Optimism rises, but employee pharmacists are left behind

Community pharmacy confidence has skyrocketed over the past year, but satisfaction and pay stagnates among employee pharmacists

Confidence in community pharmacy is at an all-time high, according to a new report.

The latest UTS Pharmacy Barometer has calculated a score of 126.8 out of 200 after surveying 360 pharmacists in October 2020.

A score of 100 represents neutral confidence for the Barometer, which has been running since 2012.

Now in its 10th wave, the latest score is 17.8 points higher than last year following a rising trend over the past four years.

The lowest score was 61.2 in 2013, which was attributed to accelerated price disclosure.

For the Barometer, respondents are surveyed about how confident they are in the future viability of community-based pharmacy, and pharmacy decision makers (owners and managers) are further asked their beliefs regarding the value of their pharmacy.

Among the sample, 180 respondents (50%) worked as owners/owner managers while 31% were pharmacist-in-charge/pharmacy managers, and 19% were employee pharmacists.

“Given the challenges for community pharmacy in 2020, an all-time high in the Barometer is a terrific result,” said Professor Kylie Williams, Head of Pharmacy at UTS’ Graduate School of Health.

“This optimism in the profession has also translated into increased interest from students in becoming pharmacists.”

Owner/owner managers continue to demonstrate the greatest sense of optimism.

This group was also the most satisfied economically (22%) and professionally (29%), which the report said was most likely due to the introduction of guaranteed dispensing remuneration.

However employee pharmacists were the least satisfied economically (6%) and professionally (9%).

Employee pharmacists continue to exhibit the lowest level of confidence in the future viability of community, said the report.

“The gap in confidence between employed pharmacists and owner/owner managers is striking and needs to be fully understood and addressed,” commented UTS Adjunct Professor John Montgomery.

Meanwhile 61% of respondents indicated that their remuneration level has not changed in the past 12 months, up 13% compared to the previous year.

The majority of employee pharmacists (54%) reported that their hourly rate is between $30 and $40 per hour, which Emeritus Professor Shalom (Charlie) Benrimoj said was a “disgrace”.

“Nobody is keeping pressure on employers to keep going with wage increases,” said Professor Benrimoj. “There is a lack of political and economic pressure on owners.”

Forty percent reported earning between $40 and $50 per hour, one per cent up from last year, however the percentage of employee pharmacists earning less than $30 per hour also rose – from one to three per cent.

Continued pressure and advocacy is required to ensure proper levels of remuneration for employee pharmacists.—UTS Pharmacy Barometer 2020

Pharmacists employed in positions mainly dedicated to the provision of professional services (17%) reported earning higher average hourly wages. They were more likely to earn top tier remuneration with 7% earning between $50 to $60 per hour and 3% earning over $60 per hour.

However these dedicated, top-paying roles were found to be very limited and most respondents (83%) did not consider these positions to be economically sustainable.

“It is unlikely we are going to see substantial growth in owner/owner managers hiring pharmacists solely as service providers as the 7CPA appears not to increase funding for community pharmacy services,” stated the UTS Pharmacy Barometer report.

“With the focus of funds continuing to concentrate on dispensing remuneration and a few select professional services that have caps, it is probably not financially viable to employ a person exclusively dedicated to service provision.”

Professor Benrimoj said: “The reality is that owners will require employee pharmacists to have a range of skills and competencies including specialist service delivery.

“This will affect professional development, career structures, pharmacy education and remuneration for employee pharmacists.

“The increasing confidence in the largest proportion of the pharmacy profession, community pharmacy, is fantastic. It will have many positive implications,” he said.

However Professor Benrimoj added: “We should nevertheless continue to ensure that professional and economic rewards are shared between owners, manager and employed pharmacists.”

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1 Comment

  1. Sean Gannon

    I suspect the low professional and economic satisfaction among employee pharmacists will continue to be an issue that drives good people out of community pharmacy until a significant portion of the workforce unionises. The Pharmacy Guild has secured a huge chunk of funding for the provision of “professional services” yet wages have flatlined for over a decade now (see the PPA Remuneration Report 2019-20 pg11). Why? Because the Pharmacy Guild represents the interests of Pharmacy OWNERS, not employee pharmacists, and it is in their best interest to suppress wage growth.

    The Professional Services Pharmacists described in the article above only comprise a minority of the workforce, and even then I believe earning $45/hr for 38hrs/week would only put someone right on the average salary for a full-time healthcare worker (see the ABS Average Weekly Earnings page).

    All this for a job where the mandatory indemnity insurance is $20mil per claim? One mistake from a pharmacist has the potential to cause $20mil of damage, yet $50-60 per hour is considered “top-tier remuneration”? Seems like the money is flowing straight out of the governments hands and into big business’ pockets to me.

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