Where are all the pharmacists?

With numbers of pharmacists apparently growing across Australia, Sue Muller wonders where they are all hiding

As I was scrolling through the pages of the AJP, morning coffee in hand, I came across the latest data released by the Pharmacy Board of Australia claiming that pharmacist numbers continued to rise during 2016. With more than half of these falling between the ages of 25 and 39, I couldn’t help but wonder, where are they hiding?

Nearly every day I speak to pharmacy owners who have posted jobs on Seek.com and social media and received little to no response. I hear of vacancies in regional pharmacies that stay open for months, despite their enticing salaries and extra perks (like free accommodation). And I know from my 30 years of experience in pharmacy recruitment that jobs outside major cities are harder to fill than ever before.

Sue Muller is CEO and Founder of The Pharmaceutical Locum Company (LocumCo).

So, after reading this data I am left wondering, where are all the pharmacists? And, perhaps more importantly, why don’t these young pharmacists want to leave their comfortable city life to try a job in regional Australia? Hasn’t anyone told them how rewarding this can be both from a career perspective as well as from a personal one?

Ask any of the older pharmacists who have owned rural pharmacies and have reaped the benefits of this lifestyle. They have bought properties, sent kids away for private education in the cities and now are reaping the rewards of their earlier choices. In the cities everyone is in a hurry and wants their scripts dispensed immediately but in the country you actually have the time to spend with your customers and can develop an ongoing relationship. You are truly valued as a medical professional.

So is it a Gen Y thing or something else? What are they afraid of? Earning more money? Being able to save more because they are provided with accommodation? Involving themselves in the extracurricular activities of a close-knit community? What are they afraid of missing out on?

Take the plunge. LocumCo currently has positions in rural pharmacies across the country.

Edited by Samantha Elsass.

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  1. rob

    “So is it a Gen Y thing or something else? What are they afraid of? Earning more money? ”
    Maybe the money isn’t really as good as you make it out to be Sue. Maybe something like 150k a year would be suffice? What health professional would work away from family and friends with a job satisfaction of almost 0 in a rural town population of few hundred? Imagine the sacrifices you make for a measly 30k if at most working in the country and then half of that is chewed up by tax. I think part of job satisfaction is MONEY. Maybe not 100% of it. But try it? I’ve got friends who work in rural WA and have been told by their employers that their salary is capped and they have only been employed for 12 months. They won’t be expecting a pay rise anytime ever? What kinda of benefit is that? Meanwhile owner is raking in all the profits and hasn’t set a foot in the door in over 4 years. I’m sure he’s earned the right too, thats not the issue. But I think the pay is quite disappointing and quite frankly not matched with the amount of work done. I could write more but I think you get the point.

  2. Sara Linton

    Ahhh yes, the classic dig at Gen Y from a Baby Boomer.

    “Is it a Gen Y thing?’

    It honestly boggles my mind that anyone, let alone Ms Muller, thinks that commenting on the age of a graduate is a useful way to engage in an open discussion regarding the reasons why regional positions are hard to fill. Imagine if she had pondered ‘Is it a female thing?’ in a discussion regarding the imbalance of gender in upper management despite a majority of female graduates? It would be an outrage! Yet Ms Muller appears to think that it is completely fine to discriminate against age or generation. In my experience, insulting someone is not usually a good start to getting them onside! And as a Gen Y, I honestly feel insulted by Ms Muller’s words. Implying that we are lazy by commenting on an apparent reluctance to give up a ‘comfortable city life’. Implying the absence of a ‘close-knit community’ for city dwellers (no evidence and just not true).

    Ms Muller does raise some excellent points regarding the benefits of regional employment, but completely avoids exploring the reasons why someone might not want to pursue this option. Is she really so close minded that she can’t fathom why someone might not choose regional employment? Why someone might not want to isolate themselves from their family or the community they belong to in their city? Why someone might feel like sending their children to boarding school is right for their particular child? These are just some reasons why some people feel like regional employment isn’t the right fit for them.

    Its almost as if this piece was just one big advertisement for some sort of recruitment company….Oh wait. Yep, that’s exactly what this piece is. AJP: why are you running advertising articles in preference to a balanced exploration of both sides? In a way that could actually gain ground on the issue of regional shortages?

    At the end of the day I can accept an advertisement masquerading as an article, but it would be just be like, totes great if you could refrain from stooping to Gen Y v Baby Boomers. Just once. No scrap that, always. Please stop doing this.

