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With horses, it happened when they couldn't work anymore. Pharmacists, not so much.
I love Westerns and I think life in the era of western expansion would have been fascinating. One part of a western that I enjoy the most is the relationship between a character and his horse. As you watch older Westerns, you can see a real difference in how the relationship between the horse and the cowboy was viewed. In earlier movies and TV shows, the horse was like a pet. Nowadays it is viewed more like an automobile: fix it if you can do it easily, but discard it if you can’t.
You know, shoot it in the head. It’s no use to me anymore. I’ll just get another one.
Don't let the door ...
The way older pharmacists are viewed is starting to resemble this relationship. Employers and coworkers no longer value experience and the skills it brings. The young stallions don’t think the old nags have anything to teach them.
Why do they think this way? There’s enough blame to go around, but let’s start with expanded educational requirements, residencies, and an increasing number of pharmacists chasing a static number of jobs. You can connect the dots yourself, and you can probably find more. We have many troubling issues in our profession.
A few weeks ago I had an interesting conversation with a student in her final rotations prior to graduation. I’ve been serving as her preceptor. Keep in mind that I do this on my own time and get paid nothing by her university, while the school gets paid full tuition. I do this not because I agree with the arrangement but because I think it is important to mentor. It’s what they usually ask the old dudes to do. The kids don’t want to do it.
Anyway, she was concerned about two older pharmacists, both past retirement age, who were still working at a local pharmacy. The reason for her concern? She wants to stay in our town after graduation, and she wants one of their jobs.
“It’s just not fair,” she said. “They have had their careers and now they need to retire and let me have mine.”
I explained to her that everyone is different and that people need to make their own choices about their future. I told her that some people continue to work and be productive until the day they leave this earth. I mentioned that just a few years ago, pharmacy employers were touting the fact that their employees could work as long as they wanted and many were working past normal retirement age. I also told her that she would be in their place one day and asked her if she would want a younger person forcing her to retire.
I don’t remember what else was said, but I can tell you, this wasn’t one of my finer mentor/student moments. I was somewhat angry at this point. I will be sixty years old next summer. This was personal.
I’m still angry. Has our profession now come to this? Are we going to put out to pasture someone we found valuable five years ago? Do all pharmacists with RPh after their names now have to worry about being sent to the glue factory? Are we going to put down pharmacists with decades of experience because they don’t have a residency? Who are we willing to let decide how long our pharmacy careers will last? Will that be determined by the number of letters after our names?
Until about a month ago, this old workhorse was old and tired, and ready for the pasture. Now I’m old, a little less tired, and mad as hell. I have seen the future of older pharmacists, and it sucks. Age discrimination is alive and well in the pharmacy world. I’m angry, and I’m not going to stay quiet about it anymore.
To the other old workhorses out there: How about you?
Editor’s note: Send your responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will share them in an upcoming issue of the magazine.
Jim "Goose" Rawlings is a senior pharmacist in central Indiana. E-mail him email@example.com.