Retail pharmacists vs clinical pharmacists?

48653728 - young female pharmacist talking to a customer at the counter pleasantly.

All pharmacists should be called clinical pharmacists, and to differentiate roles we should simply use the setting in which they practice, argues Alicia Martin

Earlier this year I was invited to speak on the panel at a pharmacy industry and bankers’ dinner in Hobart, to present the student perspective on the topic of attracting and retaining pharmacy talent in the community pharmacy workforce.

I knew that a lot of students weren’t particularly attracted to community pharmacy, but this was the first time I’d really thought about why. There are several reasons, but I think one of the most obvious barriers is simply use of the term “retail pharmacist”.

The National Pharmacy Students Survey 2017 found that 44% of pharmacy students want to be in hospital pharmacy in 5 years’ time, compared to only 31% of students who want to be in community pharmacy.1

This is interesting since the majority (63%) of pharmacists in Australia work in the community setting, compared to only 18% who work in hospital pharmacy, so student ambitions do not match the current workforce requirements.2

I strongly believe this discrepancy is due to the perception that community pharmacists are “retail pharmacists” and hospital pharmacists are “clinical pharmacists”.

We refer to hospital pharmacists as clinical pharmacists, and it’s often their job title. While it is true that they are clinical pharmacists, limiting the title to hospital pharmacists alone suggests that the roles of other pharmacists are less clinical. I don’t believe this is the case.

While the day-to-day duties of pharmacists in different areas of practice vary significantly, no matter where you are practising you should be using your clinical skills and judgement every day.

Students are very keen to use their clinical knowledge. No one wants to study for 4-5 years to then never use that knowledge in practice. By relegating community pharmacists to being “retail pharmacists”, students become disenchanted towards community pharmacy and struggle to recognise the significant clinical roles that they perform.

All pharmacists should be called clinical pharmacists, and to differentiate roles we should simply use the setting in which they practice, i.e. community pharmacists, hospital pharmacists, industrial pharmacists, consultant pharmacists, GP pharmacists etc.

Pharmacy students are very aware of the term “retail pharmacist”. Personally, I haven’t found that this comes from pharmacy academic staff at university, but instead has come from guest lecturers from various areas of the profession (including community pharmacists), and pharmacists that myself and other students have interacted with on placements, particularly hospital placements.

In addition, students may learn the term externally from universities. For example, the government and many private job advertising websites still refer to community pharmacists as “retail pharmacists”.

Recently it was advertised that the government is offering cash incentives to “retail pharmacists” willing to move to the NT for five years. While this is an excellent initiative to get pharmacists to the area, I can’t help but wonder if they would attract more people by using the job title “community pharmacist”.

I personally work in an amazing community pharmacy, with a group of pharmacists who use their clinical skills to benefit the health of our local community every day.

I will proudly complete my internship there in 2019, and plan to use my clinical skills and knowledge every day, so I refuse to be relegated to the term “retail pharmacist”. We need to collectively remove the term from our vocabulary.

Alicia Martin is a fourth year Bachelor of Pharmacy (Hons) student at the University of Canberra, and current Executive Director of NAPSA.

  1. National Australian Pharmacy Students’ Association (NAPSA). National Pharmacy Students’ Survey (NPSS) 2017. Melbourne: NAPSA; 2017. (This data is not publicly available)
  2. Health Workforce Australia. Australia’s Health Workforce Series – Pharmacists in Focus. Adelaide: Health Workforce Australia; 2014.

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  1. Jarrod McMaugh

    Great article Alicia.

  2. Paige

    Don’t get it twisted, though the clinical strength of your typical community pharmacist is fine. They don’t compare to seasoned well read clinical hospital pharmacists and that’s okay. We work in a varied profession with plenty of room for specialised practice. I gave hospital a go, 5 different settings of various sizes and concluded chart reviews made me want to rip my eyes out – and I wouldn’t be shocked if plenty of pharmacists share this view. Though the term ‘Retail Pharmacist’ isn’t wrong, its probably still more respectful and appropriate to refer to them as Community Pharmacist.

    • Jarrod McMaugh

      Paige, I usually read your comments with interest (even when I don’t agree with them) but this one I can’t leave without comment.

      The clinical role of pharmacists in different settings are clearly different, but the expertise required for both is the same (even if the content is different).

      I’ve yet to meet a hosptial pharmacist who has an expertise in their area that is “better” than that of a community pharmacist who has pride in their work.

      There is plenty of variability in how much pride people take in their work…. But those practicing poorly aren’t as common as perceptions would have people believe.

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