Is there a pharmacy wage crisis?


(L-R): George Tambassis, Rachel Dienaar, Michael Dooley, Geoff March, Taren Gill, Matthew Scott

PSA16’s panel discussion on improving pharmacists’ remuneration acknowledged widespread concerns in the industry

Employees are worried about pharmacist wages, said PSA CEO Dr Lance Emerson in opening the panel discussion at the conference on Friday 29 July.

“It’s the single largest issue facing the profession in community pharmacy,” he said.

“We hear your concerns about low income and wages. The PSA is actively working with others to look at that, but we’re also looking at diversifying with evidence-based roles.”

For example, the organisation is working with practice groups to find a sustainable model for pharmacists to work in general practices, said Dr Emerson.

PPA President and panellist Dr Geoff March said surveys are coming back saying remuneration is one of the problems, as well as lack of skill utilisation and high workloads – that pharmacists are not being allowed to actually use their professional skills.

“I think there’s structure problems with the whole process. What should be driving pharmacy? Firstly, we have a high level of medication problems but our practice isn’t really addressing the issue. We put a lot of scripts through but are we caring for patients?” said Dr March.

“We’re also poorly integrated with the health system. The CPA has its advantages and disadvantages. The government ticks us off then works with the rest of the health system, so that’s one thing that needs to be addressed,” he said.

According to figures collated by pharmacy industry consultant Bruce Annabel and shown at the conference, there seems to be a clear correlation between gross profit per script and pharmacist wages.

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“It seems like owners are doing the right thing – that when profits go up they pass it onto the pharmacists as well,” said Dr Emerson.

However, Dr March pointed out that different pharmacies pay different wages.

“We’re seeing discount pharmacies pay $4-7 per hour less than other pharmacies. The fact is, since 2009 the rate of wages has fallen and quite dramatically, the evidence here is that the wages have fallen,” he said.

“Some discount pharmacies tend to underpay fresh grad pharmacists… apparently they get paid $26 per hour as compared to about $30 in the market,” a Sydney-based intern pharmacist who didn’t wish to be named told AJP.

“Interns get paid so poorly even though they’re doing the same job as the pharmacist,” she said.

“The current rate is lower than the night fillers at Coles or IGA.”

It’s no surprise, then, that pharmacy students are concerned about their future, according to the National Australian Pharmacy Students’ Association (NAPSA).

NAPSA former vice president and panellist Matthew Scott said that in a survey run by the student organisation, 72% reported being worried about remuneration. A further 17% of members reported not seeing themselves in pharmacy after completing their studies.

The organisation’s president Shefali Parekh echoed members’ concerns at the conference.

“Students – including me – are definitely worried about what wages will be like after graduation,” Parekh, who is in the third year of her pharmacy degree, told AJP.

 

What can be done?

Panellist and PSA board member Rachel Dienaar said there are a few strategies the PSA is working on to improve members’ remuneration.

“Some issues are in remuneration packages, in retaining the skills of pharmacists to be remunerated appropriately.

“There are quite a few strategies that we’re looking at to move that forward. For example, investing in programs that assist in community pharmacy such as Health Destination Pharmacy.

“Early career pharmacists can start to build their brands and start to be able to negotiate, show what they can deliver and argue how they can help build their business and deliver excellent care.

“Essentially you can put forward a business model that will want other people to remunerate you appropriately,” she said.

Dr March agreed that pharmacists can do more than just dispense.

“What we have to think about as a profession, are there other opportunities for pharmacists to work outside those four walls?” he said.

PPA has come out saying the King Review should consider low pay rates and the under-utilisation of pharmacists’ skills, and these issues will form part of the organisation’s formal submission to the review in September.

“PPA believes it would be a mistake if the Review were not to consider the impact that low pay has on the sector,” a spokesperson told the AJP.

“To do so would ignore the majority of pharmacists – employees – who perform the vast bulk of services available at your local pharmacy.”

President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia George Tambassis said wages aren’t great but the focus should be on a strong pharmacy model.

