We’ve heard some of the more outlandish theories, but what is life really like for a pharmacist working for discount giant Chemist Warehouse? Xavier Agostino gives us his inside view
My father came home late one evening and said to me, “I’m never going back to our usual pharmacy again”.
I was confused.
He then continued, “I needed to get my script for antibiotics filled and they were closed so I had to go to Chemist Warehouse because they were the only ones open.”
I was still confused, because this did not explain what was wrong with the local pharmacy.
When I asked, he responded, “Chemist Warehouse charged me a third of what I paid for the same antibiotics last time, asked me all the same questions and then some, explained the medication better and I didn’t have to wait around forever”.
Chemist Warehouse not only met my father’s needs and wants that evening but exceeded them.
That conversation took place four and a half years ago. I was a second year pharmacy student at the time looking for my first job in a pharmacy.
As a result of that conversation, there was only one company I wanted to work for. Three weeks later I began my journey with Chemist Warehouse. That journey is still continuing today. I would like to take this opportunity to share what I have experienced so far.
So why have I decided to share my experiences? I have decided to share them because I am afraid students, interns and young pharmacists are not exploring opportunities with Chemist Warehouse because they are being fed myths and false information from people in pharmacy circles.
The younger generation coming through the system deserve better, they deserve to hear the truth. I have been with the Chemist Warehouse Group as a student, intern and pharmacist and now Pharmacist in Charge and pharmacist in the Professional Services Team.
I have also worked as a pharmacist in our sister group MyChemist (where scripts are dispensed at regular prices).
So forget all you have heard. I will tell you what really goes on in the Chemist Warehouse Group.
Chemist Warehouse invests significantly in the professional development of their staff. The internal intern program we conduct is evidence of this.
The Pharmacy Board of Australia requires all interns to be enrolled in an accredited Intern Training Program. These programs usually involve an intern attending a few face-to-face sessions and completing online assignments.
In addition to this, we provide our interns with ten, full day, paid, face-to-face sessions where they engage with material relating to therapeutics, pharmacology, law and ethics and business management principles.
But wait, there’s more! Preceptors are paid to spend time each fortnight outside of work hours to assist their intern with their studies.
You will be hard pressed to find another pharmacy group who provides something even remotely close to that!
Some of the more common myths I hear about Chemist Warehouse are: “they don’t provide service,” or we “don’t have time to spend with the customer” because we discount scripts.
Let me put these myths to bed. Those peddling these myths often claim they “provide better counselling” than pharmacists at Chemist Warehouse.
All Chemist Warehouse pharmacists graduated with a Bachelor or Masters of Pharmacy like every other pharmacist, we are bound by the same code of conduct, professional standards and guidelines as all other pharmacists, all of the pharmacies we work in are QCPP accredited like most other pharmacies and all of our pharmacies get inspected by the relevant state or territory authorities like all other pharmacies.
Furthermore, we have a professional services department dedicated to not only ensuring but also regularly reviewing and improving standards and practices in our pharmacies.
So why do those not working for us continue to spread myths that our pharmacists practice to a lesser standard? Let me assure you, there is no relationship between the level of service provided and the cost of prescriptions.
There is a common misconception in our industry that a pharmacy business is either a ‘discounter’ or a provider of professional services.
These are not mutually exclusive. I am extremely excited and motivated by what Chemist Warehouse is doing in the professional services space.
During my time with the group they have executed multiple ‘fluvax’ campaigns. Our pharmacies were able to administer the influenza vaccination to over 200,000 Australians over the past two years. That number far exceeds that of all other pharmacy groups.
Our group was able to successfully deliver this healthcare initiative on a mass scale without the support those pharmacies participating in Government funded vaccination trials received.
Now that pharmacists have been given the green light to administer influenza vaccinations, we are confident we can double the number of vaccinations administered in our pharmacies next season.
The Chemist Warehouse Group have also been involved in national bowel cancer screening, prostate cancer screening, smoking cessation and weight loss health promotion campaigns.
We are about to head in to September, where as a company we will once again be supporting Liptember and raising awareness for women’s mental health.
I hope I have been able to clearly demonstrate that there are many opportunities to be involved in professional services and health promotion initiatives whilst working for Chemist Warehouse.
A pharmacist working for the Chemist Warehouse Group can pursue a number of career pathways and will be supported along those pathways.
The group has a strong history of supporting young pharmacists on their journey towards becoming a proprietor. Pharmacists who wish to pursue this career pathway are provided with training to equip them with strong business management skills.
The group provides this support because it understands the significant role that young pharmacists play in driving innovation.
Young pharmacists have fresh ideas and are very responsive to change. This attitude ensures our pharmacies continue to evolve and remain in touch with the needs and wants of consumers.
However proprietorship is not for everyone and the Chemist Warehouse Group appreciates that. The group has also supported pharmacists along a number of other traditional and non-traditional career pathways.
This support has allowed pharmacists to take on roles in a number of departments in our head office including professional services, IT, marketing, training and human resources.
There are a plethora of roles for pharmacists in our group contrary to the misinformed popular belief that our pharmacists work in ‘script factories’.
I attended the Pharmacy Review Forum in Melbourne and Professor Stephen King, the chair of the review panel, said “you should all have seen price disclosure coming”.
The Government has hinted on numerous occasions that the pharmacy sector is not bulletproof and shouldn’t rely on the PBS to stay afloat. I am proud to be a part of a group that not only saw the writing on the wall but decided to innovate and develop a sustainable business model that does not rely solely on the PBS.
I sincerely hope all students, interns and young pharmacists coming through the system realise that you can have both a rewarding career and contribute to improving public health whilst working for Chemist Warehouse.
Please do not feel you will be judged harshly by those in pharmacy circles for pursuing a career with them. The only people that you should allow to judge you are your patients, the consumers of your products and services.
Ultimately they are the ones who will decide if you meet their needs and wants by opting to either return to your pharmacy or frequent another.
My colleagues and I at Chemist Warehouse must be doing something right because we are seeing more and more consumers coming through our doors.
I can hold my head high and confidently say we offer consumers the best price without compromise on service.