Is there age bias in pharmacy?

March 22, 2014

Remember Goose Rawlings’ story in the February issue of Drug Topics, the one about the young pharm school graduate who thought older pharmacists should step aside and leave their jobs to new PharmDs? Boy, did we get mail.

When we published “They shoot horses, don’t they?” by Jim “Goose” Rawlings in the February issue of Drug Topics, we did not foresee the degree of reaction it would unleash. However, Goose’s story of the young pharmacy school graduate who thought older pharmacists should step aside and leave their jobs to new PharmDs struck a nerve, and the e-mails have been coming in ever since. Here's what your fellow pharms are saying.       

Many middle-aged pharmacists wrote to tell us about on-the-job - or end-of-job - experiences that they attribute to age discrimination. However, others said that they were chosen for positions of responsibility later in life precisely because of their years of experience.

Some said that in spite of the challenges, they are making the best of difficult work situations because the satisfaction of work well done continues to drive them.

A few young PharmDs wrote to say how much they appreciated older pharmacists as exemplars and mentors.

And two 83-year-olds wrote in to say they’re still very active, thank you very much, and having a blast. One of the latter told us about a fellow pharmacist, now 90, who finally retired a few years ago and had a hard time persuading his employer to let him leave.

As you can see, reactions to this column ran the gamut. We figure you’ll find them as interesting as we did, so we have gathered as many as possible below. If you have a comment of your own to add to this discussion, send it to drugtopics@advanstar.com and we will share it with your fellow readers in an upcoming issue of the magazine.

If you have more than a brief comment in mind, send us an opinion piece of your own, for future posting to the DT Blog.

 

Recent arrivals

Why work if you don’t have to?

I believe this topic is so important and so controversial. As a new grad, I can see both sides so clearly. I think the intern was very disrespectful in her wording and attitude, but I understand what she was TRYING to say.

My "generation" of graduates is so in debt and so exhausted and so worried about finding a job (it took me almost half a year of intense searching to land ONE offer) that we're desperate. 

We're also so surrounded by "entertainment" - TV, cell phones, internet, bars/clubs/festivals - that it befuddles us why anyone would WANT to work past the age of retirement. This is especially so for PharmDs looking at non-PharmDs. If we didn't have $100,000+ worth of student loans and were therefore able to save our pharmacist salaries for decades, most of us would retire as soon as we were able to get Social Security and Medicare!

I hear every day how pharmacists can't wait to be part-time or to retire, and this is coming from 20- and 30-somethings! I am lucky enough to LOVE my job (how many pharmacists can say that?), and I would retire tomorrow if I could … to be with my family, to relax, to enjoy life. With smart phones and tablets, cable TV and the internet, I would never pine for work. Completely different generational mentality!

All that being said, I very much respect the knowledge and abilities of older pharmacists. Unfortunately, there are some who simply cannot keep up with the technology and pace, to the point where they become a "hindrance" to the company. This is sad, and speaks more to the "corporatization" of pharmacy as opposed to true ability.

I personally greatly respected my older preceptors and their knowledge. I learned vast amounts of information from them that I still use. "Go retire so I can work" would sneak into the back of my mind every once in a while, but it stemmed from the above-mentioned desperation I felt at not being able to find employment, coupled with my inability to understand why someone would NOT want to retire. 

I can only hope that when I'm retirement age, I find my job SO fulfilling, that I would choose to work over surfing the internet ... or whatever other crazy thing is out there in 35 years!

To all the preceptors, out there, thank you SO much - yes, even the ones ready for pasture. This "kid" DOES want the opportunity to be a preceptor someday soon and to emulate these amazing role models!

Anonymity Requested

 

Don’t have to, don’t want to

I have put in 40 years and am an “older” pharmacist. I agree with Goose’s premise, but I look at the situation from a different view.

I worked because I NEEDED to, not because I WANTED to. Now, in my old age, I find I do not NEED to work nor do I WANT to work.

I’m gone 5/2/2014. I have no regrets and I do not plan on looking back.

Chris Gorczycki, RPh
Akron, Ohio

 

Still love it

What a thought-provoking article that was. And, yes, I too take this subject personally.

Not too long ago I was in the final interview stage for a hospital pharmacy director position with only my "lowly" RPh status, and what led to my being considered? Years and years of experience.

Young graduates now have PharmD degrees, residencies, certifications, etc., but "experience" has to be earned. And nothing will be handed to them on a "silver platter."

Currently, I am a pharmacy supervisor at a very busy community hospital. My staff has three pharmacists above retirement age, with myself the oldest. In addition, we have four more pharmacists in their 50s. We also have our contingent of younger pharmacists and new grads, all trying to gain the knowledge that their older peers possess.

