CWH gave me a job when no one else would: student

holding a sign: 'looking for a job'
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Are young pharmacists and students flocking to discount chains because other pharmacies simply aren’t willing to take them on?

Why do young people work for discount pharmacy chains if the wages are so low?

It’s a question often asked by AJP readers.

Based on the story of one student, it could be because other pharmacies aren’t willing to give inexperienced students a chance, or perhaps can’t afford to do so.

Meanwhile working for a big box discounter like Chemist Warehouse could prove to be an invaluable experience for a pharmacist-in-training.

Evie Armstrong Gordon, Secretary of the National Australian Pharmacy Students’ Association (NAPSA), shared her story at the Medici Capital Pharmacy Industry Dinner held in Sydney on Wednesday.

The industry dinner focused on the theme of wages and retaining young pharmacists.

Ms Gordon, who graduated with a Bachelor of Pharmacy (Hons, University Medal) from the University of Sydney and is currently an intern, featured in a panel discussion on the night.

She told delegates that during her job search as a pharmacy student, she was turned down “a lot”.

“It was actually about eight [times],” she said.

“I would go in, give them my CV and asked that if any jobs opened up to let me know.

“The most common reply was: ‘You don’t have much experience. We would prefer someone with more experience and as a pharmacy student you do cost a bit more too.’”

Ms Gordon says she was confused by the rejections.

“Why wouldn’t they want me? Students are a perfect blank canvas,” she said.

After being turned down several times, she finally received a job offer – from a Chemist Warehouse.

“I simply needed a job and they had one, and I learnt a lot from them.

“The Chemist Warehouse I started working at, they take on any student that applied.

“With all of my friends that worked in other Chemist Warehouses, that’s what happened as well,” she told AJP.

Chemist Warehouse provided Ms Gordon with both autonomy and mentorship, she said.

“I found that there were lots of opportunities to take on different roles in the group. Quite early on I was managing and directing people.

“They also provided product training and learning modules online.

“The pharmacist did spend quite a lot of time with students, making sure they were comfortable in the dispensary. It was very thorough.”

She acknowledges that while student pharmacists don’t have much business knowledge, “the way we use pharmacy students in our pharmacy should be changing.

“If you spend the time with them, bring them in, mentor them … you’re much more likely to see a return on that in the future.”

Panel members Charlie Benrimoj,  Espie Watt, Evangeline Armstrong Gordon and David Heffernan. Credit: Natalie Sirianni.
Panel members Charlie Benrimoj, Espie Watt, Evangeline Armstrong Gordon and David Heffernan. Credit: Natalie Sirianni.

Pharmacy owner Espie Watt, another speaker and panellist at the Medici Capital Pharmacy Industry Dinner, agreed that young pharmacists should be taken on.

“You’ve got to give young pharmacists the ability to grow, to take responsibility… Give the junior the job of doing the banking.

“I prefer to have younger graduates so I can influence their behaviour.”

However there is still an issue with low pay, with students highlighting pay/salary as the biggest issue in the workforce today, Ms Gordon pointed out.

Discounters are often criticised for paying its staff less than average.

For example, PPA remuneration surveys consistently report that discounters – including Chemist Warehouse – pay around $5 less per hour than other pharmacy groups.

But are young pharmacists really “flocking” to Chemist Warehouse despite the pay issue?

David Heffernan said geographical location means that young pharmacists go to Chemist Warehouse because “it’s there in their neighbourhood and they want to work nearby.”

And UTS ‎Head Graduate School of Health Professor Charlie Benrimoj said “they’re not flocking – they’re just looking for a job”.

He adds that pay is something that needs to be fixed across the industry, and that pharmacies that pay their pharmacist employees minimum wages “should be ashamed”.

“If you’re paying peanuts, you’re going to get monkeys.”

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  1. B Lee

    I think the answer to the question in applicant’s perspective is simple. Because there is no work available to newly graduated interns or students.
    I applied 20 places back when I was an intern and only place that offered a job was Chemist Warehouse.
    I managed to register despite of lowest pay and crazy workload, because it was the only way to survive.
    but what was the point? This profession is going down badly. Training itself was good with variety of sources and workshops but the focus was mostly on up-selling. Health was secondary.

    Small community pharmacies are not willing to hire mostly not because they don’t want to. It’s because they can’t afford and they put their business into a risk when interns and students make a mistake that can sometimes be beyond their affordability. Where does this come from? Mostly sole commercial driven “health” shop discount chains and some greedy pharmacy organisations who pretend to care for pharmacists.

