Look after your employed pharmacists or the value of your pharmacy and its services will suffer, owners warned

Talented, experienced pharmacists are leaving the profession and are being replaced by graduates of lesser quality as poor relative wages start to ravage the profession, an expert panel has warned.

Speaking at the Medici Capital Pharmacy Industry & Bankers Dinner in Sydney earlier this week, Frank Sirianni, Medici’s Managing Director said negativity about a range of issues, and discussion over wages, were impacting the retention of people in pharmacy.

The problem is acute, given the importance of quality staff to the ongoing value and viability of a community pharmacy. In a best case scenario, an owner can leave a pharmacy for an extended period and know it will continue to operate to the same high standard.  

However this situation is seemingly being undercut by the drift of talented pharmacists out of the profession – possible due to stagnant, under-par wages, Mr Sirianni suggested.

“We’re losing talent, with good pharmacists leaving the profession,” he said.

“This is very concerning as a major reason that pharmacy has kept its financial value vis-à-vis other professions is because of the team it employs. The transferability of the value of these staff is crucial.”    

His comments were backed by Professor Charlie Benrimoj , dean of the Graduate School of Health, University of Technology, Sydney, who said owners “should be ashamed” to be paying their staff around $25-30 per hour.

“Pharmacy faces a ‘perfect storm’ in this area, with too many pharmacy schools, too many of which are producing too many graduates,” he said.

“Therefore we’re having trouble firstly in attracting the best students into pharmacy and then most of the best of these students choosing to intern in a hospital rather than community setting.”

Professor Benrimoj said the latest UTS Pharmacy barometer emphasised the shift in student priorities, with only 11% saying they wanted to work in community pharmacy, and only 9.3% saying they wanted to become a pharmacy owner.

Mr Sirianni said pharmacy may have to look for new models of employment and ownership to incorporate the requirements of younger pharmacists.

However rural pharmacy owner, and former NSW Guild councillor, Espie Watt, said his Riverina pharmacies often struggled to find pharmacists willing and able to work long-term in these areas, even when he was offering them rates of $40-50 per hour, and even helping with their rent.

“We even have a serious issue in retaining staff in our Canberra pharmacies”, he said.

“There needs to be something done to nurture and improve the lot of these younger pharmacists. There also needs to be more done in terms of their training, in particular their management training. Many of those we see have absolutely no idea initially of things like staff management, financials etc. We need to help them on the job with these. Explain to them how to speak to staff, how to organise things, show them a P&L.”

Professor Benrimoj said pharmacy was in need of a unified strategic policy direction to look at workforce issues and the implementation of professional service models.

“We can’t be expecting demoralised, underpaid staff to be enthusiastically implementing new professional services, however we do need to introduce these services in a way that makes money, benefits patients and that engages these often clinically well-trained graduates.”

“This is the real underlying problem.”