“It has to be around the viability and sustainability of community pharmacy, and bringing new and innovative ideas to community pharmacy. Unless we can create a viable pharmacy network then there’s no way to find a solution.

“Obviously it’s hard to keep everyone happy – being leader of the Pharmacy Guild – but when there’s discussion in my pharmacies around remuneration of pharmacists, I turn to my experience as a staff member.

“You need to bring something to the equation, learn your trade and get involved, then something good can come out of the discussion.

“Profit is not a dirty word. It’s about being viable, sustainable and bringing those ideas through,” Tambassis added.

PSA board member Taren Gill agreed with Tambassis that pharmacy needs to be sustainable and commercial.

“Should we be getting paid more? Who wouldn’t say yes in this room right about now?

“When we’re talking about this we’re talking about people’s livelihood and the capacity to earn. Right now it’s not sufficient. Young people can’t afford to buy a house or to put a down payment on a pharmacy,” she said.

Pharmacists need to think outside the box when it comes to expressing value.

“Don’t let the patterns stop you from being an awesome pharmacist on an awesome wage. But start with a one-page plan about what success looks like for you,” said Gill.

“I want to challenge early career pharmacists to become more commercial – to understand where sustainable income comes from to keep yourself employed and well-remunerated to provide a skill. Being clinical and being commercial are not mutually exclusive.”

However Dr March disagreed. “Looking back at my 40 years, I’ve never seen it so commercialised in pharmacy, and that’s been a real disappointment for me personally. I think with the balance between commercialism and practice, it’s out of kilter at this time,” he said.

Professor Michael Dooley, President of the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia and director of pharmacy at Alfred Health, said the issue isn’t with remuneration and that it’s about what motivates the practitioner.

“When you look at pharmacy as a profession, it’s a reflection as a lack of worth in our professional role when it’s offset by how much we get paid.

“Sometimes people may actually offset their salary with the rewards they get from the way that they care.

“In community pharmacy where they’re pumping out scripts, they see the main thing as remuneration. We need to see an increase in the care that pharmacists provide.

“They get paid about the same as nutritionists and physiotherapists get paid, but the care they provide and the personal reward they get from their job takes the focus off the remuneration aspect,” he said.

“Pharmacists as an identity have to know what we’re here for. Are we here for business, small business, healthcare? If we’re healthcare professionals we have to act as professionals. Students need to know what they’re signing up for when they’re doing a science,” he concluded.

Scott from NAPSA said that when he graduates in 2017, he’s looking at rates back to 2006 levels. However he points to the potential for pharmacists to move into rural positions, where there seems to be an undersupply.

“There’s a role pharmacists are not looking at and that’s rural. We know that our members are worried about an oversupply, but I’m getting involved in rural placements where they are offering me a job on the second day of placement. I know there are jobs available in rural areas that pay higher rates,” he said.

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37 Comments

  1. (Mary) Kay Dunkley
    01/08/2016

    Well reported Sheshtyn.

    • Sheshtyn Paola
      01/08/2016

      Why thank you Kay! And it was absolutely lovely to meet you over the weekend. Hope to speak to you again soon

  2. zavance
    01/08/2016

    Interest article, I was an ex-pharmacist whom made a career transition to now a qualified Chartered Accountant. What needs to be acknowledged is that, majority of the qualified pharmacist or pharmacist students to be – enter the profession with an irrational motive to graduate and hope to live in capital city and live a sustainable life. I made a career switch cause, because I don’t believe I am the type of person who is willing to exit my ‘comfort zone’ again (had worked in rural Australia) to obtain a reasonable earning. I think it seed of the issue lies that – pharmacist should know what they are entering into and be prepared to work in rural areas as an ‘Health Professional’ to improve the healthcare system across the country – as supply for job is high but demands by pharmacists are low. Otherwise should not elect, to study pharmacy and pursue another degree where risk is higher to obtain a job after graduation but jobs is primarily located in capital city.

