Young pharmacists: if you’re not excited, make your own changes

young pharmacists: bored blonde pharmacist yawns as she dispenses meds

Young pharmacists and students who say they want to make a difference in their communities need to actually get out and explore the opportunities, writes award-winning pharmacist Samantha Kourtis

When I talk to pharmacy students at university, most of them tell me that they want to be a professional services pharmacist. They want to engage with their customers and improve their health outcomes.

And when I won Pharmacy of the Year, I thought most pharmacies were like this, and like my pharmacy: passionate about providing these professional services. But that’s not the case.

For example, when my sister was pregnant, I suggested she find a local baby clinic at a pharmacy. But not one pharmacy in her area – and she lives in St Kilda! – had any facility to weigh a baby or support maternal and child health care.

So a lot of the young pharmacists graduating now or seeking their internships can’t find a local employer willing to support them to implement that sort of clinic, or to provide professional services to support their patients. The question is, how do they find that kind of pharmacy?

But I’m not sure what the answer is, because when I advertised for this kind of young pharmacist, I couldn’t find one.

In my ad I talked about what we do here at Charnwood, which is really heavily focused on those professional services. I was looking for a young pharmacist who had get up and go, who wanted to make a difference in their community and the rate was well above award.

I advertised on Seek, which is supposed to be a great place to find staff, and didn’t get many applications – in fact no applications that we were able to continue our recruitment process with.

This was frustrating, because at the universities and every young pharmacists’ group people have been saying that there are no jobs out there, what jobs exist are at award wage and are all about standing in the back putting stickers on boxes, not engaging with the customers.

I went to a young pharmacists’ Facebook group and asked them about it to get an idea of why my ad hadn’t received a response. And the response was overwhelming: “that sounds like an amazing job, I’d love to work with you”.

A fair few people told me they were stuck working for award wage and didn’t get to do any professional services, so they’d love to get paid this much to do the part of the job that they actually love. Some were sitting on the award wage and their job satisfaction was just very low (and you get what you pay for – what quality of health service are we offering if that’s what we pay our pharmacists?)

The other comment that came out of the discussion quite a few times was, “If I was willing to live in Canberra I would apply for that job”. One person suggested that in my ad I should talk about how great Canberra is (and it is!)

So I think that a lot of these pharmacists aren’t looking outside their own back yard. Somehow, we need to find a way to broaden their horizons and remind them that there are hundreds of community pharmacies in our country who will pay well and want to employ young pharmacists who want to engage with their customers and make a difference.

But they are not necessarily where you live right now.

A young pharmacist who sits there getting paid the award wage and not getting the chance to engage with customers, who just complains about it and doesn’t get up and go look for another job in the kind of business they want to work in, is really just being lazy.

If you own a business and you don’t know what you’re excited about, it’s time to leave the business. If you’re going to implement a professional service, you need to eat, sleep and breathe that service, because they require a big investment in terms of time, money and passion.

And if you work for someone else and you can’t work out what in pharmacy gets them excited, it’s time to leave. If you don’t, you’ll never get a chance to grow and to make that difference you want to make.

Samantha Kourtis’ pharmacy, Charnwood Capital Chemist, was the 2014 Pharmacy of the Year. Kourtis was also named ACT Businesswoman of the Year 2014.


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  1. Anne

    An excellent article on opportunities for young pharmacists – or any pharmacists for that matter – how fortunate one would be to work in such as pharmacy.

    I finally retired my registration at the end of 2014 after 51 years in the profession (permanent part-time for 45 of those years or regular locums) when my current locum employer wanted to reduce my wage whilst they went on a cruise and I was to run the small suburban pharmacy with NO SUPPORT STAFF for 10 hours a day, no breaks, and steadily busy. Plenty of time for interaction, which I loved, especially with regular customers who came in on the days they knew that I was in charge, but a salary that was far less than any untrained shop manager would receive. I requested more to compensate for no additional staffing and was told that they could not afford it!!!!

    At that point I decided that enough was enough and did not renew registration for 2015 and the future.

    They cannot find anyone to take on a locum with no support staff as far as I know – who wants to be paid peanuts to take sole charge of a pharmacy they have never worked in?

    Their loss, my gain – plenty of time for my own interests now.

    I often just for fun, visit local pharmacies, especially the big ‘supermarket-style’ mega-pharmacies and ask professional advice. Without exception, I find the young pharmacists employed know absolutely nothing about the basics, let alone any more complex questions I may pose.

    I fear greatly for the future of pharmacy, with the salaries decreasing as the years move on, tell any youngsters of my acquaintance not to study pharmacy, it’s a waste of time, money and has no future – they won’t have to worry about paying back HECS fees as they’ll never earn enough to have to pay them via the tax system. They could earn almost as much as a shop assistant, probably more than the pharmacist as a dispensary technician.

    Anne van Heel, B.Pharm

  2. Jarrod McMaugh

    Samantha, I think this is a great article and a credit to your enthusiasm for the profession. There are plenty of opportunities for pharmacists to instigate change and ensure their patients get the best care, while their career gets the benefit of initiative, experience, and leadership.

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