I work 50 hours a week and have done so for most of my career; I work evenings; I work every other weekend. Our younger staff members often ask me how I do it.

I respond that this is "play time" and I will continue to do so as long as I remain productive and as long as I still like my job.

A while back an acquaintance told me about his uncle, who worked at a clinic pharmacy for a few morning hours three days a week at the age of 93. Maybe that will be me. I love pharmacy and have convinced numerous people to go into the profession, and I still do that today.

In the meantime, a word to younger pharmacists who feel that older pharmacists should step aside and give them a chance: FIND YOUR POSITION THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY... EARN IT.

Charles Gawronski, RPh
Palatine, Ill.

52 years and out

My experience is different from that of James Rawlings. I am choosing to retire in August 2014, when my current license expires. That means I will have practiced pharmacy for 52 years, the last half as a hospital pharmacist. There has been no suggestion that it is "about time" for me to make room for a younger PharmD.

Kathleen Haimov, RPh
Seal Beach, Calif.

 

Been there, done that, got the whitecoat

I started to work in the drugstore in 1941, at the age of 10, at Walgreens.

My father got his license in 1924 with five years’ experience and passing the board. I got my license when I graduated in1953 with four years of school (Walgreens put me through pharmacy school) and a BS degree. My internship was anything I did after the age of 15, so being a soda jerk counted. I worked for Walgreens until I opened my own store in 1958.

I sold in 1981 because I could see what the insurance companies were going to do to pharmacy. (Back then, I was able to sell.) I went to work for a small chain; in 1993 they sold 25 stores to a larger chain for the same reason.

I worked full-time until age 65; then I worked as much as Social Security would allow me without penalty until age 75. I got my PharmD in 2003.

I am now 83. I keep my license up and do 150 hours of CE a year. I would have no problem finding work.

My first four years out of school, the record in our store was 35 scripts for two pharmacists working from 7 a.m. till midnight. Last time I worked, I did 350 on my shift alone. Management of the big chains wants production with as little help as it can get by with.

My old customers said they miss me, as I used to talk to them, and pharmacists do not have time today. It’s a different world out there.

George Golish, PharmD
Castro Valley, Calif.

 

Doesn’t experience mean anything?

I thoroughly enjoyed Goose’s article “They shoot horses, don't they?”

I have been practicing pharmacy at a local hospital for 28 years, the last 14 years in a specialty field, an anticoagulation clinic.

Like Goose, I'm also a preceptor at our ambulatory clinical service, precepting two fourth-year PharmD students every six weeks, all year ‘round. Goose’s statement that the “employers and coworkers no longer value experience and the skills it brings” rings so true.

Case in point: Our ambulatory outpatient clinic is staffed by two pharmacists. As mentioned earlier, I've been managing patients’ anticoagulant therapy for 14 years. Recently, a student I precepted three years ago became my partner in the clinic. At our facility, this position is classified as “Clinical Pharmacist.” My position is still classified as “Staff Pharmacist,” even though I'm recognized as a “Clinical Instructor” by the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Is this pharmacist classified as a “Clinical Pharmacist” because of the “PharmD” following the last name, while I'm not because I'm just an “RPh”? Doesn't experience mean anything?

I agree with Goose that the future of older pharmacists sucks and that age discrimination is alive and well in pharmacy.

Jerry Lopez, RPh
Pueblo, Col.

The best education came from older pharms

I am an RPh from Pennsylvania. I may not be retirement age yet, but I have worked in a retail pharmacy since I was 15,which led to my decision to attend pharmacy school. 

I would like to tell anyone that I learned more from the older pharmacists I work with than if I had stayed in school for 20 years. Experience is worth more than anyone can imagine in our profession, as in many others. I have found, working with new pharmacists and students, that they may have more "book smarts," but I can run circles around them when it comes to knowing how to communicate the facts to patients.

A word to the younger PharmDs: Keep your eyes and minds open to what we may teach you about the real world.

Tina Sitler-Leed, RPh
Lancaster, Penn.

 

Do not lie down

In any other profession, Goose and I would be the elder statesmen. We would be respected for our knowledge, admired for our experience, and revered for our wisdom. Younger practitioners would compete to learn from us.

But alas, we are pharmacists. This means that 25-year-old MBAs think they can tell us how to do our jobs, and younger pharmacists want us to die and get out of the way so they can start paying off their student loans.

The profession has been sold out by ACPE, the NABP, the state boards individually, our professional organizations, and above all by the employers.

