Mixed results for pharmacy graduates


Graduate pharmacists worst paid of all, survey shows, though with higher employment rates than other graduates

The median salaries for pharmacy graduates are just $50,000 per year – the overall lowest level for graduates of all professions, according to a new survey of graduate employment prospects.

But, in a cruel irony, pharmacy is also the profession where the most graduates are employed in their chosen field, with as many as 95% of graduates employed four months after graduation, the Federal Government Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) survey shows. This is down from 96.4% in the last survey.

The QILT Graduate Outcomes Survey (GOS), which has been running since 2016, is based on graduate responses delivered in February and March this year, roughly four months after completion of their studies, but crucially for this iteration, three months before key states like NSW and Victoria went into their latest bouts of lockdowns.

Perhaps most disturbing for the profession was that the overall median salary across the board for graduates was $77,000, more than 50% higher than that in phamacy.

The survey showed the pharmacy median salary of $50,000 even fell below other careers historically renowned for their low remuneration levels, such as creative arts ($53,000), tourism, hospitality, personal services, sport and recreation ($54,900) and communications ($56,200).

The areas with the highest graduate salaries were dentistry at $100,000, medicine $76,000, social work $72,600, teacher education $72,000 and engineering $70,000.

On the issue of gender salary disparities, the report said broadly females were “more likely to graduate from study areas which receive lower levels of remuneration”.

But while “at the undergraduate level, females earn less overall than their male counterparts within most study areas” it noted that pharmacy, along with medicine, rehabilitation and engineering were exceptions “where female undergraduate median salaries are higher than or equal to their male counterparts”.

While a moderate percentage of graduates were already undertaking further study (12.6%), there was a high degree of satisfaction over the studies undertaken with 84.2% reporting positively.

“Undergraduates who had completed degrees in study areas with a strong vocational orientation tended, not surprisingly, to be less likely to proceed on to further full-time study,” it said.

The broader economic good news was that the pandemic has overall had little effect on overall job prospects for graduates, showing that close to 88.9 % of those available for a full-time job, managed to get one, a slight slip from the 90.1% figure from the same survey published last year.

Another noteworthy element of the study was that regional universities were outranking their capital city counterparts for full-time graduate employment.

Commenting on the report Minister for Regionalisation, Regional Communications and Regional Education Senator Bridget McKenzie suggested the more vocational skew of many regional universities was part of the reason for their higher success rate.

Comment was sought from the National Australian Pharmacy Students’ Association but there had been no response at time of writing.

 

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52 Comments

  1. James O'Loughlin
    07/10/2021

    Wow! Our profession pays the lowest graduate salary compared to every other industry in Australia including hospitality!!!

    What on earth is happening to Pharmacy.

  2. United we stand
    07/10/2021

    It’s so interesting how male pharmacists are rapidly leaving the profession with their numbers dwindling year on year, whereas their female counterparts continue to enrol and stay within the profession.

    Such differences in gender behaviour when faced with adversity is always so fascinating.

    • Sean Gannon
      08/10/2021

      I just looked at the Health Workforce Dataset to see if this is actually the case, and you’re right. The proportion of female pharmacists has steadily increased from 58.5% in 2011 to 63% in 2019. Why this is the case is certainly up for debate. I know certain professional groups will claim this as an empowering win for women everywhere, but I think there’s a more cynical explanation – women who have sadly faced a lifetime of sexism are more likely to “accept” (for lack of a better word) the poor remuneration and working conditions of the industry.

      I think there’s also a long-term trend towards women making up a greater proportion of university enrollees, which might also explain it. I’m not sure where to find that data though. I wonder if other professions with an undergraduate degree (or higher) barrier to entry have seen a similar trend.

      • United we stand
        08/10/2021

        Great points Sean and I tend to agree. Anecdotally, in my own experience working in community pharmacy for 16 years, 70% of Male colleagues I worked with (including myself) have all left Pharmacy all together to start a career in Finance, Medicine, Pharmaceutical Sales rep, IT, Teaching, Banking, Electrical Engineering and one even became a pilot!

        Oddly enough, majority of female pharmacists I had the pleasure of working with have remained in Community Pharmacy. Only 3 out of 20+ female pharmacists I worked with changed careers.

