Why I love working for Chemist Warehouse


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!  

 

Myths exposed

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.

 

Career options

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.

 

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20 Comments

  1. Adam
    03/12/2016

    The start of this opinion piece is straight out the Goebbel’s propaganda handbook. This very young pharmacist illustrates the sad fact that aspirations have now been lowered within the profession to an alarming extent.

    Nowhere are any of the key issues addressed and the gaping cracks are indeed wallpapered over. Even CW own employees rate them only a 3.5 out of 5 to work which is very low for the site used
    http://au.indeed.com/cmp/Chemist-Warehouse/reviews
    No mention of serious issues
    1) CW recently admitted and charged with underpaying staff $3.6M . The Fair Work Ombudsman have finally been able to win a case because the breach was flagrant. Imagine working where not even minimum award wages are guaranteed. This means that by working for them you help make them the ” cheapest ” ( interesting the claim is not the “best” ) chemist in Australia where award wages are something to aim for.
    2) The ownership pathway allows you to attain a relatively small percentage share in a pharmacy and ties you to it. The ownership is akin to buying shares in a listed company for all the ownership input and reward potential attainable.
    3) The goals of the majority shareholders are not aligned to the profession and usually contradict the aspirational goals put forward by neutral pharmacy groups. Is the end goal a sell out to a foreign national and in effect , selling pharmacy down the toilet as once the cat is out the bag it will never be allowed back ? Big corporates will rule the day.
    Finally I strongly and sincerely suggest that Xavier broadens his horizons having never worked elsewhere and attempt to work in a retail pharmacy with a strong community and service ethos and be paid what this obviously bright young person deserves. Do not play their low wage , low cost, sellout game Xavier with the veneer of doing the right thing. The only positive is your love of the great profession of pharmacy.

  2. David Haworth
    03/12/2016

    I would like to ask Xavier about staffing levels vs script numbers? Is he content?

  3. Mohamed Ibrahim
    03/12/2016

    funniest thing I have read today!!!

  4. Glenn Angel
    03/12/2016

    This made me cringe.
    Playing devils advocate to my own thought, perhaps he’s working in one that actually does have service etc,
    But I have been to 2 and they were shocking. So rushed and no service.
    I even worked near one and we had patients come over and ask for counselling on scripts they were given!!

  5. john presutto
    03/12/2016

    Xavier what about question Cw ask customers how many tablets do you want more you take cheaper it us

    • William
      09/12/2016

      John could you please explain what you mean by “Xavier what about question Cw ask customers how many tablets do you want more you take cheaper it us” ??

  6. Paul Sapardanis
    03/12/2016

    Interesting that this article is written at the same time that cw are slapped with a 3.5 million dollar fine for short changing 6000 employees. I for one will still push the message that this is how cw keep their prices so low. Finally if ce provide such a great level of service then why do so many people ask me if I can mstch their prices but never am I asked if I can match their service.

  7. Hugh Quach
    03/12/2016

    No matter what your view is of CW (and I am by no means a fan), Xavier’s account of the CW’s investment in professional services should be a wake-up call to those pharmacies still trying to beat CW on price and relying on better “service with a smile”. It’s time to innovate or die. Innovation involves time and money and I see many who don’t want to risk either to their detriment.

  8. Yabby
    04/12/2016

    This is a sad article of an extreme narrow view.

    Anyone who undermines the value of the pharmacy profession by leading the profession into a price war cannot be supported. If CW is a grocery chain, I would tell them they are doing their community a good job – the extra savings from buying six apples in one transaction is definitely a good deal (this is will encourage people to eat more apples everyday)! But no, CW unfortunately is a pharmacy chain, a group that treats medicines like everyday commodity items. CW and Quality Use of Medicines were never friends. Xavier, if you are proud of selling Vibratabs 50mg 150 tabs for $26.94, then please continue to hold your head high.

    Deep discounting always comes with a price: reduced quality. It’s a fact. Cutting your income means you need to cut expenses. Cutting expenses means non ideal staffing levels, hiring lower wage staff (inexperience staff), getting pharmacy students to do pharmacist jobs etc. Would you want to see a non bulk billing doctor who offers $20 discount for his consultation? How would you see this doctor as a professional? Would he really spend the right amount of time with the patient given he is not getting what he should earn for the professional service?

    Regardless of how the group is packaged on the outside, CW has dealt significant damage to the profession. I will strongly urge pharmacy students and pharmacists to think about their pharmacy profession when joining a group who’s sole interest is profit making.

