Pharmacy in crisis


Pharmacy recruitment specialist Sue Muller says the staffing situation in community pharmacy is the worst it has ever been

As I sit at my office desk on a beautiful Sunday attempting to fill half a dozen locums that commence tomorrow, I reflect on the state of this industry.

It was only about 5 years or so ago that we were told that there was an oversupply of pharmacists. Now in 2019 the situation is the worst I have seen it in my 32 years in this business.

A day does not go past when we do not have calls for at least 2 emergency locums for the same day as pharmacists have called in sick. Where are the days when we used to pop 2 Panadols and go in rain, hail or shine? I would never in my wildest dreams have contemplated calling my boss on the morning of my shift and telling him I had a headache or a sore throat. How have we come to this?

It was common knowledge that rural pharmacies struggled to recruit permanent pharmacists but this has now spread to the metro areas as well. The obvious solution was to provide locums until a permanent could be sourced but now locums are scarce or booked up months in advance. The pressure it puts on our industry is enormous.

Community Pharmacy is certainly not the flavour of the month as far as graduates are concerned. I see two main reasons. Graduate pharmacists’ first choice will mostly be hospital pharmacy followed closely by industry roles.

What is the attraction? Money?

Secondly, pharmacy is commonly used as an undergraduate degree in order to study medicine, dentistry or anything that pays more than pharmacy.

Previously we did have the option of overseas candidates but pharmacy was removed from the skilled migration list. Short term gain, long term consequence.

Where does that leave me? Trying to pull rabbits out of a hat on a Sunday when I should be enjoying the beautiful sunny Sydney day.

More importantly, it leaves me trying to find pharmacists to fill the critical roles they play in our everyday lives.

Sue Muller is a pharmacist and founder of LocumCo, pharmacy recruitment specialists. This article, which was first published on the LocumCo website, was reproduced with permission  

Previous ‘My trust has been broken.’
Next Dosing on the agenda

NOTICE: It can sometimes take awhile for comment submissions to go through, please be patient.

23 Comments

  1. Michael Post
    08/10/2019

    Sue,

    Pharmacist locum rates are so low as to be insulting – effectively permanent rates. There are plenty of unskilled roles that pay the same or more without responsibility and without travelling all over the place.

    Permanent and part time staff are entitled to sick leave as per industrial relations law – it is inappropriate to attend work when sick particularly in pharmacy where we do encounter plenty of immunocompromised clients.

    I am sure you have clients that are owners that work their own business and need additional / relief staff. I am also confident you have clients that own one or several pharmacies that contribute little to their pharmacy staffing. Perhaps you can advise absentee owners to work their own business or sell up to someone that will – that may return some Sundays to you and provide stability to the community serviced by the pharmacy

    • Janelle Dockray
      15/10/2019

      How many hours is an owner pharmacist expected to work in their own pharmacy? That is if they happen to live in the same town their business is located ? Which often they don’t…
      Surely you wouldn’t consider asking the owner to work ?! Much better to employee a locum who is probably desperately needed elsewhere.

      • Paul Sapardanis
        16/10/2019

        The answer is none. An owner is not expected to do any hours in any pharmacies they own.

      • TALL POPPY
        16/10/2019

        Pharmacists like Janelle are now just beginning to figure out awful truths behind the industry. Good for you. Knowledge is power.

  2. Jim Tsaoucis
    09/10/2019

    re Emergency Locum pay rates:- Govt. has an obligation to provide a mechanism for the public to access medications and does so through the PBS which in turn basically subcontracts to Retail Pharmacy for provision of this essential service. ( Essential being the important word here) Hence Govt. should possibly pay something towards the wages of emergency locums, and I stress over and above, not part of, what the emergency locums are paid by businesses. Just a thought

  3. Shannon Mullen
    09/10/2019

    Hospital and Industry bosses don’t expect you to work while sick and other degrees and even trades offer much more career progression and income.
    I love my job but I’d seriously reconsider if was starting all over again.

  4. Philip Smith
    09/10/2019

    Who wants to work somewhere that you can’t get a locum to have a holiday or an unplanned sick day?
    Outside of poor wages is poor work life balance in rural communities working 6 days a week.
    Plenty of health jobs pharmacist can apply for with better pay, work life balance and career progression.

    PSA want $120k plus jobs as the norm by 2023.
    If they serious, they should offer free membership every year after that, this inflation adjusted target isn’t achieved.

  5. Paul Sapardanis
    09/10/2019

    Does anyone know what percentage of graduates remain in community pharmacy after say 3 to 5 years?

    • sally knowles
      10/10/2019

      I would be more interested in the number of women that return after having children. Short of being a locum, Im not sure I could do that to a regular business.

  6. TALL POPPY
    09/10/2019

    Surely, Sue, you must be familiar with the absolute rubbish pharmacists have to put up with daily these days? The ridiculous layers of extra work that have been woven into the daily job of a community pharmacist – QCPP, Medschecks, CI’s, Methadone, Websters, Nursing Homes, Sick Certificates, BP Monitoring, Pharmacy ID, Medadvisor just to name a few!
    Then there is the constant ‘Can you price match?’.
    Times have changed – and not for the better. The Golden Era of pharmacy has sadly past. Those lucky enough to have experienced it and made their millions (yes as employees!) can now look fondly back whilst the new recruits suffer, often without realising what the profession used to be.
    It’s also a fact that most pharmacists won’t recommend their own children to study pharmacy according to a study in the UK. The stress is too high for the pay. This is reflected here by the many pharmacists I speak to – most want to leave the profession! Good luck!

