You can’t put a price on job satisfaction


Drug Topics' annual salary survey asks about salary levels and job satisfaction. Can higher pay make up for lost family time, lost peace of mind, and lost self-respect?

If you saw the cover of this issue of Drug Topics on your way to this column, then you know it’s that special time of year when the results of the annual salary survey are in. It’s the time of year when hard-working pharmacists everywhere lament being grossly underpaid or note in a few smug words that they’re at the top of the salary curve.

The salary survey and me

Kelly HowardMy own relationship with the venerable salary survey has been up and down over the 15 years or so that I have been reading Drug Topics.

As a pharmacy student, I used to wistfully thumb through the pages of this issue every year and dream of the time when I could afford to live without roommates.

Should I stay or should I go?

As a new graduate in the halcyon days of the pharmacist shortage, I used this issue as a reference point to determine a fair salary.

A few years later, as a floating nuclear pharmacist, I skimmed this issue with the smug confidence of a person assured of large annual bonuses and guaranteed overtime.

A few years after that, I found myself trapped in a job where I felt underappreciated. It did my emotional well-being no favors to be reminded on an annual basis that I was also underpaid. Every January it became my spouse’s job to intercept this issue at the mailbox and bury it in the recycle bin before I became aware of its existence.

Fortunately, those dark days are over, and once again this issue brings comfort to my soul as I look at the satisfaction levels and salaries of my fellow pharmacists and compare them with my own.


Numbers aren’t everything

Now that I have worked in a variety of states and a variety of settings, for varying levels of pay and with various levels of satisfaction, I can certainly say that I have learned a few things through the years.

For one thing, it is all too easy to get caught up in numbers. For another - as I constantly remind my PY4 pharmacy students and myself - you cannot put a price on job satisfaction.

Six tips for managing your manager

Most hiring managers will quickly bring up the subject of the “total compensation package” when they conduct salary negotiations with new employees. This refers to your salary, medical benefits, vacation time, and any other perks that may not have an exact monetary value.

Case in point: I am lucky enough to live along a beautiful coastline in a desirable area of the country, a fact that the largest regional hospital in this part of the state uses as an excuse to pay its employees approximately 75% of what is paid by benchmark hospitals slightly further inland.

Proximity to the ocean is undoubtedly beneficial to my mental health, but seashells and salt water will not pay my mortgage. I don’t work for the aforementioned hospital; I work for a hospital that provides me a higher quality of life and pays me roughly 40% more. Currently, my total compensation package includes excellent co-workers, an ideal seven-on/seven-off schedule, adequate benefits, a turkey at Thanksgiving, and a high degree of professional satisfaction.


Price and cost

If nothing else, I hope this year’s salary survey forces you think about the price and cost of your own current job. Should you have negotiated more aggressively? Is it perhaps time to ask for a raise? Or are you like a growing minority of pharmacists surveyed - more satisfied with your salary than with your actual job?

It is also important to evaluate what a job costs us. My current job costs me an hour’s commute each way and a permanent nightshift schedule, which, metaphorically speaking, are a small price to pay.

That nuclear job? Cost me a social life and a genial disposition, and may have increased my cancer risk. Not worth it for very long.

Is your job costing you your self-respect or valuable time spent with your family? If so, perhaps it’s time to consider a job that comes with a lower salary and a lower personal cost.

Until next January …

Kelly Howardis a blogger and a freelance pharmacist in Southeastern North Carolina. Contact her,, or on Twitter @PharmacistKelly.

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