    • Daniel Roitman


    • Susan Elsass

      Sarah, thank you for your comment. I hear your point about the ‘Gen Y vs. Baby Boomer’ trope and I agree that it is not a productive route for engaging in meaningful debate. I think however, there is a distinction to be made between generalizing about Gen Y and discriminating against Gen Y (rhetorically speaking) and I believe my piece leans in the direction of the former. As I stated in the opening paragraph, the bulk of new pharmacists fall within the Gen Y age range and yet, for the first time in decades there is a shortage of pharmacists in regional areas. I want to understand the key differences in terms of peoples’ values, in terms of the economic and political climate and in terms of industry trends that could account for this shift as understanding these differences is, I believe, central to addressing this issue.

      Given my years of experience in pharmacy recruitment, I know that higher salaries, free accommodation, and a slower pace, were sufficient to attract pharmacists to regional Australia 10 and 20 years ago. This has obviously changed and understanding how and why is necessary in order to guide responses that seek to remedy the current regional shortages.

      Susan Muller (nee Elsass)

  3. Industry pharmacist

    They’ve all just finally passed the GAMSAT ….

    • Slim Jim

      This is the most obvious reason people!

      You do a medically-aligned degree such as pharmacy or nursing so you (for some MBBS, DM or BCh courses) get exemptions, and if you remain registered, you are employable as a “holiday locum” in your Uni breaks!

      Mind you, some “candidates” may have to do the GAMSAT at least 3 or 4 times before they get into a medicine course…

      And that’s also the reason why there are so many shitty doctors around these days!

  4. Greg Kyle

    Is it a Gen Y thing or not? Who knows! Whether it is or not is immaterial. It doesn’t matter what generation the pharmacist belong to (for the record, I’m Gen X & have owned a rural pharmacy … and loved it). The big point that should be made is that if a pharmacist is not adequately employed and is not willing to go where the jobs are, (s)he loses all rights to complain about a lack of jobs.

    • United we stand

      You misread the article. No one is complaining about lack of jobs. They’re complaining about no one willing to fill them

  5. Robert King

    Dear Sue,
    it would seem as if the answer to your question “is it a gen Y thing?” is too offensive to ask. Are we at a point where we cant ask generational questions? I mistakenly thought my 16yo was unique.

    You obviously asked this question because the statistics tell us that this large cohort is starting their community pharmacy careers, and that large numbers of this same cohort are being paid very low wages in the cities where the cost of living is at least double of that in regional areas. Was this simply too hard to hear?

    The simple fact is that community pharmacist wages are higher in the regions, even in large centres with great schools, facilities, airports, affordable housing, and yes, even the internet. To believe you might become “isolated” simply living in a regional area somehow implies you wont make friends or become part of a community. Yes, your direct family may still live in the city, but for most this is manageable, and you need to remember that you will create new and rewarding support networks wherever you choose to live.

    But to answer the question fairly – it is not specifically a Gen Y problem, its always been the way. It was the same when I started in the mid ’80’s and I cant see it changing anytime soon, especially with some of the regional Pharmacy degrees closing or reducing numbers. My own experience of starting in regional pharmacy was the best training ground and friendship creator you could ask for, and set me up financially to become an owner at a relatively young age.

    The answer is more complex, but it is part financial reward, being a little brave, trusting your own professional and social abilities to try something outside your comfort zone. Its not for everyone, but the rewards for moving can certainly be great.

    BTW – Anyone want a job on the Central Coast? Its hardly even regional !!

    Please call Rob King
    0417 279082

  6. Bruce ANNABEL

    Leaving out all the side issues Sue Muller, the experienced messenger, is right to ask ‘where are all the pharmacists?’ The bottom line is hiring pharmacists has become more difficult regardless of location. That’s based on my experience consulting with community pharmacy owners in city and rural locations in most states.
    Provincial pharmacies located outside the big cities offer very attractive hourly rates (often circa $50/hr) plus accommodation and some side benefits. Rural/remote pharmacies find it even more difficult.

  7. Ahmed Zeidan

    I would not work as a locum for $40 or even $50 ( $45 at max with LocumCo) , that is not ‘rewarding’ . not to mention the low salaries the pharmacy owners offer in regional areas.

    We can keep our heads in the sand and pretend it’s the employees’ problem ,but I believe it is the bad working conditions and low pay that have driven a lot of pharmacists to do other jobs.

    • Michael Post

      Hourly rate is not attractive. Short term or 1 day ‘ urgent’ locums , even same day request for cover 40-45 dollars per hour. Have locum agency commissions remained static over 10 years or is the commission eating into pharmacist pay rates?

      • The Cynic

        Found an old payslip (country locum) from 1997 six or seven years ago. I wanted to cry with frustration at how far we had fallen behind in our earning capacity.
        Hourly rate was $40 per hour.
        Fast forward to 2017…….

