‘It’s a toxic draining job’: what pharmacists said

High workloads, deviation from acceptable professional practice and lack of support: they’re all issues highlighted by the stress survey

The National Stress and Wellbeing Survey of Pharmacists, Intern Pharmacists and Pharmacy Students has shone a light on the pressures facing many of Australia’s pharmacists.

As well as highlighting that 30% aren’t happy with their workload, it also found that pharmacists’ stress is comparable to that faced by doctors and nurses, and considerably higher than that of the general population.

AJP has rounded up some of the comments made in responses to the survey: following are pharmacists’ description of their stressors in their own words.


On workload:

“The expectations of script numbers were excessive averaging 350 scripts per day with one pharmacist plus Webster checking (approx 140/week),” a respondent wrote.

“The use of guides as opposed to legislated requirements limits the ability of pharmacists to argue script volume to pharmacist ratios.”

“I was working regularly between 40-50 hours per week. I have requested my boss drop my hours to 30-35 per week for my mental wellbeing,” one young pharmacist wrote in her response to the survey.

“I was stressed and overworked. The pressure of dealing with the public being pharmacist in charge was too much for myself personally.

“I was angry at work and at home and it was affecting my personal relationships.

“I work 11 hour days regularly with no break. I think that what is expected of pharmacists in the community setting is ridiculous.

“You cannot be expected to work at your best with these hours with no break and little to no support.”

“I am a Chief Pharmacist and the workload is excessive,” wrote a hospital pharmacist.

“Not many people within my workplace understand the complexities of my role and don’t understand why I stay back at work when everyone else goes home.

“I feel as though working longer hours is the only way to keep on top of the workload, but I don’t enjoy having to work so many hours or missing out on sleep.”

Another wrote of her experience of pharmacy as “Very family unfriendly, often expected to work late hrs or weekends or should be out.

“Can’t have day off when sick until finds someone to replace and also when kids are sick, told to come to work with sick child to work.

“When there is store inspection, everyone is told to work till midnight or so. Pay is very bad considering the workload.”

One regional hospital pharmacist said that he experienced a “chronic low level of pharmacist staff to be able to meet the Standards. ie not enough allocated to be able to achieve what is required.”

And one South Australian intern wrote that “We’re too busy (script volume/numbers) without anywhere near enough staff (pharmacists and assistants) to manage the number of customers that come through.

“It’s a joke and it makes me want to change industries before even finishing my intern year.”


On fear of errors:

“I found it difficult to manage work because generally pharmacist have such high expectations of themselves and each other and that puts a lot of pressure on ourselves when we are not given enough resources,” wrote one hospital pharmacist.

“The fear of making a mistake, the fear of the consequences e.g. causing harm, the fear of litigation, the fear of disappointing others, letting people down, these are all barriers to seeking help.

“We need to be told when it is alright and not our fault if we are not able to finish all the work. We need to know what is a reasonable expectation of our work.”


On professional standards:

“More than half of the 35 pharmacies I have worked at regularly did illegal things like supplying prescription medicine with no expectation of receiving a prescription, or claiming PBS benefits illegally,” one pharmacist wrote.

“It’s far more prevalent than you realise. Anonymous reporting should be allowed.”

Another wrote that “While there is no pressure to act unprofessionally, there is only discouragement from being too professional, especially if it takes time or may negatively impact on sales or profit”.

One respondent said that “Pharmacist-only medications are not checked by the pharmacist. All S3s are automatically entered as clinical interventions.”

And one young community pharmacist summed up her concerns very succinctly.

“Hell hole, no one in charge, assistants use illicit drugs while at work, danger to the community,” she wrote.


On lack of support:

“Hospital pharmacy management need to wake up and look at their little selves,” one pharmacist wrote.

“All my colleagues feel the same. Would not be surprised if someone commits suicide over it one day.”

“When my boss is bullying me and he owns the business is there any point speaking up, I can’t stay there,” said a female pharmacist.

“The pressure from employers to compromise ethics is enormous and the lack of job security is horrific,” wrote a Queensland community pharmacist.

“Always worried that I will be replaced by someone younger and cheaper despite the fact that I am honest, reliable, and an excellent pharmacist with decades of varied experience and loved and respected by my customers and co-workers.”

An older female pharmacist wrote that “My position as pharmacist in charge was terminated due to the issues that arose from the lack of support I received from management.

“Since then I am on the locum circuit and wish I had done this years ago—respect, encouragement, acknowledgement of job well done and perfect life work balance—all the things I did not have at previous job.”

One respondent said that while most of her colleagues were “great,” one was “an angry bully who frequently yells at me and at other pharmacists if her outside life isn’t going well.

“Repeated complaints to management have not effected any long- term change, just made management think I am a complainer.”

One male pharmacist wrote that while he was working at a single-pharmacist medical centre pharmacy in a regional area, “I was unable to enlist the help of a locum today and had to work while suffering from gastro with symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, malaise, fever and tiredness.

“It will be a miracle if no dispensing error was made.”

Another pharmacist wrote, “I’m constantly asked to do more with less, my managers have poor interpersonal and management skills, their actions are reactionary, there is no forward planning, staff morale is low, there is lots of unexplained sick leave and we are always short staffed, I’m left covering bases and apologising for bad service which stems from lack of being adequately resourced, I’m afraid a critical incident is imminent and I feel powerless”.