  9. Kenneth Ch'ng
    05/12/2016

    CW is so big it is now ubiquitous and thus have the benefit of scale plus increased prescription and non-prescription market. They can increase service level with minimal cost to their bottom line. Will be hard for others to match!

  10. Amin-Reza Javanmard
    05/12/2016

    I’ve always wanted to ask this because it was an incredible achievement: what were the logistics that made it possible for one CW to do 319 Medschecks in a 2 week period, as reported here http://www.pharmacynews.com.au/News/Latest-news/Chemist-Warehouse-s-MedsCheck-push-sees-store-do-3 ?
    It truly is a remarkable effort, and I for one would love to learn how to replicate it in my pharmacy as a goal to inspire my fellow pharmacists! Given that we do not publicly know otherwise ( http://www.pharmacynews.com.au/news/latest-news/chemist-warehouse-medscheck-push-sparks-audit-call ), we can safely assume that every single one of these MedsChecks were conducted within the program’s rules and thus completely legitimate.
    * Getting 319 people to make an keep appointments is an amazing feat – What was the no-show rate like? What sort of processes were in place to schedule and follow up on patients?
    * How long was the average MedsCheck appointment? What happened when appointments ran over time? I find my MedsChecks take about 50 minutes to complete.
    * How many pharmacists were needed to conduct these MedsChecks? Was this their only role in the pharmacy? Is it part of the role of the Professional Services team members?
    * Did you use GuildCare to record the MedsCheck sessions? Any tips for optimising performace over a medium-sized (10-20 server connections) network? I use Cat5E and Cat6 ethernet cabling over gigabit connections but still suffer considerable lag issues. although that may be due to poor internet connectivity issues in my area.
    I look forward to Xavier helping me, and all pharmacists, out with this – it would certainly make a great article for the AJP!

  11. William
    09/12/2016

    It is interesting to hear the experience of a pharmacist intern of the year who has worked for them and has an alternative experience with CW than others put forward.

    I am a retired pharmacist who trained in Sydney in the 1950s with one of the two then existing pharmacy “chains”.

    Being indentured to Hallam Chemists gave us a very solid grounding in all aspects of pharmacy including bulk manufacture. It also had the advantage that they would rotate us to different shops during this period.

    This gave all apprentices an excellent training and very broad experience not generally available to single shop apprentices. We all worked hard but in return were given the best training available.

    I have no knowledge of working conditions at CW except the negative comments that seem to flood here about work and salary.

    However I do know that I exclusively get all our family scripts dispensed there and have been very satisfied with the quality and speed of service and advice as well as their pricing (which becomes very evident when one has to get something one forgot locally from another pharmacy.

    Another thing I have noticed is that they are very professional and offer advice all the time and do not bend the rules of supply.

    I think that a lot of negative attitude come from CW being a serious competitor in the marketplace where the sole operators or small groups are under threat and do not know what to do.
    Just wait until the Productivity Commission’s recommendations are ultimately implemented (as they will) and the big supermarket chains retailers move in.

    This is the future unfortunately when automation will basically make pharmacy and pharmacists as they are today redundant like many other occupations.

    Become nimble, innovative and flexible before they swallow you up; knocking them will not solve the future issues you will have to face.

  12. PharmOwner
    14/12/2016

    “No choice but to help” I disagree. If CWH has sold a product, THEY have the duty of care and obligation to provide adequate counselling about it’s use. If you have not sold it, you have no duty of care. Full stop.

    • Josh Litchfield
      14/12/2016

      True, but as an owner surely you would understand the value of service and see an opportunity to win a customer?

      • PharmOwner
        14/12/2016

        That’s one point of view. You’re assuming CWH have taken a thorough medication history and that the product is indeed safe and appropriate for the patient. What if it’s not? You’re providing advice on something that may be entirely inappropriate. Who’s liable if it all goes pear-shaped? The pharmacist who sold the product or the pharmacist who gave advice to the patient?

      • Paul Sapardanis
        14/12/2016

        Josh you are assuming that providing this service will gain you a customer. Having 20 years of retail experience I know that it is highly unlikely that this person will come to you in the future.

        • Josh Litchfield
          15/12/2016

          You’re right, and it’s a mixed bag whether you will win them over or not. But with competition the way it is, I think it’s worth a few minutes of our time. But agree 100% that it is infuriating that it comes to that. I also make sure to point out a few things like our price match guarantee (which can also be frustrating) and “didn’t they explain this to you like they are legally obligated to do?”

  13. David Lund
    28/05/2017

    Oh dear! I wonder who wrote this article? What is your rate of pay to do all these wonderful things?

  14. JimT
    29/05/2017

    Xaviers et al silence to all the replies is deafening !!!

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