CVS calls us "legacy pharmacists" and fires us routinely whenever it is possible. Another Big Box calls us "blockers" because we are blocking younger, cheaper labor by insisting we be allowed to work.

We older, wiser, more experienced pharmacists must fight this tooth and nail. Get a lawyer. Keep notes. Do not be intimidated. As Don Henley said, "I will not lie down. I will not go quietly."

Mike Briggs, RPH
Lancaster California

It’s the economy, stoopid

I just had to drop you a line about this topic. Goose’s conversation with the young PharmD was similar to one I’d had several years ago, but with a twist.

The subject came up as to whether there might be an opening at a local pharmacy (which happened to employ several pharmacists) when a certain young student would graduate. At least one of the pharmacists in question was certainly at or past retirement age, but showed no signs of slowing down. The student’s comments were less “kick the old war-horse out” than “why doesn’t she/he retire so that a 'new' pharmacist can enter the job market in this area?

The real answer to this question was not so much that the pharmacist in question wanted to continue to be a productive member of the profession (even though I am sure that was true) but that, due to the economic downturn and a significant reduction in the pharmacist’s retirement portfolio, retirement was not a good option at that time.

I suspect this has been a factor in the decisions of many older workers (not just pharmacists) in the past several years.

As I see the situation now, things are still murky, what with the slow economic recovery we’re having, and with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. If the economy really picks up, retirement portfolios will certainly start to look much better, allowing many people to retire (although the opposite situation is certainly still possible).

Finally, many pharmacies are in a quandary as to whether the ACA  will be good or bad for the U.S. economy and employers, as well as for their particular store. Will more people have health insurance, or will the opposite occur? Only time will tell.

For the “older” pharmacist in question, she/he is still working full time, and no new opening has occurred.

Anonymity Requested

 

From the March 2014 issue of Drug Topics

Not shot yet

Re: “They shoot horses, don’t they?” [Jim “Goose” Rawlings, In My View, February 2014]:

I retired for 30 days at 70. It didn’t take. I’m 83 years old, working one to three days a week. Many places are very happy to have me do relief! It keeps me up on the current drugs, computers, etc. I have worked for various independents, chains, etc. I travel up to 60 miles and get paid mileage. Some of the best times of life, no bills to pay, just get paid for every hour! And no responsibility, GREAT.

I had knee surgery in July 2013 and they could hardly wait to have me back. I have plans to work to 85, all thing OK.

I’m still active in pharmacy: the Iowa Pharmacy Association, the school of pharmacy at Iowa when I can. I’m also very active on different boards in my town of Winterset, Iowa. I’m on the Madison County VA Commission, the Matura Board (a seven-county board), the Madison County Development Board, the Madison County Community Foundation Board, and the Madison County Zoning and Planning Board. I’m an active member of the American Legion and the VFW. I’m also an elder of the First Presbyterian Church. And I still do the timing of the football games.

So - never feel like a dead horse!

Hal Jackson, RPh
Winterset, Iowa

Railroaded

In the past year I went through a situation similar to the one described by Goose Rawlings. We had a new manager start - all of 29 years old - and she wanted all her pharmacists to be PharmDs.

I was in charge of investigational drugs for the hospital and we had over 100 studies running, but I didn’t have a PharmD so she wanted to get rid of me. She just started piling on jobs that had nothing to do with my studies, just to make it where I couldn’t get my job done. Then she would write me up when I couldn’t accomplish everything. In the first 10 months she was there, I let her give me a stress-induced heart attack. I had to get another job in order to get out of that situation.

Thank you for bringing to light the RPh’s plight. I think pharmacists have never been a unified group. I remember when I was a pharmacy student (pre-pharmD) the teachers thought they were so much greater that the BS Pharms. Then when they came up with all PharmD, I thought, how are they
going to differentiate themselves. That is when the residency was born. 

I don’t see any use for me going back to school for a PharmD or a residency.  I would practically be throwing money away. I am definitely on board with Goose; but I don’t know exactly how to make the most impact. Any suggestions?

Name withheld

 

Cried to see him go

My view of the older generation of pharmacists is very different from that of the student Goose described.

I am part of the younger generation of pharmacists who graduated with my PharmD and in my twenties already moved into a management role. Currently, I am still in management, probably one of the youngest managers of the team. Having that said, I want to add that I value my co-workers highly and constantly ask for feedback or advice from the more experienced managers.

Recently, we had a pharmacist who decided to retire after more than 40 years of service, and we cried when the day came. He made such a contribution to the department in so many ways that I only wish he had chosen to stay with us longer.

