Should boards address your working conditions?


The author believes that state boards of pharmacy should take steps to address pharmacists' heavy workload in the interest of patient safety



Should boards address your working conditions?

Issues of working conditions and public safety are not unique to pharmacists. Many nurses complain that unbearable workloads endanger hospital patients. Medical residents grouse that their long workweeks cause fatigue, putting patients at risk. Long-haul truck drivers who spend too many hours on the highway are clearly a hazard to the public safety.

At what point do employer/employee issues become public safety issues? Are nurses, pharmacists, medical residents, and long-haul truck drivers simply crybabies in search of cushy jobs? At what point does governmental regulation of the private sector for public safety reasons trump the rights of private corporations to control their workplace?

The pharmacy boards act as though pharmacists' working conditions are a private matter between employers and employees. Pharmacy boards seem to feel that if pharmacists dislike their working conditions, they are free to change jobs. Is it simply a matter of disgruntled pharmacists changing jobs?

One definition of a dysfunctional family is one that avoids addressing the most pressing issues facing it. For example, a dysfunctional family avoids discussing a father who is an alcoholic. In my opinion, pharmacy boards are significantly dysfunctional because they have failed to confront the most crucial issue facing employee pharmacists: working conditions.

Pharmacy boards say that they can't do anything about pharmacists' working conditions. The boards say that if pharmacists have complaints about working conditions, we need to form a guild or union. Are pharmacy boards simply passing the buck? Should employee pharmacists let the boards off the hook so easily? Or should we hold their feet to the fire and force them to address the immediate concerns of employee pharmacists?

Pharmacists are tired of hearing that the state boards' hands are tied by the organizational structure of state governments. The boards should stop making excuses and learn to think outside the box.

I believe state pharmacy boards are afraid to challenge the immense power of the big employers. What happens when some pharmacy group stands up to the big employers? The big employers or their proxies take you to court, as the North Carolina Board of Pharmacy discovered when it tried to address pharmacists' working conditions.

Even though I admire the North Carolina board's efforts to pass a regulation requiring a lunch break for pharmacists, I don't see how such a regulation would have a major impact on our workplace. No employer is so stupid as to say we can't take a lunch break. Many pharmacists choose to skip meals for the simple reason that we're so far behind in filling prescriptions that taking a break would put us even further behind.

I don't see how the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy can continue to say that pharmacists' working conditions are outside its purview when it sees that the North Carolina board has taken a courageous stand on this issue.

The state pharmacy boards, as official state regulatory bodies, should capitalize on their ties to state legislatures to address pharmacists' working conditions. Employee pharmacists need to hold the state boards and NABP accountable in their responsibility to protect the public safety. We need to put pressure on the boards to address working conditions the same way the boards put pressure on us to counsel customers, even though, too often, pharmacists don't have enough staffing to allow proper counseling.

A recent Auburn University study concluded that "51.5 million errors occur during the filling of three billion Rxs each year." If the main function of pharmacy boards is to protect the public safety, then, based on the occurrence of 51.5 million errors each year, the boards are doing a very poor job of protecting the public.

Pharmacists should realize that, collectively, we have tremendous power to influence the agenda of state boards. If huge numbers of pharmacists complain to state legislators about our boards, I assure you the boards will feel the heat and act accordingly.

By Dennis Miller, R.Ph.

Tthe author, a community pharmacist in Delray Beach, Fla., encourages feedback at Please also send a copy of your comments to


Dennis Miller. Should boards address your working conditions? Drug Topics Aug. 23, 2004;148:23.

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