        I personally think they undervalue themselves as Peter Allen also mentioned above and don’t realise how much their skills would be worth if they were in another industry that can utilise their knowledge.

      • Red Pill
        08/10/2021

        Men are also much more fixated on the pay and tend to go for degrees that would make them high earners.

        • Raj Khatri
          08/10/2021

          My nephew took one look at the average Pharmacist salary on PayScale and decided not to include it in his preferences for university admission.

          I tend to agree that boys (and men) do place a lot more emphasis on salary.

  3. Paul Sapardanis
    07/10/2021

    This is not the issue in our profession. The lack of opportunities and growth is.

    • Sean Gannon
      08/10/2021

      There is more than just one problem with this industry. Lack of opportunity and growth is a problem. Intern wages are a problem. We can’t let the “bigger fish to fry” mentality guide us to inaction.

  4. Experienced Pharmacist
    07/10/2021

    I am currently transitioning to teaching. In my teaching aid position I receive higher wage than as a pharmacist. In about 2 years I will be oner 20K annually better off

  5. Pharmacist101
    07/10/2021

    This is definitely one of the reasons why I left the profession – it’s quite a sad sight. I returned to study after 2 years of working as a pharmacist. Graduate positions in my field are 75-80K with better progression, better remuneration, training and benefits. I am so glad that I made the move and didn’t stay in community pharmacy . Looking back – it was extremely stressful for me and had a negative impact on my mental health – so I had to change paths ☺️. All in all , I did learn a lot about resilience and customer service in my time in pharmacy – which I’ll be grateful for , but I’m very happy that I’m in a better place now.

    • James O'Loughlin
      08/10/2021

      I literally got a 10k pay rise as soon as I switched careers to a junior role that is far less taxing physically and much more intellectually satisfying. Makes you wonder why some are still hanging on!

  6. Adrian Serafin
    07/10/2021

    Rural pharmacies are offering registered pharmacist positions and paying $50-55/hour. Working a 5 day week earns a pharmacist over $100,000/year.

    • James Lawson
      07/10/2021

      Perhaps attractive from a financial perspective, but the vast majority of graduates are in their early 20’s, possibly with a partner who won’t find work as easily in a remote location, or are single and looking for social opportunities which are simply not available in a remote location.

      Couple this with the fact that many of these locations are looking for experienced pharmacists who can essentially operate the pharmacy solo, while the owner is entirely absent from the equation, and it’s easy to understand why the pay rate is still insufficient to attract significant interest. The position is trying to attract a pharmacist prepared to assume total responsibility for a pharmacy. These pharmacists are the ones who are looking for an ownership position, not an employee role.

      • Michael Post
        08/10/2021

        You are bang on the money James. Location rules prevent rural students studying and returning home to set up their own business.

    • Sean Gannon
      08/10/2021

      Can we please retire this talking point already? ~70% of the Australian population lives in the major cities. Therefore approximately 70% of the pharmacy workforce will have to live and work there too. Going rural might be the solution for an individual pharmacist but it simply isn’t the answer for the industry-wide wage problems.

  7. munaver gulamali
    07/10/2021

    Compare Australian wages to USA

    https://ajp.com.au/news/northern-exposure/

  8. DC
    07/10/2021

    Surely that’s the salary for an intern under supervision – current award rate of $30.67 x 38 hr x 52 weeks = $60k

    • Sean Gannon
      08/10/2021

      Yes, the term “graduate” refers to interns

  9. TALL POPPY
    07/10/2021

    Why bother studying Pharmacy when you can do Creative Arts & become a proper clown. No CPD, Websters, Medschecks, VACCINATIONS. And you can have a laugh & get paid for it! Brilliant!

  10. Red Pill
    07/10/2021

    APRA is now placing a cap of 6 x Gross Salary for how much money people can borrow for their house mortgage. 6 x $65k will not even get you a studio apartment in Sydney and Melbourne.
    Good luck raising a family being a pharmacist!

  11. Peter Allen
    07/10/2021

    Some recent graduates (under-) value themselves and accept $25/hr in a script mill.

