Community pharmacy suffering as pharmacists leave

Salaries are starting to rise, as many pharmacists leave the profession, dissatisfied with pay and conditions, says one stakeholder

Raven’s Recruitment has released its 2019 Pharmacy Market Report, in which general manager Heidi Dariz highlights a critical shortage of pharmacists, particularly in the community pharmacy sector.

The report highlights salary information gathered by the company, differentiating between metropolitan areas and regional and rural areas, where the shortage is most severe – though Ms Dariz told the AJP that pharmacist interest in jobs in the community sector even in major cities has been dropping.

For example a pharmacist in Sydney can expect to make between $68,000 and $84,000 a year (and a pharmacist manager $95,000 to $108,000) while in the Australian Capital Territory, the figures are $74,000 to $82,000 for a pharmacist, and $98,000 to $110,000 for a pharmacist manager.

This increases to $85,000 to $98,000 for a pharmacist in a regional and rural area, and to $120,000 to $135,000 for a pharmacist manager.

A pharmacist manager in the Northern Territory can earn up to $152,000, or up to $140,000 in regional and rural West or South Australia.

“The main thing we’re finding, especially in community pharmacy, is that a lot of people have been leaving just due to pay and conditions,” Ms Dariz told the AJP.

“Over the last 12 months, we’ve seen salaries increase quite substantially, especially for rural – but also in cities. They’ve had to bump them up because they’re just not getting the candidates through.

“In Hobart, Canberra, even places like Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane, 12 months ago we’d have 10 or 15 applications a day for jobs, and now we’re lucky to get three or four.

“It’s definitely turned around from five years ago when everyone was talking about the oversupply. It’s completely changed.”

She highlights the issue of pay in the introduction to the report, saying that the recent decision by the Fair Work Commission to provide a 5% increase in pharmacists pay, in two increments (the last of which came into effect on 1 October 2019) was welcome.

However, “many in the industry share the opinion that the Community Pharmacy Award is still irrelevant to the cost of recruiting and retaining quality staff,” she wrote.

Many employees still feel pay is too low for the responsibilities and workload of a community pharmacist.

Ms Dariz told the AJP that consequently, many employers are “thinking outside the box” when it comes to attracting pharmacists, “especially for rural relocation expenses – even accommodation.

“We’re finding that more than half of our rural employers, about 70% are offering paid accommodation. That’s long-term.

“And the 30% that aren’t offering ongoing accommodation are at least looking at say, the first two months, and paying for people to relocate.

“There have been others where accommodation hasn’t been available but they’ll cover flights home, up to four flights to see family every year, or registration to events like APP, where they’ll cover travel expenses and accommodation for that once a year.”

While community pharmacy may have lost its allure for many, other pharmacists are interested in different career paths, such as working in the pharmaceutical industry, in aged care and as pharmacists in GP clinics, the report states – and this trend is expected to continue.

“While some are leaving pharmacy altogether, others are moving to other areas,” Ms Dariz says.

“We recruit for hospital and industry as well, and I would have 10 to 15 calls a day asking, ‘what have you got in hospital and industry?’

“We don’t get a lot of industry positions, but when I did list one around two months ago, we had 50 or 60 candidates. That was Melbourne, but I haven’t seen numbers like that before, ever.”

She said employers need to think about the conditions their pharmacists are working under as well.

“People don’t want to work 80-hour weeks any more, they want work-life balance,” she said.

“I know it’s difficult, especially in rural areas, where there’s not a lot of choice – but you can always get a locum, and not have that one person dispensing so many scripts under so much pressure on their own, as they’ll burn out.”

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