  7. Meredith Cam
    09/10/2019

    Hopefully pay rates improve with these shortages. I don’t blame anyone for getting out of this industry and I would never recommend anyone’s child to study pharmacy.
    There’s something in the mentality of pharmacists that makes us shy away from demanding to be paid more. I don’t see it with friends in other industries. We’re so busy trying to ‘preserve relationships’ and not have conflict with our employers (cause most of the time we’re working along side them) that we’re scared to make any demands.
    We all go for hours without breaks, often eating on the run, why do we have to be such hero’s? You can’t take sick days- the work just falls on yr colleagues so you force yourself to go to work.
    I’d be interested to know if anyone has any theories as to why collectively we’ve become so spineless? (I’m including myself in that!)

    • Paul Sapardanis
      09/10/2019

      Great reply Meredith. I know of employed pharmacists who will do deliveries on the way home in their time . This benevolence within our industry needs to stop. Its our living we shouldn’t be embarrassed about wanting to be paid a professional wage.

    • TALL POPPY
      09/10/2019

      This is a good comment. Meet some of the big bosses of pharmacy groups and you will begin to have a much broader understanding of the industry as it is today.
      By the way, if you account for inflation over the past 15 years according to the RBA records, pharmacists should be earning $50-$55/hr today and locums $70+ just to be on par. Else you are effectively earning a LOT less than 15 years ago. Good luck!

    • Magna Graeca
      10/10/2019

      Don’t hold your breath, pay rates will not improve. Your only hope is to get out while you still can and do something with your life that you enjoy….life is too short.

    • Janelle Dockray
      15/10/2019

      Pharmacists no longer seem to respect and value themselves?! and as such they continue on and say little. There is often no good, honest and accessible mentors for pharmacists. All support is tied into big business. So many have no insight into how community pharmacy really works and the funding models. Owners do not readily offer up this information to their pharmacists… why would they want their $26/hr employee to know what the business really gets paid by the govt!

  8. Red Pill
    09/10/2019

    This is only the beginning. When a pharmacist earns the same as a Coles shop assistant, they become less and less reliable and accommodating. Simple math really

  9. Bradley Thomas
    10/10/2019

    The reason my house is in constant disarray is because cleaners want pharmacist wages to perform unskilled labour. I won’t employ someone who hasn’t at least completed a graduate diploma in domestic duties. I’m yet to find one. If anyone knows one please comment

  10. Ex-Pharmacist
    12/10/2019

    As Sue alludes to, anyone studying B.Pharm to be a community (retail) pharmacist is stark raving mad…

  11. Magna Graeca
    12/10/2019

    No worries Sue, the next time I am sick, I’ll just go to work and spread my germs. I invite you to work full time at a community pharmacy because clearly you don’t. Nice work again pharmacists for not supporting each other….it is for this reason we are our own demise.

    • Janelle Dockray
      15/10/2019

      I don’t think Sue was encouraging ill pharmacists to come to work and spread germs. Just that taking a day off for a headache… well compare this to the pharmacists of the “good old times”. They worked 7 days a week and rarely took a sick day.
      However… it was their business so if they wanted to flog themselves then good on them.
      Employees well not so much. Why not get the owner to cover the shift? Or are they too busy sorting out their other 5 pharmacies or playing golf ?

      • Magna Graeca
        15/10/2019

        It really is a damaging stereotype to say that pharmacists are calling in sick with just a headache. Sue is blaming them for her having to work on a Saturday…..sorry to burst Sue’s bubble but us common folk work on weekends and we don’t complain about it nor place the blame on sick people. Honestly, we are organic beings not machines. I guess when they eventually replace us with robots then Sue wont have to work on weekends at all or any day of the week because she will be out of a job. Like seriously, I have people calling in sick almost everyday….it is REALITY

  12. Peter Mc
    19/01/2020

    It is common knowledge that pharmacists do not get paid wages appropriate to their skillset, and there is absolutely no career growth in retail pharmacy. I’ve been a retail pharmacist for the past 8 years, and have grown steadily more disillusioned with the profession year after year. In my situation I found that as I had more years of experience, my salary actually went DOWN. I don’t know of any other profession where, with more years of experience, you get paid LESS. Due to this, and the ridiculous working conditions (long hours, huge amounts of prescriptions to be filled/checked, etc), AND all of these “extra duties” that pharmacies now expect pharmacists to perform such as medschecks, sick certificates, etc (AND for no extra pay!), I made the decision to leave the profession, return to university, and start another profession that actually has career progression and rewards knowledge and experience with greater pay.

    • TALL POPPY
      19/01/2020

      Good for you! Pharmacists should be paid $65/hr+ accounting for inflation else you are earning LESS than you did 15 years ago! Many other careers have over-taken pharmacy for not only earning but also respect and prestige.

Leave a reply