  2. Nhan Pham

    They don’t want to go out of big city for a job, which is not new. We advertised for intern position months and months on psa website, only 1 person applied and we received no response after receiving resume. Of course, we r not in a big city.

    • Jarrod McMaugh

      This article is primarily about pharmacy students.

      Pharmacy students shouldn’t be expected to travel away from their university to obtain employment.

      It’s also worth considering that just because a pharmacist is young, doesn’t mean they don’t already have strong attachments that make moving difficult. When I graduated, I was married with 1 daughter….. although I already lived regionally & had secured employment 4 years earlier.

      I’ve always found that students who get employment early in their degree have the best employment opportunities in the future…. and if pharmacies are unwilling or unable to take on 1st & 2nd years, then we should expect them to go where they can find work.

    • Paul Sapardanis

      Nhan why do people buy pharmacies in regional/rural areas without thinking who is going to work in it? I am sick to death about listening to rural regional owners about this. Get a working partner or partners or do it yourself. Problem solved

      • Red Pill

        Paul, I believe it’s called “have my cake and eat it too”

      • Nhan Pham

        Well, i thought i was talking about an intern position for young pharmacists, not manager or pic, and its 1 hr away from Melbourne.

  3. Richard Huynh

    Interesting article with varying perspectives. At Star Discount Chemist, the perception might be that they also discount wages however in my personal experience as an intern, I was supported from day one (a progressive internship program, mentoring program, personal and professional coaching, awards, recognition, retreats away etc) and within a year of registration, I along with several other interns were offered a Pharmacist Managers role paying well above the award rate! Next year I will start working towards ownership which is another supported career path.

  4. Amin-Reza Javanmard

    It may just be a Queensland thing, but I found early in my career that smaller pharmacies were very reluctant to take on pharmacists from… more exotic backgrounds. And as an active owner now, I totally understand it!

    Margins are so small and business is so tight that the risk of offending a few of your less tolerant (high volume) customers is a huge is just too big a risk when you have other options as an employer. If you think that idea is far-fetched or over-exaggerated, one only needs to look at Bob Katter’s comments a few months back – – which I’m sure affects the market for pharmacists in rural areas as well.

    It’s this sort of thing that drives many young pharmacists into the arms of groups that consistently pay below the market. Their customers are there for one reason only – price – and don’t care how that price point is achieved and who gets exploited (whether it’s wholesalers providing extended trading terms, manufacturers paying for advertising, or others forced to subsidise these perks) to achieve it.

    • amanda cronin

      I have never noticed customers turned off by race in the rural area I am- pretty much all the health professional are either Asian or middle eastern and they really don’t mind as long they are good people and they know their job and are good people with good English.

  5. Tamer Ahmed

    CWH isn’t accepting inexperienced student/interns/pharmacists out of good will.

    Their mentality, the culture, pharmacy practices are so alien compared to the usual non-discount pharmacy that its extremely hard to retain an experienced pharmacist without investing time in conditioning him.

    CWH doesn’t have that kind of time or interest.

    This is by the way not an opinion I am an ex-CWH pharmacist.

    A pharmacist who’s experience comes purely from CWH faces tremendous challenges when for whatever reason he tries to join a non-discount community pharmacy or another setting.

    He feels that there are so many unneeded steps to ensure things which are not really profitable from his CWH perspective and are a waste of time.

    On average it takes 1-2 years for an intern who graduated from CWH to understand the mistake for working for them and they will face 2 choices = reinventing themselves to be relevant in non cwh pharmacies, lower their standards even more to compete internally in CWH chasing the illusive ownership dream.

    Think twice before making that mistake there may be no coming back from accepting the CWH mentality.

    [This comment has been edited for legal reasons]

  6. Nick Loukas

    What a load of rubbish. If these people want to work then there are hundreds of well paid jobs in Queensland especially in regional and rural jobs. I’ve had positions with pays over $90,000 go unfilled for months. Good pharmacists will get jobs in Qld.

    • bob kelso

      rural qld for $90k …. no wonder no one took up the position.

      • Nick Loukas

        Thats Cairns and for a new grad! If they’d rather earn $50,000 in the city, then go for it!

    • Paul Sapardanis

      Give them some equity. See if that works

    • Red Pill

      ROFL…$90,000! A pharmacy manager can get a salary close that in Sydney. Maybe around $85,000. Why bother going out bush. 6 figure salary might entice some but nothing less than that.

      • Nick Loukas

        Thats for a new grad $90,000 plus accomodation

    • Jordan Gill

      This is a student we are talking about not a qualified pharmacist.

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