Why pharmacists deserve to be paid more

coin purse pharmacists paid more

As the role of pharmacists evolves, it’s more important than ever that poor pay rates in the profession are addressed, writes Dr Geoff March

Pharmacists are an important part of the health care team. Without access to quality pharmacy services, people in hospitals and in homes suffer: as it is, 1.5 million Australians suffer adverse effects of medicines, and there are 230,000 hospital admissions a year as a result.

Without access to quality pharmacy services, those figures would be a lot higher.

The role of pharmacists is changing. It’s becoming a more patient-focused role, moving towards providing additional services to patients both within the four walls of community pharmacy and outside those walls.

These changes are heralding an important step in the re-professionalisation process that pharmacy needs to go through.

We are seeing steps towards the concept of “One Profession” and “One Care Model” where the services provided by pharmacists are driven by the needs of patients, no matter where a pharmacist practises.

It involves the breaking down of the “Community Pharmacy”/“Hospital Pharmacy” divide.

It involves collaboration across all sectors with both sector pharmacists and other health professionals and pharmacists taking responsibility for optimising medication outcomes.

It involves taking any opportunity to develop pharmacy services where they are needed; for example aged care, mental health, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services, crisis care, palliative care and GP clinics, and establishing clinical handover between the tertiary, secondary and primary sectors of the health care system involving pharmacists following the patient across those sectors to minimise harm.

And these changes are likely to come at a fast pace in the next few years.

This means there are some new skills that pharmacists need to learn or refine. And with that added complexity comes new responsibilities.

Which is why now, more than ever, pharmacists should be properly paid for the role that they play.

If you look at the pay rates of pharmacists, you’ll find there are two stories: there’s a group of pharmacists who are reasonably well paid, particularly those in the hospital sector.

But the story in community pharmacy is very, very different. While there’s still some well-paying jobs out there, the growth in new jobs in pharmacy is coming from the discount end of the market: generally low pay, and on-the-award rates.

When compared to other health professionals, community pharmacists are not paid well. Many aren’t paid as well as nurses, and much less well than doctors.

Compared to other professions such as engineers or scientists, a pharmacist’s beginning salary is very low. According to Graduate Careers Australia, a pharmacist’s average starting salary is $39,000 per annum.

This is the worst starting salary of all university graduates.

And throughout their career, a pharmacist’s salary doesn’t keep pace with the sort of growth we’ve observed in other professions.

On average, a plumber earns $85,000 per annum; an electrician earns $84,000.

We can, of course, appeal to the goodwill of pharmacy owners to improve conditions for pharmacists. The decision to pay low rates is being made by people, after all.

But the low rates in the pharmacy award make that an easy decision to make. Right now, we have the opportunity for the first time in a number of years to make change happen, as the Fair Work Commission is overseeing a full review of the Pharmacy Industry Agreement.

We’d like to see a lift in those minimum award rates – a 30% increase across all classifications, as well as recognition for things like study leave and continuing professional development.

We’d also like to see payments for reimbursement of things like registration and professional indemnity insurance, which would bring pharmacists into line with the sort of conditions enjoyed by other health professionals.

Dr Geoff March is the president of Professional Pharmacists Australia.

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  1. Goki56

    The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia needs to place a cap on university students numbers. It appears that the number of students graduating in Australia exceeds those entering the workforce each year. Australian universities are producing out too many new graduates. Many young pharmacists can’t even get a placement to do their internship due to a severe oversupply.

    I think pharmacists have to copy doctors. The Australian Medical Association put a cap to medical school to make sure there is enough training spots for everyone and to keep doctor’s salaries high.

    It appears that the Pharmacy Guild represents interests of the owners and not the pharmacists or pharmacy students, as they are pressing for more university places to keep salaries low.

    My wife is a pharmacist and she has left her profession 5 years ago due to TERRIBLE pay and the gradual degradation of the profession. She earns more (significantly more) as an office based admin person (insurance industry).

