Money isn’t everything in this profession.
The year 1981 was a special one for my wife, Denise, and me. We graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy in April. We got married on the Fourth of July and took our first jobs as licensed pharmacists in August. Like all new graduates, we were ready to apply our new knowledge and patient counseling skills to help our patients. It didn’t take long to realize that the dream was becoming a nightmare.
After a couple months working with a major chain, I came home one night and told my new wife, “If this is retail pharmacy, I made a serious mistake choosing this profession.” When I begged for more tech help, my district manager said, “I’ve watched you work, Pete, and if you stop talking to those customers, you will have [a lot] of time to get my paperwork done.” As good fortune would have it, we later found 2 great jobs for an independent pharmacy chain. As I always tell my student pharmacists: “Your license hangs on the wall by a nail. If you are unhappy in your current position, find a new nail.” My license hung on that independent pharmacy chain’s nail for 26 years until I realized the chain was going to be sold to a major chain.
I found another great nail at a different independent pharmacy and had 12 great years of community practice there. I staffed the bench, and later on, I staffed a physician’s office 2 days per week. By most pharmacists’ standards, this was a dream job. However, I left that job to fill a position as director of clinical services at Nickman’s Drug store in Lemont Furnace, Pennsylvania. I chose this nail not only because of the owner’s interest in providing clinical services, but most importantly, the nail would be closer to my family. I had landed another dream job.
Did you notice that all 3 times I left a job, money had nothing to do with my career move? It was all about conditions outside the paycheck. The major chains have yet to learn this. Wave the big bucks in front of the newbies and get them signed up. After a short time, the joy of the big paycheck is overshadowed by lack of staffing, unattainable metrics, and long hours. As a result, these experienced pharmacists move on to lower-paying jobs with much more opportunity.
Brenda, a pharmacist who lives just up the lane from us, left her chain job for a pay decrease to be part of the West Virginia University community. She now gets to be a mom as well as a pharmacist. Mike, another neighbor of mine, left his job with a major chain shortly after he got married. He took a job with an insurance company doing medication therapy management for a few years and also became a member of the university community. He is now on the national circuit discussing opioid therapy and pain management. Like Brenda’s, Mike’s career moves involved a salary decrease for better conditions and opportunities.
I often compare the big chains to my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates develop players like Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole, Josh Bell, and Josh Harrison, who move on to bigger and better opportunities. The New York Yankees, Washington Nationals, and Los Angeles Angels are grateful to the Pirates for developing the future stars of our profession. By providing better working conditions, staffing, and opportunities, the chains could keep these future stars for their own benefit.
As I celebrate my 40th year in this amazing profession, I’m sure that nail No. 4 will be my last. My extended family is always asking me, “When are you going to retire?” My answer is simple: “When [I’m] darn good and ready.” I love this profession and get great satisfaction going to work every day. My best advice to students and new pharmacists: “Keep looking for your nail.”
Peter A. Kreckel practices pharmacy in Lemont Furnace, Pennsylvania.