It was the winter of 1992. I had to hire a new full time pharmacist. I had already decided on the person I wanted. The store manager called me up to the office to discuss my choice. He indicated a thick folder. It was a paint-by-numbers company-policy thing that I was supposed to complete. It asked a bunch of ridiculous questions, such as: Would this applicant be tempted to steal expensive drugs for his/her mother who did not have the resources to treat her cancer? Yes or No.
I fanned the air above my head. “You’re not supposed to be smoking in the store.” I was actually resentful. I had quit smoking cigarettes two years before and I still dreamed about them.
“It’s my office.” He gave me a look. “My private space.” Take that, Plagakis, you smarty-pants pharmacist punk. “I can smoke in my office.” He stabbed the folder with his forefinger. The folder was yellow with purple letters: Entrant Pharmacist Evaluation Plan.
I held out my arms, palms up. “I have already made my choice,” I said.
“What’s wrong with the guy from Anacortes?”
“Nothing. She’s just better all around. She’s young. She comes from the aristocratic wing of the U.S. Navy. Her husband is a naval aviator.” Naval Air Station Whidbey Island was literally right down the street. Twenty-five percent of our business was with Navy families.
“So what?” He was ready to fight.
I chose not to. “She’s smart, John. Her presentation is impeccable. She looks like a professional.”
Eventually, the store manager dropped his resistance. Cheryl’s status went from temporary help to full-time staff pharmacist with a stroke of my pen. She turned out to be more than competent, and she drove the manager batty. He criticized her for wearing a skirt and blouse every day. When she demanded Doctor on her nametag, I expected him to foam at the mouth. He tried to mock her for wearing high heels even on 12-hour days, but finally slunk to his corner when nobody laughed. I never told Cheryl this, so I will now: You are my pharmacy champion, Cheryl.
I love women. No one has inspired me more consistently than women athletes. I love their intensity and passion. Abby Wambach doesn’t play with that kind of fervor for the money because there isn’t big money for female soccer players.
Male or female, pharmacists get the same money. Reminds me of disco queen Donna Summers: Nine A.M. on the hour hand. And she’s waiting for the bell. And she’s looking real pretty. Just wait for her clientele.
In case you haven’t noticed, the face of American pharmacy is looking more feminine every single year. How could anyone miss this?
I commented on this development in this column 20 years ago. I suggested that women pharmacists were more likely to work part-time careers and that this would contribute to the coming job shortage. That got me so much hate mail that my confidence was wounded. My editor assured me that hate mail was a good thing. Much better than no mail.
I remind myself of this when I am called despicable you. A few weeks ago, I was labeled a chauvinistic pig. A woman told my editor that the time for “JP at Large” had passed. I don’t even know what I did wrong.
If it hasn’t happened already, very soon our profession will be driven by women. That is, if they want to be the captains of the ship. Some may want to be family-oriented mothers first and pharmacists second.
A voice for women
Hang on! Look at me. I love you. I’m on your side. Please put away the slings and arrows. Facts are facts. One district manager told me that a particularly talented young woman was passed over for a management job simply because she had a family and was expecting again. I’m just the messenger. Keeping silent about these things won’t help anyone but district managers.
Apparently my crime has been bringing light to dark places. My intention has always been to be part of the solution. I admire female pharmacists. When I observe a woman working as hard as and more effectively than any man, I think again of Donna Summers: She works hard for the money. So hard for it, honey. She works hard for the money. So you better treat her right.
Jim Plagakis lives in Sarasota, Fla. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and cc us at email@example.com. You can also check out his website at jimplagakis.com.