  2. Anthony Ayoub

    I agree with everything that has been mentioned. I would especially like to also point out that the accessibility of pharmacists is a major advantage we have over other health professionals, and this is not
    emphasised enough. This is particularly true for pharmacies, such as the one I work in, where the forward pharmacy model is adopted and the pharmacist is directly involved with patients on floor. Despite my bias
    standpoint, I can confidently say that the satisfaction of clinical outcomes is far better achieved via convenient access.

    I don’t know much about capping universities via an organisation or government intervention as they are businesses that would prefer to keep riding the gravy train. Then again I don’t know exactly what can be
    done about this. I can only dream of a time where university spots become limited and the profession climbs over any obstacles, and we pharmacists are remunerated for the effort and study we’ve put in and
    continue to do.

  3. Sascha Polles

    Dr March thank you for the article, I must respectfully disagree
    with most of what you’ve written. I agree that pharmacists are an important part
    of the health care team but I think they already are being paid a fair wage
    (the award may be low but real wages are fair). I’ve advertised positions in rural and city
    Tasmania for over a year now at well over $60000 p/a for first year pharmacists
    and over $100000.00 for managers and have had very few applicants (less than
    10) most of whom were unsuitable. First year pharmacy graduates are paid poorly
    (which is debatable anyway) because everything they do has to be checked by a
    qualified registered pharmacist, and more often than not after their
    postgraduate year they want to travel or go elsewhere so someone else becomes
    the beneficiary of all the work and time and money put into them.

    I’d like to dispute your statistics too. According to the
    ABS (63060DO011_201405 Employee Earnings and Hours, Australia, May 2014) nurses
    earn as much as a pharmacist: $62972 for pharmacists and $63440 for nurses. A plumber earns $67600 and an electrician
    $89076. When one considers what’s involved in all those jobs …working in the
    desert away from home, or with your hands in the sewers, or injecting drugs
    into people’s veins… pharmacy starts
    looking like a sweet gig. The electricians charging $75 p/h own their own
    business have to create a client base, pay employees, advertise, pay GST etc.
    etc. I don’t understand why you’re
    comparing us to doctors, they go to school for twice as long and are have a lot
    more responsibility.

    Community pharmacy earnings are being severely squeezed by
    government cutbacks and competition within the industry (hospital pharmacists
    are next with the macro-economic situation we face in Australia over the next
    decade). It’s basic supply and demand a 30% increase in wages would price many
    entry level pharmacist out of the market, employers will just work more
    themselves and open for less hours.

    It’s not particularly helpful for you to stoke the fires of
    revolt at this critical juncture. I understand you represent mostly employee
    pharmacists but rather than focusing on what they should have, what their
    entitled to and what they must demand; why don’t you also tell young pharmacists
    to show loyalty to their employers, to work hard and to think about how they can
    contribute to the business/department they work for? Why not encourage them to
    seek out opportunities in rural and regional Australia where the pay is better
    and there is a higher demand for health care professionals. In my experience when people work hard and are
    prepared to go a little out of their comfort zone, in most cases, they are
    rewarded accordingly. Not blaming
    external factors for all our woes and seeing that we are the masters of our own
    fates could be a good first lesson for young pharmacists.

    • sprenz_01

      To be honest Sascha you are expected to be expected as opposition to this article because it’s all about improving work conditions for employee pharmacists. Pharmacy school is no walk in the park, it is hard work. To simply say that pharmacists are getting what they deserve is not fair, medical doctors should be paid more as they do study longer but four years of university plus one year of internship training is also a long time. Pharmacist award pay is disgraceful, in most cases. If you really do pay your pharmacists more that’s great but majority do not regardless of experience or extra training. All that will occur if pharmacy does not improve would be the loss of more experienced pharmacists to other industries as they get frustrated.

  4. M W

    I dont work in community. However they are the most hardest working pharmacist. They work through their meal breaks, they have to deal with whining customers, they get cheated out of overtime money, sometime even superannuation (easier when it used to be paid annually), the stress level is high, you have to pay for own education out of your own time. There needs to be government intervention here. Otherwise we need to form a union like the nurses to negotiate a fairer work conditions. There reason pharmacist employees are being exploited is because there is no strong union voice.

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