It is unfortunate that your student views the older generation so negatively. As you pointed out, one day she will
understand when she is in the same position. But don’t be too upset by her attitude. Many younger pharmacists appreciate the years of knowledge and experience that textbooks or residency can’t provide.

Vivian Young, PharmD
Houston, Texas

Try doing it in heels

I am a 60-year-old pharmacist and agree 100% with Goose’s article.

I have worked in hospital pharmacy for most of my career and have had both physicians and nurses snub me because I don’t have a PharmD after my name. They always asked to speak to the PharmD whenever I answered the phone.

But I have experienced something Goose hasn’t. When I first started practicing in 1976, physicians would ask for the man pharmacist when they wanted information. Think how that made a newly graduated female pharmacist feel.

Also, back then, I respected the older pharmacists and looked up to them for their guidance and expertise. These days the younger pharmacists just don’t seem to care about us, but one day, as Goose said, they will be in our place.

Sandra Propst, RPh
Eastern Shore, Maryland

 

Get a grip

Goose needs to get a grip. This shouldn’t be personal. Management’s job is to ensure that all staff meet or exceed the minimum requirements of the job, and to take action when they don’t. They need to be “age-blind,” “gender-blind,” and “color-blind” when they evaluate their staff. 

If the old dog pharmacist can’t physically or mentally measure up, it’s bye-bye Old Dog. If he can, then he should go ahead and show them his stuff. 

The alphabet soup after your name only gets you into the interview. After that, it’s how well you can do the job.  I’ve been a pharmacist for 43 years in June (I’ll be 68 this year). Most of those years I’ve been in hospital pharmacy. I also mentor fourth year students and don’t get a dime for it, just like Goose.  We both do it because we see the need and feel the obligation to pass on our knowledge.

We’ll know when it’s time. Good plow horses always do.

John T. Frank, PharmD
Sonora, Calif.

Framed

I worked for Rite Aid as a pharmacist and a pharmacy manager of a 24-hour pharmacy for 15 years. I stuck it out with them during those years, all of which were losing years. I was also a preceptor all of that time.  During those years I received the “usual” achievements, even “favorite pharmacist.” However, when I turned 64 years old they showed me the door.

But the way they did it is why I am telling my story. Instead of asking me to step aside so they could make room for a new graduate PharmD, they made false accusations. Rather than fight them, which I knew was fruitless, I left. 

I could have written Goose’s article,  It used to be said, “old pharmacists never die, they work the night shifts.”  Now there aren’t any night shifts. “Old pharmacists” are humiliated, their spirits broken by false accusations, so much so that the misery caused is neglected, with no shots fired.

Jim Ryan, RPh, BS Pharm
Salt Lake City, Utah

 

Only experience would do

Three years ago, at the age 60, I was chosen for my current position over three younger applicants because of my past experience. I have been a hospital pharmacist (when pharmacy IV production and unit-dose were just coming into vogue), a satellite/clinical pharmacist, a pharmacy owner (16 years), and a chain-store pharmacy manager. This clinic pharmacy needed to be upgraded and the hospital supervisors chose me for the job.

The Affordable Care Act has required this pharmacy to make dramatic changes, and I sometimes wonder how they would have been accomplished without guidance from someone with a broad background of experience.

Employees, budgets, and insurance issues are all important facets of modern pharmacy practice (along with clinical expertise). Asking an inexperienced manager to deal with them could result in a decline in revenue, resulting in fewer jobs for new, highly educated graduates.

I’ve yet to be intimidated by young pharmacists and I enjoy the chance to “educate” them in pharmacy’s past history and practices. Hopefully, they’ll understand that their current practice opportunities are due to past pharmacy practices, just as future pharmacy will build on current practices.

John M. Gagliardi, RPh
Reno, Nev.

McPharmDs face the future

I graduated from The Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science in 1966 and will be 71 this March. I have managed a large chain pharmacy, been a staff pharmacist in a hospital, and owned my own pharmacy for 14 years; I have a second career in real estate sales and still do part-time work in a busy independent store.

The problem quickly coming for the younger PharmD crowd is the incredible number of new pharmacists being turned out. There are twice as many pharmacy schools now as there were not too many years ago, all graduating brand-new Doctors of Pharmacy looking for those elusive “clinical” jobs they are trained for.

Most will spend their careers with CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, WalMart, etc., in what I like to call fast-food pharmacy, cranking out scripts as fast as they can.

In spite of that PharmD designation, an experienced 4- or 5-year BSc pharmacist can easily outperform many of the new breed.

Joe Golesh, RPh
Mechanicsburg, Penn.