  3. United we stand
    01/08/2016

    Lol at Guild President George Tambassis saying wages aren’t great but the focus should be on a strong pharmacy model. Tony Abbott just found his long lost brother.
    At the end of the day, every pharmacist should know The Guild represents only the Pharmacy owners and sees no reason to dip into their profits to help employee pharmacists who pay them no fees whatsoever.
    King Review has rattled the Guild and will be it’s ultimate demise. Location rules should go in metropolitan areas and every pharmacist should be given an opportunity to open a pharmacy wherever he wishes to do so.

    • zavance
      01/08/2016

      Your implementation of axing metropolitan areas, will = cannibalism of the profession.
      Will be no different to price war between Woolworth & Coles. Will not that this model is not already prevalent.

      • BPhail
        01/08/2016

        I agree with United. Location rules are stopping innovation by giving a monopoly to a selected few with the cash and muscle to hang on to the 5000 pre-selected approval numbers. Lets transform pharmacy and give the young generation to try out new innovative ways of delivering pharmacy services.

        • Philip Smith
          01/08/2016

          I still don’t see this as a solution, we are currently paid for dispensing script, meds checks and interventions (badly as no differentiation between interventions) and by paid, I mean the PBS number is paid and some of those payment require you to be QCPP qualified (red tape). Ultimately we are too accessible, and not paid for advice, phone calls and a host of other duties we carry out. Just removing the location rules will not work, the remuneration needs to be looked as, no location rules mean CW popping up everywhere.
          The little guy won’t be able to afford rent, fit out and stock, let alone wages, based on dispensing remuneration alone and the cut throat prices needed to compete next to a CW.

          But if they could offer greater health services that they could be remunerated for, screening, advice on medication, etc.

          But then how do they do that and manage to watch the shop for S2/S3 sales, dispense, phone calls, tech issues and the many other issues a pharmacist faces in a days work?

          • Still a Pharmacist
            04/08/2016

            Location rules can be axed in metropolitan areas to give the opportunity of opening new pharmacy only to individual pharmacists and NOT to pharmacists’ body corporate. This can be a special class approval number which will be cancelled if sold to pharmacists body corporate.

            This individual pharmacists can start dispensing methadone to cover cost of renting the place and get his wages from dispensing, clinical interventions and selling S2-S3 medications.

            Few years back in NSW, private pharmacy were allowed to dispense methadone and young pharmacist had an option. But according to the wish of big players, the law was changed to make these pharmacies unsustainable.

      • United we stand
        01/08/2016

        How is having a pharmacy next to every medical centre similar to Coles Woolies price war. It’ll be liberating for pharmacists with each pharmacy specialising in specific needs of the community rather than giving all the big bucks to the big chains

        • Zavance
          01/08/2016

          Tailorred pharmacy specialising the need of the community ?~ Pharmacy isn’t a Lego ~ you can tailor so much. Simple economy tells you, more pharmacy for every piece of land ~ will lead to price war and squeezin’ margin cost a the owners hand. Plus your so called ‘tailored’ pharmacy short measure of survival ~ if that is even to work. If you understood how pharmaceutical companies have rebates set hands with chain pharmacies ~ you would realise your simplist assumption isn’t a feasible solution

  4. Vern
    01/08/2016

    We need to do ‘role expansion’ and move into other areas. We can do a pharmacy version of ‘Pokémon Go’. We can have an app, with various pharmacy goodies pictured. Let’s call it ‘Junk-e-mon Go’. We’ll be rich.

  5. David Haworth
    01/08/2016

    A pharmacy graduate with a $20,000 education bill will never be able to pay it off , raise a family., buy a safe car and a house on the current pharmacists wage. And every day they are asked to complete more new programs and services and told they must lift their game to compete. Sigh.

