I recently spoke with a pharmacist who wanted out of her retail pharmacy job. Aside from the typical complaints about retail pharmacy, such as bad hours and being poorly treated, she said,
“Everyone knows pharmacist salaries are going down. We are being replaced by machines.”
Her statement struck me for two reasons. First, it was very matter-of-fact. Second, this pharmacist seemed to have accepted that this was the future of pharmacy. Although I disagree with this particular pharmacist’s sentiment about the future of the profession, it did make me wonder whether there is a conspiracy at work in the pharmacy industry.
Before we get started, here’s a disclaimer: The pharmacy conspiracy theory that I am about to present to you has not been validated. It is the simply product of my analysis of industry trends, my personal experience and my knowledge of the pharmacy job marketplace.
Let’s Go Back in Time
You are probably aware that pharmacists are seeing a decrease in salaries and flattening pay over time. However, this wasn’t the prediction for the future of our industry.
In 2000, the Pharmacy Workforce Center released a report stating that there will be a huge demand for pharmacists in 20 years due to rising health care costs and an increase in the aging population. This group tried to read the signs and anticipated that the future demand for pharmacists would far outpace the supply.
Now, a short 17 years later, the supply of pharmacists has exceeded the anticipated demand. This has had multiple effects on the job economy for pharmacists, including:
· Fewer available jobs, especially in urban areas
· Elimination of signing bonuses
· Decreased benefits
· Decreased actual salary/wages
· Decreased offered salary/wages, especially for new graduates
· More part-time jobs such as floater positions, for which reduced benefits are offered
· Flatter salaries over a 10-20 year period
Despite all this, I maintain that pharmacy is still an excellent profession to get into, only if you take control of your career and do not expect to be handed a job. However, our industry is not without its problems. And, although some pharmacists are looking for a way out of the industry, I don’t believe it’s necessary to run for the hills just yet.
Who Benefits From Changes in the Pharmacy Marketplace?
Let’s think for a moment about who is benefiting from these changes in the marketplace. Certainly not the pharmacists, who are seeing lower pay, reduced benefits and flatter salaries during the course of their careers.
It’s the pharmacy executives, business owners and stockholders.
Allow me to explain: Hiring a pharmacist is a big deal because it costs lots of money. If you think about the average salary for a pharmacist plus benefits, you are going to pay well over $140,000 a year in any state in the U.S. If you run a business such as a retail pharmacy chain or a hospital, the easiest way to boost profits is to create systems that help you to eliminate costs—and pharmacists are a HUGE cost.
If you are a pharmacy executive who is responsible for hiring pharmacists, would you prefer to have more applicants or fewer applicants for your new pharmacy jobs? Of course, you want more applicants. The more applicants you have, the more qualified potential employees you can find and the less you can offer to pay. Why? Well, because more people are desperate for the few available jobs you have, especially if your business is located in a choice area.
Before you start making pharmacy executives the enemy, take a moment to sympathize. These people are running large, multi-million-dollar companies and part of their job is to figure out how to make the businesses profitable. And, like the rest of us, pharmacy executives receive rewards if they succeed at their jobs.
So, is it any wonder why pharmacy executives want more pharmacists in the job marketplace?
The Conspiracy Theory
What if pharmacy executives supported (even financed?) the Pharmacy Workforce Center’s 2000 report stating that there will be a huge need for pharmacists in the future? What if there is a bigger reason why pharmacy executives support new pharmacy schools that are popping up all over the country? What if these new pharmacy schools aren’t really intended to meet a demand, but instead to decrease salaries?
Makes sense, doesn’t it?
What we do know to be true is that many pharmacy schools receive funding from retail pharmacy chains.
But no matter what thoughts you have about big pharma, executives and ivory towers, you should remember that this isn’t the end of the world. The pharmacy profession will still exist in the future.
Although the pharmacy model may change, I believe that pharmacists will still have jobs because there always will be a need in the marketplace. No matter how many machines are made to perform some of our technical duties, no machine can take the brain of a pharmacist and help people the way that a human pharmacist can.
What You Can Do
Here’s your call to action: Don’t take this lying down.
Whether or not my conspiracy theory is true, you need to take charge of your career. You should be upset by the fact that salaries and benefits for pharmacists are down and full-time jobs are being turned into multiple part-time positions to keep costs low. Take that emotion and turn it into useful action, rather than spending time complaining about things outside your control.
Don’t be a victim and blindly accept what other people say will happen. Now is the time for you to take back your career and improve your circumstances. Here are a few ideas to help you get started:
· Network, network, network. Go to your next state conference and talk to the big players in your area’s pharmacy industry. Find out if you can help them or volunteer your time. This could lead to a new (better) job.
· Learn a new skill. Acquire a new skill and offer to provide it to other companies. Enjoy working with computers? You never know when a company may need a pharmacist with an information technology background. Have a knack for marketing? Offer to help a pharmacy or health system expand their social media presence.
· Develop skills outside of pharmacy. Fuel your creative energies in your spare time by creating a side hustle that you enjoy. Write a book, build websites, do voice-over acting or try your hand and blogging. In addition to giving you the flexibility to one day leave the pharmacy industry, you can make some extra cash.
· Create value at your job. Make personal and professional development your priority. Create new opportunities for your employer to make money, then ask for a promotion or a raise.
Gone are the days when pharmacists graduate from college, have a great job handed to them and continue to earn easy raises and promotions for their entire career. We live in a new era where pharmacists are having a hard time finding a full-time job.
If you want to maintain your standard of living or generate additional income, you have to take charge of your career, your finances and your future—starting today. Whether you decide to start a side hustle or hope to transition out of the pharmacy profession for good, check out our free PDF, “8 Ways for Pharmacists to Make Extra Cash with No Investment Costs.”
Whenever you feel tempted to give in to the belief that your job will be taken by machines in 10 years, remember that there is no replacement for caring human interaction in the pharmacy profession—and that only you can control your future.
Alex is the Founder of The Happy PharmD. He loves anime, his family, and video games, but not in that order.