    Others ask for and get what they are worth adding value to the business.

  12. James O'Loughlin
    08/10/2021

    BTW has anyone else also noticed this trend over the last 10 years, where we went from discussing how to expand pharmacist roles and improving remuneration to how to best transition out of Pharmacy and start a new career!

    I see the same trend both online and whenever we discuss pharmacy among my pharmacist friends.

    Scary times ahead for pharmacy and I can already see it brewing with the profession facing significant brain drain in 2020s. Pharmacy owners and the guild definitely shot themselves in the foot by fighting against pay rises, the King Review, and Fair Works pharmacist remuneration review.

    • United we stand
      08/10/2021

      Excellent point. I’d love to hear what some of our true leaders in pharmacy have to say about this and how they would forecast the next 10 years. Looking at you Debbie Rigby, Geraldine Moses, Karalyn Huxaghen, etc 😊

    • Red Pill
      10/10/2021

      The pandemic has specially led to many people questioning their priorities and values with large number of resignations and staff shortages already sweeping across the world.

      It’s been called ‘The Great Resignation’ and ABC has done an excellent piece about it:

      https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-09-24/the-great-resignation-post-pandemic-work-life-balance/100478866

      Anger among employee pharmacists is going to wreak havoc in the next 12 months with many disenfranchised pharmacists walking away.

    • Raj Khatri
      12/10/2021

      There’s several discussions on Whirlpool about the best exit strategies for pharmacists. Very insightful

  13. Michael Ortiz
    10/10/2021

    Don’t complain about low salaries without considering the value a new graduate provides to their employer. Put that in the context of a dynamic market and the functions performed by a recent graduate still in training.

    If salaries are low and employment is high, then economists will tell you that the market will adjust until it reaches equilibrium. If salaries fall then supply will fall. If salaries increase then supply will increase until it reaches equilibrium. Low levels of remuneration for dispensing means lower salaries for Pharmacists as 80% of revenue comes from dispensing PBS prescriptions with little or no cognitive input.

    Salaries will not change without an improved revenue stream which is unlikely to occur in the near future based on five year Guild Government Agreements. Intern salaries are not a good indicator of professional value as they represent the transition from University to work place education to achieve registration for two work settings – Hospital and community pharmacy. Other higher paying work settings are more competitive for a limited number of roles.

    If you look at changes in nurse’s salaries, then you can see a profession with a chronic staff shortage and increasing salaries. The local training can not meet the demand and we can’t import enough nurses from overseas to meet demand. Nurses salaries will grow until supply meets demand. It surprises me that Pharmacists have failed to contribute more to medication administration in Hospitals given the nurse shortage.

    Intern salaries are unlikely to increase if supply continues to exceed demand because recent graduates do not represent value for money to employers.

    Stop complaining and find a way for new graduates to provide more value to employers.

    • United we stand
      10/10/2021

      Hi Michael, I don’t think the low wages has anything to do with ‘Supply and Demand’. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have such a high employment rate (95%+). If supply outnumbered demand, employment rate would be far lower.

      The truth is, Pharmacy has completely embraced the retail environment with very little emphasis on the clinical skills pharmacists are known for. The Pharmacy bodies have also continuously failed to implement review-generating clinical services for the last 20 years. Ultimately, community pharmacist as a profession is a dying industry, primed for automation within a decade.

      • Sean Gannon
        11/10/2021

        I think this is really the core of the issue. Intern pharmacists don’t provide much value to [most] employers because only a fully registered pharmacist is capable of meeting the legal compliance criteria for the employer’s retail business.

        Intern pharmacists can counsel patients, spot medication errors/interactions, and develop quality care initiatives. My employer even said that he likes having interns because it helps him keep up with the current body of knowledge (and to his credit, he pays me above award at a rate more commensurate to my level of skill compared to what other employers pay their interns). Unfortunately, it seems as though most community pharmacy owners see these skills as “nice to have” but ultimately superfluous to the main goal of keeping script counts high and overheads low. The interests of the patient, the most important stakeholder in healthcare, are secondary to the preservation of the bottom line. If pharmacy owners want to change my mind (since I’m a very important person after all) they can open up their books and show us exactly what their net profits before proprietor’s earnings are.

