Senior pharmacists: Too busy to retire

April 29, 2014

Who sez older pharmacists should be put out to pasture? Not these guys - they're too busy working to consider the possibility.

Hal Jackson tried to retire once. It was 2000, he was 70. A month later, he was back working relief near Winterset, Iowa. Fourteen years later, he's still going strong.

“If you look around, there are plenty of pharmacists who have been working 40, 50, 60 years,” Jackson said. “We don’t need to keep working, but pharmacy is what we do.”

There are no reliable numbers on pharmacists who continue working past retirement age, but they aren’t hard to find. In Lubbock, Texas, David Pinson sold his independent pharmacy after 37 years of practice, retired, and got bored. He wandered into a Walmart pharmacy and asked idly if they needed any help.

“It must have been tough day, because they hustled me right down to personnel and suddenly I had a job,” said the 83-year-old RPh. “I discovered I like being around these young pharmacists. They’re an inspiration to me. And never have I felt like they want me to disappear. There are too many practicalities - like the old-time docs who write scripts for drugs they learned in the 1960s and ’70s. I’m the only guy in the store who knows what they’re trying to prescribe. The younger pharmacists have the PharmDs and I have the experience. The combination is good for all our patients.”

 

"I love pharmacy"

George Golish, PharmD, doesn’t have time to work more than occasionally. The 83-year-old got his PharmD at 72 and still does 150 hours of continuing education. Every year. California requires 30 hours every two years.

“I keep my CE and my license current, because you never know when the need could come up,” he said. “I could work 10 days a week if I wanted to. There is that much need for pharmacists with experience.”

Charles Gawronski limits his work week to 50 hours as a hospital pharmacy supervisor in Chicago and a weekend staff RPh at a nearby hospital. At 71, Gawronski is the oldest pharmacist at both hospitals and supervises three others over the age of 65.

“I love pharmacy,” Gawronski told Drug Topics. “When people ask why I’m still working, I tell them it’s my play time. If you can’t have fun at work, where can you have fun? I work in a pressure cooker of an acute-care hospital, but all it takes is a joke to calm things down. If you can’t adapt, if you expect things to be handed to you, just possibly you’re not in the right place.”

 

"Start shouting!"

John Frank has been pushing clinical pharmacy for 40 years. A youngster at 68, he spends his days in direct patient care at a 75-bed hospital in Sonora, Calif. He routinely orders labs, monitors renal function, doses antibiotics, adjusts heparin, and reminds physicians that they can’t order vancomycin for Acinetobacter infections because it doesn’t work against gram-negative rods.

“If you can do that kind of clinical work in 75-bed teaching hospital, you can do it anywhere,” he said. “If you don’t like your work setting, move. If you’re in a chain that is pushing fast-food pharmacy, bite the bullet and say NO.”

Fred MayerFred Mayer has made a career of saying no. Now 81, he launched the Great American Smokeout 50 years ago, then passed the annual smoking cessation event to the American Cancer Society so he could focus more on his campaign against tobacco sales in pharmacies. He convinced independents, small chains, cities such as San Francisco and Boston, and, most recently, chain giant CVS. Mayer is president of Pharmacists Planning Services, Inc., and a member of the Drug Topics editorial board.

“We geezers learned an important lesson,” Mayer said. “What is best for the patient is also what is best for pharmacy. And if it takes getting up and shouting and raising a ruckus to do what is right for patients, why are you still sitting down? Get off you backside and start shouting! We have gotten tobacco out of CVS, but there’s plenty more to do.”

Fred Gebhart contributes frequently to Drug Topics. He is a healthcare writer based in Gold Hill, Ore.