    • John
      01/08/2016

      If you read the last sentence of the article ““There’s a role pharmacists are not looking at and that’s rural. We know that our members are worried about an oversupply, but I’m getting involved in rural placements where they are offering me a job on the second day of placement. I know there are jobs available in rural areas that pay higher rates,” he said.”
      It is because majority of graduate pharmacists are selective on where they are willing to practice. In metropolitan areas. No sympathy ~ plenty of opportunity for better remuneration if they search outside.
      Poor attitude of health professional, studying the occupation for money not for development of the health network and access to the community.

      • BPhail
        01/08/2016

        Firstly, a BPharm will now set you back $34,428.
        Secondly, a 20-something year old pharmacist is in his/her prime years looking to make acquaintances and possibly find his/her long-life partner making rural extremely unappealing. Not to mention going rural is career suicide as there is no progression in community pharmacy and most industry jobs are in metropolitan areas anyways.

        • BJ
          01/08/2016

          Don’t bother with rural. I’ve done it. City life is infintely better. And so are the opportunities. You shouldn’t be expected to go rural to find a job as a professional – that is ridiculous. This is 2016 and there are still those who are giving out such advice without being able to justify it. That old chestnut of going rural needs to be buried. It’s been done to death: go rural and you will regret it for obvious reasons. I have a mate that said he couldn’t bear to go rural as he wouldn’t be able to drive his Porsche on the rubbish roads there. Guess what? He was right! Ask yourself: why is it so hard to get people to go out bush? THINK!
          The only people saying go rural are those owners that can’t find puppets to run their pharmacies for them whilst they themselves live it up in the big cities! You won’t find many of them staying in rural outback towns or even regional towns. For starters, have a look at the big names in pharmacy and where their principle place of practice is on AHPRA. DYOR and THINK SMART!

          • United we stand
            01/08/2016

            Bj just dropped the mic rofl
            Sad and true

      • BS
        01/08/2016

        John, I’ve even been to Outback Northern Queensland and overseas-trained pharmacists have already made their way there – the supply is met. It’s all very convenient to use the tired, old mantra of ‘just go rural’ to solve a professional labour crisis but I don’t think anybody in their right minds would consider any profession a ‘good’ career choice if said career can only take off by uprooting to the boondocks. John, time to get off the high horse.

  6. Ex Pharmacist
    01/08/2016

    Very sad to hear this is continuing, and I see no empathy towards the non-owner pharmacists who pretty much run the cogs and wheels for the pharmacy owners. I remember the beady greedy eyes of pharmacy owners that demanded more generic conversions, more “free” SMS reminder sign ups, more Interventions, more Med Checks, its ridiculous… at the end of the day, you have no time to provide customer experience or clinical value because you’re being treated as an expensive shop girl.

    I left community pharmacy 3 years ago, don’t mind if my registration expires. Good luck to the new students anticipating graduation: “I want to challenge early career pharmacists to become more commercial – to understand where sustainable income comes from to keep yourself employed and well-remunerated to provide a skill. Being clinical and being commercial are not mutually exclusive” is a savvy euphemistic way of saying – get some new marketable skills guys! Pharmacy degree means nothing to us commercially except you’re an entitled, expensive shop girl, and the only requirement for us to run a pharmacy! If pharmacists were not needed to print labels, trust me we’d be out of a job in pharmacies too.

    Let me gently suggest to wake up and get out of pharmacy when you can.

    • Kitty
      01/08/2016

      Mind sharing how you got out? I find regulatory affairs and clinical research impossible to break into! The minimum requirements are inevitably min. 1 yr of experience which is catch 22…

      • Ex Pharmacist
        02/08/2016

        I understand – let me suggest that Health IT is hiring pharmacists left right and center – look into eMM, eHealth and MyHealthRecord, the money is heading towards digitalising healthcare.

  7. Kevin Hayward
    01/08/2016

    Pharmacists might want to consider broadening their professional scope:
    I bought and successfully ran a community pharmacy. During that time I became a workplace trainer for my staff, and took on formal education and mentoring skills.
    Currently I work part time in adult education.
    I won a higher research degree scholarship and became a GP practice pharmacist. Currently I work part time as a HMR pharmacist.
    With the money from the sale of my pharmacy, and, the skills I gained running my business I was able to set up a successful property business. Currently this now provides most of my income.
    A pharmacist is an upstanding member of the community, this allowed me to qualify and volunteer as a JP in my community, including at the GP practice where I base clinical work
    I am proud to call myself a pharmacist, although I do not work in a pharmacy, my career portfolio means that over the last 20yrs I have been able to make professional, thical and financial choices that suit me.