        • Raj Khatri
          12/10/2021

          The pharmacy owner I used to work for refused to hire interns. He argued intern pharmacists don’t know enough to be of any use in the first 6 months, they peak by August and leave in December. He said it’s a waste of everyone’s time and effort.

          He used to hire 17 year old assistants instead and hoped they would stick around for 2 years. Paid them $19/hr as well compared to the $24/hr of an intern pharmacist. They would be teching 100s of scripts, asking all the s3 questions, quickly flashing the s3 product at the pharmacist and handing it out.

          Long gone are the days of pharmacists actually providing counselling and being accessible to the public. At least in metropolitan Sydney anyways.

          • Sean Gannon
            12/10/2021

            I wonder if he ever asked himself:

            – Why it took six months of onboarding for his interns to become “useful”

            – Why none of his interns stuck around to work for him after registration

    • Charlotte Hutchesson
      12/10/2021

      ‘Dispensing prescriptions with little or no cognitive input’ – I would not want to employ a pharmacist who had this view on dispensing. Personally, I am constantly reviewing the medicines, patient history and looking for potential issues every time I dispense. We have devalued the core role of our profession, maybe that is part of the problem.

      • Sean Gannon
        12/10/2021

        You sound like you might be following the PSA Dispensing Practice Guidelines, Charlotte. The good news is that these are just guidelines – they’re not legally enforced since the free market already does a really good job of penalising substandard pharmacy practice. A quick look at job advertisements shows us that what most pharmacy owners are looking for is a quick and efficient pharmacist to join their busy pharmacy. You might find that you can “provide more value to employers” by reducing your cognitive input in the dispensary.

        [In case I didn’t lay it on thick enough, I’ll just mention that this comment was sarcastic in nature]

      • Raj Khatri
        13/10/2021

        In a traditional pharmacy setting where each pharmacist dispenses on average 15 scripts an hour with minor interruptions, PSA guidelines can be followed.

        Trouble is PSA lives in their own academic fantasy. They have completely turned a blind eye to what’s actually happening at majority of pharmacies. Each pharmacist is dumped with checking over 35-40 scripts an hour, while vaccinating, checking webster packs and answering phone calls and customer queries. If you try to adhere to these practice guidelines you will be checking yourself into a psych ward on Day 2.

        So what most pharmacists do is dispense with little or no cognitive input to protect their own sanity

        Sad but true.

        • James O'Loughlin
          13/10/2021

          Raj you described the pharmacy I just left to a tee 😂
          Each pharmacist was dispensing 200 scripts a day on their own and checking another 100 dispensed by techs. On top of it we were giving flu shots for $11 a pop and covid vaccines. Mondays and Tuesdays were Webster pack checking days. Those 2 days specially gave me heartburn

          • Paul Sapardanis
            13/10/2021

            Did you 2 work in discount type pharmacies? Our regulators seem to be asleep at the wheel. No wonder you have left James, I don’t know how you stayed as long as you did.

          • James O'Loughlin
            13/10/2021

            Hi Paul. Yeah but to be honest, Western Sydney is the home of Discount pharmacy model. You name a discount banner group and we have a solid 20 stores in a 20km radius. Even the independent pharmacies around here are pseudo-discount and working conditions are pretty much the same.

            Most suburbs out here have 2 CWHs on opposite sides of the same street!

          • James Lawson
            13/10/2021

            “The finest line of poetry ever uttered in the history of this whole damn country was said by Canada Bill Jones in 1853, in Baton Rouge, while he was being robbed blind in a crooked game of faro. George Devol, who was, like Canada Bill, not a man who was averse to fleecing the odd sucker, drew Bill aside and asked him if he couldn’t see that the game was crooked. And Canada Bill sighed, and shrugged his shoulders, and said, ‘I know. But it’s the only game in town.’ And he went back to the game.” – Neil Gaiman, American Gods

            I remember you posted that you got out and found a research assistant position in another AJP comment. From one James to another, I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

