlled substances as a step toward discouraging further thefts.

“It is difficult getting all the tasks done in a day while still taking care of patients the way you like to,” said Knight, who has worked approximately eight years for Fruth Pharmacy, a regional chain with 26 stores. “I feel more supported than some of my friends who work for other places.”

Because Fruth Pharmacy is locally run, Knight said, she can easily get in touch by phone with management if there is a problem. The organization’s management is very responsive to what is happening at its drug stores.

Knight is the only pharmacist at her store and works a 12-hour shift with three pharmacy technicians.

Before coming to this position, she spent 15 years as a hospital pharmacist and sometimes had to cover the hospital in the middle of the night.

“If the hospital was not staffed 24/7 [with a pharmacist], you might have to get up at 2 a.m. to mix an IV or to make a calculation over the phone,” she said. “I got tired of that.”

Passion for pharmacy

Despite the challenges of community pharmacy, including some level of increased paperwork, the majority of independent pharmacists who responded to the salary survey reported steady work volumes, adequate staff support, and a positive workplace environment - all translating into a passion for pharmacy.

Clinical pharmacist David Pope, PharmD, is very optimistic about working for an independent pharmacy where, he said, he has the freedom to develop, create, and implement new clinical programs. With access to the CEO and owner of Barney’s Pharmacy in Augusta, Ga., Pope doesn’t have to cut through several layers of management to develop an idea and see it through.

Another advantage to practice in an independent pharmacy, he said, is the ability to get to know his patients and their families. “You are a part of their lives. You don’t just dispense their medicines,” said Pope, who is also editor-in-chief of CreativePharmacist.com. “You are partnering with patients to improve their health.”

Specialties and visibility

Although work volumes at his independent pharmacy have continued to be steady over the last 10 years, independent pharmacies are able to compete with other drugstores because they have developed specific niches, whether compounding, clinical programs, diabetes management, or other specific patient services.

“Patients are willing to partner with me to improve their health through such things as classes, compounding, etc., even if they have to driver farther,” Pope said.

Community pharmacies, whether they are with chains or independents, want their pharmacists to be more visible - not behind the counter, but out front.

“The more pharmacists are able to talk to patients out in front, the more they will see patient change,” Pope said. “If you see patients come in with a high AIC or high blood pressure, and you are able to counsel them about their medicines and see clinical improvement, there is great job satisfaction and personal satisfaction that comes along with that.”

A window of opportunity

Faced with changes in healthcare, such as restrictive pharmacy networks, shrinking margins, and pharmacy benefits management audits, independent pharmacists might be expected to have the highest level of stress in the industry. “In every shadow of concern, there is a window of opportunity. Independent pharmacists are so resilient,” Pope said.

Pharmacy associations, such as the Georgia Pharmacy Association, the National Community Pharmacists Association, and the American Pharmacists Association, have been championing the power of community pharmacists. As the Affordable Care Act opens the door next year to more patients through health insurance exchanges and the expansion of Medicaid, community pharmacists will be there as patients come through the door.

“I think community pharmacy has room to grow in terms of volume,” Pope said. “There are no reasons for prescriptions to be diverted elsewhere. They can be handled by the local pharmacy.”

 

See the 2012 salary report.