  8. Angus
    01/08/2016

    Interesting how all those ‘pharmacists’ whose pay packet does not depend directly on community pharmacy, aren’t really too concerned about the low, sparse wages in community pharmacy eg people who are paid directly by the Pharmacy Guild, PSA, industry, academia, pharmacy regulatory bodies. Sounds like those people are doing alright. As for the vast hordes who make up the foundations of pharmacy, known as community pharmacists, well…

    • JennyT
      01/08/2016

      King review is the best thing that could have happened to pharmacy. The younger ones should embrace and seek change or they will be the ones ending up with a dead end career. Not the fat cats who made their money during the golden era and are laughing to their banks to collect their paycheck

      • United we stand
        01/08/2016

        King Review might be the saviour we were all waiting for. Approval numbers will be worthless and every pharmacist would have a chance at owning their little pharmacy inside a medical centre for example collaborating with GPs and providing all the new and exciting services. Bring on change. Pharmacy has become stagnant and needs an overhaul anyways.

  9. Paul
    01/08/2016

    Some 12 years ago I (&partner) sold our pharmacy after40 years in business. I thought I would offer my services as a “locum”, but would not do it under $50 per hour . Having a very good understanding as to what % that was to return , I thought quite reasonable.However work dried up very quickly and I handed in my ticket in disgust after 2 years. Up till we retired we were paying manager PhC’s at least $50 per hour. The overly greedy cut price Pharmacies???? are destroying the fabric of a once proud industry.

    • United we stand
      01/08/2016

      Paul in Western Sydney locum pharmacists are doing it for $32/hr. Its ridiculous. The sad thing is CWH and co don’t even employ locums as they are viewed uneconomical. They simply reshuffle their $26 pharmacists around different stores to cover pharmacists on holidays.

  10. United we stand
    01/08/2016

    On a different note, Bruce Annabels chart depicting correlation between gross profit per script and pharmacist wages is completely flawed and misleading as it doesn’t take into account inflation. How on earth can you say $30 in 2004 is of the same value in 2016? $30 in 2004 is comparable to about $45 today. Absolutely ridiculous.

  11. Pharmacy Specialist
    02/08/2016

    I have the same sentiments and a similar experience to Paul… Having sold my Pharmacy in 2011 at the age of 35, I had worked extremely hard for 10 years on the back of 8 years study and saving. I thought I’d be able to contribute as an emergency locum, offering services at $50/hr. As bookings were slow and becoming more remote, I completed an MBA, and then went on to complete an executive MBA. Initially, I hoped to offer my services in Pharmacy, having completed extensive studies on personality profiling, motivation, aligning company goals with employee values, business strategy and many many more interesting fields.

    What I found was that Pharmacy is replete with arrogant owners, abusing their staff verbally and psychologically, dispersed across a framework of no-profit and no-answer. I was shocked at how the actual problems of staff retention, skill base utilisation and diversification metrics were so profoundly under performing that no one would work in Pharmacy if they hadn’t already invested decades of their lives into it.

    And even to the point where I have stood my ground; offered time and time again, to assist in diversification models; demonstrated and shown how the model must change, because a Pharmacist spending 2 min 37s of a 4 min script behind the dispensary counter picking, scanning and labelling before flashing through 23s in counselling… it’s the wrong metrics. I have been told time and time and time again how “this pharmacy has been operating this way for 90 years, and that how we’ll continue to operate, thank you!”. The CEO of the Friendlies Society Pharmacy that said that to me, subsequently set up a non-approved pharmacy to compete with the other 8 pharmacies in the town, and got his pharmacists to walk scripts down to the approved site at the end of the day to be reconciled and submitted for claim. But the crime of it is how these staff are being treated. Across all business structures: CWH offer $32/hr, and like was mentioned by some in this forum, they just shift their regular pharmacists around so they don’t need to employ locums. In my area, one guys owns 12 CWH’s with minor partners in each one. Every partner I have met have been 30 or younger, with a massive debt, earning $31-36/hr and most of the time without any other collateral. However, it’s hard to comment on all pharmacies, as some have very stable staff attrition rates and are clearly achieving in this current market!