          • James Lawson
            13/10/2021

            “The finest line of poetry ever uttered in the history of this whole damn country was said by Canada Bill Jones in 1853, in Baton Rouge, while he was being robbed blind in a crooked game of faro. George Devol, who was, like Canada Bill, not a man who was averse to fleecing the odd sucker, drew Bill aside and asked him if he couldn’t see that the game was crooked. And Canada Bill sighed, and shrugged his shoulders, and said, ‘I know. But it’s the only game in town.’ And he went back to the game.” – Neil Gaiman, American Gods

            I remember you posted that you got out and found a research assistant position in another AJP comment. From one James to another, I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

        • Jarrod McMaugh
          13/10/2021

          Raj, as someone who works on those guidelines, you should be aware that they are supposed to give you leverage in negotiations with your employer.

          If you’re willing to work in situations that are beyond the workload limits of the guidelines, then you should expect to have difficult working circumstances.

          The guidelines are there for you to say to your employer “these are the accepted workload limits and expectations for professional practice. If you cannot provide this working environment, you are giving me grounds to demand change. If you fire me for requiring you to provide this working environment, then you provide me with grounds to sue you for unfair dismissal”

          I know it is not as simple as this, and as someone who put my own business through severe financial stress to provide fair (well above market rate) wages and circumstances while my competitors did not, I can assure you I have lived at the pointy end of this problem. But I can also say that as an employee pharmacist, I never accepted workload limits that were unsafe or required me to forego my professional responsibility.

          Always stand up for yourself, and always document every conversation you have with your employer or manager about these issues.

          • Sean Gannon
            13/10/2021

            Jarrod, do you think there is room for PSA to more aggressively advocate for these guidelines to be upheld? I ask this in good faith as a PSA member myself and as someone who is generally supportive of the PSA. I feel as though the majority of PSA’s efforts are focused on expanding the scope of practice, but I don’t really see much activity on workloads. As the “peak national professional pharmacy organisation representing all of Australia’s 31,000 pharmacists“, I would like to see PSA being more active in putting a spotlight on unsafe workplaces, rather than leaving the responsibility with individual employees.

          • Paul Sapardanis
            13/10/2021

            Sean this is the role of the relevant state regulator. As well as failing on policing of workloads we are about to see some former/present Priceline franchisees take API to the Victorian supreme court to see if their franchise agreement is in breach of ownership regulations. Why have they not tested this yet?

          • Sean Gannon
            13/10/2021

            I am aware that this would typically fall within the state pharmacy authority’s remit, but since PSA are the authors of the guidelines, have [I’m guessing] around 5-10k members, and claim to represent the interests of all pharmacists, I think they could at least bring some more attention to the issue. I’m not asking PSA to kick in the doors of dodgy pharmacies and slap handcuffs on the owners.

            Interestingly, I tried twice to comment on the AJP article on the Priceline lawsuit and both times my comment was put into moderation and disappeared. 🤷‍♂️

          • Paul Sapardanis
            13/10/2021

            Too sensitive a subject perhaps. Good on you for trying though

          • James Lawson
            13/10/2021

            Jarrod, while you’re correct that an employee should not accept these working conditions, please note that an unfair dismissal claim requires at least 6 months of employment, or 12 months if the business employs less than 15 employees.

            Additionally, the employer can justify the dismissal even after this period so long as they have documented meetings with the employee providing them warnings that they are failing to meet the employer’s standards.

            Guidelines have little standing in supporting an unfair dismissal claim when the employer otherwise meets the requirements for terminating an employment.

          • James O'Loughlin
            13/10/2021

            Jarrod you’re a gem brother. I wish we had more people like you in our industry. Thank you for all your advice on these forums throughout the years.

        • Edmund Lu
          13/10/2021

          Mate, 3 years of community pharmacy was all it took for me to start having permanent migraines that has persisted 2 years after leaving pharmacy all together.
          First year after registration, I got a job at a DDS store running on no staff and doing insane volumes of scripts. A quiet day was considered to be 350 scripts with 2 pharmacists and no techs!
          Second year, I left and got a job at an independent pharmacy hoping for the best. They told me techs do all the dispensing, I just have to check the packs for nursing homes. The inexperienced me didn’t ask any further questions and before I knew it I was checking over 130-180 packs a day for 30+ nursing homes. Deadlines were tight and many days I had to stay past my shift to make sure nursing homes get their packs in time.
          My last 6 months in pharmacy was at another small retail pharmacy with a monster for a boss. She treated everyone like her slave. Sending passive aggressive messages every night. We were always on edge.
          To this date, I can’t comprehend how such a high calibre profession has succumbed to such sweatshop mentality.
          Sad. really…

    • James Lawson
      13/10/2021

      The fallacy inherent in your reasoning “if salaries are low and employment is high… the market will adjust” is in assuming the ‘market’ is a closed system.