  8. David Haworth

    For all the banter back and forwards the question remains unanswered. Where are all the pharmacists? I must ask of the baristas I meet…… have you got a BPharm?

    • Karalyn Huxhagen

      i do and I make a mean coffee

    • United we stand

      You’d find a lot of them in medicine, big pharma or retraining.

  9. Nicholas Logan

    Is it too late for me to move to Dubbo Sue?

  10. Philip Smith

    So the answer is:
    Back at uni retraining,
    Time out having children,
    Working for Big Pharma,
    Working outside of community pharmacy eg Hospital.
    Happy in the city.

    The stats need to be broken down a bit more, than a bulk number.
    Many will keep their registration while doing one of the above.

    As other have said plenty of challenges to rural work that have not changed ever.
    Partners work, support from family, easy of time off, longer hours, no pay rate increase in 10 years. Career progression outside of the 4 walls of community pharmacy harder, networking near impossible, travel time to visit family.

    You can get a rep job or middle management job with Aldi for over $140k package and not have to leave the city.

    Everyone will have different motivation, but a 38 hour week $200k package with or without accommodation and 6 weeks holidays a year word be hard to resist.

    Can you point me to that job link? 🙂

    • United we stand

      Hahahaha… Well The author of this article got her answer. No more needs to be said

  11. amanda cronin

    The issues are:

    The enticing pay is still unattractive – it’s the same it was a decade ago. Lower wages mean double income for couples so both have to be employable in the region moved to.

    The double income needed to even buy a home in a regional town means childcare is required. No family means no free childcare or even helping out if your school kids are sick. You can’t take the day off for sick kids as the pharmacy will close. It makes things burdensome.

    Pharmacy Masters. People are becoming older when they graduate so are more settled in their social circle/relationships. I have always worked regional as I graduated single and 20 and chasing adventure and new people. When your 25 your less likely to be single and fancyfree and up for new experiences.

    Part-time work. More in the parenting age group so more at home at least part time parenting. This makes long shifts as the only pharmacist untenable for primary carers.

    The shitty wages are partly due to price disclosure/chemist warehouse competition and partly due to chains have strict wage targets and owners not being present. Real owners care about their staff and customers , faceless fake owners care about KPI’s and cheap wages often exploiting overseas student graduates needing a VISA.

    My personal situation is as a mother you don’t want to be the only pharmacist around. You don’t want to work where no locums are available as your kids may be sick or you want time off but the long hrs and 6 day weeks don’t cut it as a parent.

    I do work regional and remember having my daughter in hospital with septicaemia
    And having to go to work and find my own locum as I was already the locum. You want to go to school events and be a parent not be married to your job. You want to stay home when your babies are sick. You don’t want the burden which I often feel juggling commitments especially with young babies.

    If your young and single or your not close to family moving regional is a blast. I enjoyed my pre parent work very much and I married a local and have all the family support here and it is a nice town with nice people and I have made it work for me – these days part time with reviews as my other income source. I do find regional pharmacy rewarding but all the highly controlled franchises and faceless owners are spreading rural gradually eroding all that is good about pharmacy.

  12. Rose YBFitness

    “Is it a Gen Y thing?”. Doubt it. Would love to move back home to work, being Gen Y who grew up in the sticks. Female, 29yrs old, no kids so I’m not “settling into family life” like some 1950s housewife thank you who ever that was, but the determining factor is MARRIED. My partner would not be able to find the same or similar position that he has now. Country works if you’re single perhaps.
    It is a nice lifestyle if you’re thinking about it though. More time to play so country people have lots of fun and as a community too.
    I will say though, I’ve just accumulated 5 weeks worth of leave working in the City because getting it off was too hard for the people I worked for, they’re actually closing early today because I wasn’t fully replaced. Third pharmacy in and the same story. Imagine being stuck out in in the bush wanting a holiday. Can we deregulate yet? I feel we need business to be taken care of by people who aren’t in the Guild pharmacist-owner old-timer club. Maybe spotlight could run a pharmacy, my baby sister is a casual there, her salary is higher than mine and I’m a full time PIC.
    Here is a Gen Y expression I sometimes use to describe my career choice: LOL!

  13. Ex-Pharmacist

    When I worked in community pharmacy, my social life and family were more important than my work life.
    So quite simply, why would I ditch my friends and family for a few more dollars?

  14. United we stand

    In my anecdotal experience, I’ve found men to be more likely to pack up and leave for the bush than women.

    Now in the group of friends I have, around 70% of my male pharmacist friends only work part time as a community pharmacist or have changed careers all together.

    Having a corporate career is far better than the prospects of a rural pharmacist position.

    So the torch has been passed on to the female pharmacists to fill the positions particularly with the rising female population in pharmacy, which is obviously not working out.

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