    • BJ
      03/08/2016

      Friendlies Societies – once the bane of pharmacy – are now pulling up stumps onto greener pastures. It’s not suprising really. Some, I hear, have even sold out to CWH!
      People want a cheap fix for their weight management issues. Pharmacy simply can’t provide that unless a product/program comes out that is extremely good value for money. I’ve seen silly weight loss programs promoted through pharmacy (further wasting staff time) that require huge upfront fees to be paid by punters and basically just teach you stuff that any 8 year old can find on the net.

  12. bakassi
    03/08/2016

    The death of pharmacy started when curriculum was focused on clinical pharmacy where Doctors and nurses are not ready to make room for you in this turf. Other areas like pharmaceutics, pharmacognosy, pharmaceutical chemistry and pharm micro where taken off. These are areas that would have provided professional opportunities for pharmacy. I’m a pharmacist, not an Australian but currently studying in Australia. What I see in your pharmacies are saddening. Pharmacists are always looking tired and unhappy. Your chain pharmacies focused on price wars- more like commercial goods venture. No clinically focused advertisement or inscriptions. I come from Africa and I was expecting to see a revolutionized practice in a developed Australia. Alas! No. Africa still sticks to the old curriculum. Hence job opportunities are not limited to community or hospital pharmacy. Jobs like medical representative are readily available from pharm companies. Most of the multinationals like GSK, Pfizer etc will not employ you back home if you’re not a pharmacist and these employment are permanent, good salary and allowances. I’m surprised its not like that here. In areas of pharmaceutical research, pharmacist are considered first. Given the wide- based curriculum which allows specialization in different fields of drug use and development. Again, The regulatory bodies only deal with pharmacist hence many companies are forced to recruit pharmacist. Infact other health professionals envy us. In government hospitals, after the doctor, the pharmacist is next in salary.

    • William
      17/08/2016

      Obviously different policies in different countries.
      Many years ago that was also the case here. Some years back in AUS, I tried to employ pharmacists into the manufacturing side of pharmacy but no-one was interested so the result was I employed science and chemical engineering graduates.
      At the same period sales and marketing employed nurses in preference to pharmacists as they generally had better rapport with the medicos and hospitals.
      I believe that pharmacy these days is trying unsuccessfully to find a role. Times have changed and we need to recognise that.

      • The Truth
        17/08/2016

        I agree William. Pharmacy has diverted from it’s traditional roots in recent times, desperately trying to implement ‘professional’ services but at the same time imitating a mini-supermarket. The result is that it’s now looking like a patchwork quilt of a profession.

  13. Rick
    03/08/2016

    Look at the picture of the pharmacy luminaries above…how many of them do you think will be taking their own advice, and ‘going rural’? Any of them? Looks like their meeting is in a major city too…

    • TwoRuralPharmacies
      03/08/2016

      I’m looking at the photo. I see two pharmacists who work in rural communities – Rachel Diennar and Taren Gill.

      • United we stand
        03/08/2016

        Orange is not rural mate

      • John of Toorak
        03/08/2016

        Let’s put an end to this ‘go rural’ nonsense. It’s over done. You should NOT be expected to go rural and endure the sacrifices as a professional after doing an arduous 5 year pharmacy degree. Period. And if anyone thinks that rural Australia is somehow….desireable….to live & work in for a 20-something year old, think again! Guys and girls, the only culture out there is agriculture. If you like farms then great go for it. You probably should have done a veterinary course instead.

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