      In 2001, the entry for a Bachelor of Pharmacy was generally 98th to 99th percentile.[1]

      In 2019, the entry for a Bachelor of Pharmacy was generally 75th to 80th percentile.[2]

      In 2001, Australia had 752 pharmacy student graduates, representing 3.9 graduates per 100,000 population.[3]

      In 2019, Australia had 2,272 pharmacy student graduates, representing 8.96 graduates per 100,000 population.[3]

      A serious effort has been undertaken to ensure a steady supply of graduate pharmacists are being created. Salaries go up if the skills required for the position are rare. This gives the employee more leverage to demand a better rate of remuneration for their unique set of skills. In reverse, if the skills are common, the employer can offer low wages and still expect that someone will be desperate enough for a job to fill the role.

      [1] Are too many pharmacy graduates diminishing the profession? – AJP
      [2] ATAR for pharmacy 2019 – My Health Career
      [3] Health Care Resources: Australian Pharmacy Graduates – OECD Statistics

      • Paul Sapardanis
        13/10/2021

        Well written James. Further to the 3x increase in graduates the guild in its wisdom decides to make a submission to place pharmacists on the skilled shortage list. Instead of forcing owners to change their business models ( discounting) they further feed the beast. Change the model

      • Sean Gannon
        13/10/2021

        stats.oecd.org looks like a fantastic resource that I wasn’t aware of, thanks James

        • James Lawson
          13/10/2021

          No worries Sean, glad to share. It’s a bit user unfriendly at first, but anyone who’s had experience with dispensing software is no stranger to this either.

  14. jack7711
    15/10/2021

    13 years of community pharmacy and I’ve turned my back on it all. Left the treadmill only recently. I’m now treated with professional respect, paid for lunch breaks – (yep I get to leave the concrete cage) and I’m actually valued by my employer. I don’t have that constant feeling of agitation being on alert literally every SINGLE minute (including on the toilet). I didn’t realise how much stress I was under until looking back, the heart burn, chest pain and sleeplessness that I put down as normal has totally disappeared. Good luck to the poor souls with the emergence of lockdown…..

  15. Jeni Diekman
    16/10/2021

    If we really want to see change in this profession so that Community Pharmacists are paid for their cognitive input please respond to the Draft – 10 Year Primary Health Care Plan that largely ignores what Community Pharmacists can and could contribute to Primary Health Care https://consultations.health.gov.au/primary-care-mental-health-division/draft-primary-health-care-10-year-plan/consultation/intro/.

    The Draft Plan is proposing that consumers voluntarily register with a General Practice of choice that would receive block funding to care for complex cases. There would be a move away from the fee for service structure that tends to reward volume of services provided over value and quality of care. I contend that Community Pharmacy should also be reformed in this way.

    As many have said the Discount Pharmacy model rewards high volume dispensing that is often not following PSA Pharmacy Practice Guidelines. This is because the Funding model rewards high volume dispensing and packing. Of the funds in the 7CPA that remunerate pharmacy services less than 7% is for professionals services and there is a cap on them.

    Please respond to this Draft – with a strong voice from many Community Pharmacists we may be able to achieve some change. The fact that there was not one pharmacist on the Steering Committee for this review into Primary Healthcare is really a reflection that Pharmacists (not the Guild) are not vocal enough about what we really do and can do to improve primary healthcare in this country. The funding model needs to change. We need to change and not accept the current funding model that devalues the profession, our young pharmacists and our businesses.

    Surely the contribution that many of my colleagues have made during the pandemic whilst placing themselves and their families at risk earns us several seats on this Committee!

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