Another said that “If you complain you are bombarded with further harassment down the line. You will lose out in the end big time.”


On lack of appreciation:

“It’s a toxic draining job,” wrote one pharmacist. “I feel totally disrespected unappreciated and undervalued.”

“It is not colleagues that cause me to feel stressed,” wrote another. “It is the general public and lack of respect from other health professions.”

A Queensland community pharmacist said that “Pharmacists are placed under an enormous amount of stress and don’t have the time to counsel customers effectively due to the business model that pharmacies are now having to perform under.

“The lack of respect from many community members is also disheartening as we are all striving to give each person 100% attention and best advice with so few staff members.”

AJP will be reporting on stress affecting the pharmacy profession over the next couple of weeks. Readers are invited to tell their stories, either by leaving comments below or getting in touch with the AJP team.

Readers who are distressed can contact the Pharmacists’ Support Service on 1300 244 910.

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  1. bernardlou1

    What sort of pharmacies dispense 350 scripts per day? And rely on ONE pharmacist to check??
    Are we referring to the big Box discounters?
    If yes my advice to those pharmacist is to quit your job and find a better place to work. I assure you would be better off.

    • Gavin Mingay

      There are pharmacies owned by Pharmacy Guild board members doing just this… :'(

    • United we stand

      Given enough time, majority of stores will be discounters.

      • Arthur Pappas

        If that is the case then discount the pharmacy degree from 5 years to 6 months. Otherwise we are misleading our entry students.

    • Amandarose

      I have worked at a few who do this with one pharmacist- often rural and not by choice as pharmacists ar still hard to attract to even lovely rural areas like I live in.
      Sometimes is due to discount models but normal pharmacies often do these figures around my area.

  2. The Cynic

    Very very sad. But these comments all ring true with me.
    Aggressive entrepreneurs have overtaken pharmacy and the service offered to customers had fallen. Work conditions can be atrocious. Leading pharmacy bodies need to stand up and act.

    • Philip Smith

      Hard to see it from their ivory towers!

    • Arthur Pappas

      The problem is they dont lead.

  3. United we stand

    I honestly don’t see things improving any time soon. If anything, it’s gonna get worse 2020 onwards. Pharmacy is a dead horse. You can beat it all you want, it’s not going any where.
    If you are a smart young pharmacists (under 35), you should have had a 4 year exit strategy 4 years ago! Older pharmacists are pretty screwed especially if they don’t have sufficient savings by now.
    I’m leaving the profession in the coming months. Most of my friends did a few years back. I’m sad about leaving but I keep thinking in 5 years I’ll be still earning the same money, in the same role struggling from paycheck to paycheck. I planned my exit 2 years ago and I’m on track. Good luck to everyone else.

    • Philip Smith

      Where are you off too?

    • John Wilks

      Do those in positions of power and authority read these stories of exploitation?

      • Arthur Pappas

        Whats missing are ethical visionaries for pharmacy.

  4. Red Pill

    This is a repost but highly relevant (Sorry if you’ve read this already).
    My advice to ECPs:
    Your employers owe millions of dollars to banks at a time where return on investment is at its lowest and our industry is threatened both externally and within by those with far deeper pockets than you and your employer combined. The PBS profits are shrinking rapidly with every round of cuts (every 3-6 months) and the thriving discount model is having a field day, thanks to our protectionist overlords #TheGuild.
    Pharmacists are all facing a dire future indeed.
    Now you can stay and fight a good fight, but do know that it will be long and bloody. You will have to face the largest lobby group in Australia and risk bankrupting many of your colleagues. Along the way you may turn into the very monsters you began to fight. And if the fight is won, it may be too late indeed, as a new world is upon us and pharmacists are no longer defined by our 2017 definition.
    Or, you can accept the situation at hand, and move on. Make use of your degree but don’t become its martyr, mindlessly following it into the abyss hoping for a promised land that never was.

    • Arthur Pappas

      Unfortunately the worst enemy of the profession is itself. It has been taught sibce College days to disrespect and tear itself apart.

  5. David

    More reason to fix the discounting problem we have! Too much discounting, not enough staff

  6. Mick Rhodes

    As a recent contributor (Rhodes Management) to the pharmacy industry debate through our extensive research and 2 reports as well as providing submissions to the King Review it pains me to read this article and the experiences of employee pharmacists in the professional. Many of these comments concurred with our research at the frustrations being experienced. A SERIOUS STEP CHANGE IS REQUIRED. Recent token efforts of the PSA and PGA are quite simply too little too late. For example the PSA white paper recently published outlining that pharmacist pay is too low is like saying black is a dark colour. It is a long known self evident truth, yet only now its become a topic of interest. And the PGA have been on record to not increase pharmacist remuneration because it would hurt their pharmacy owner members. The same goes for the ability to provide a quality service in the face of a high number of scripts. Our research revealed that once you hit above 150 scripts per day the ability to provide the necessary services is completely compromised. At above 200 scripts per day the cumulative time deficit amounts to nearly 2 hours a days in the ability to provide those services. So while the PGA continues to extract more money from government for services which in many cases is pure profit for the owners, the ability for employee pharmacists to provide those services is simply a fantasy. It does not surprise me in the least the S3 dispensing automatically hits the clinical interventions provided – yet there is very little client dialogue. We called out for many changes in the industry, too numerous to mention here, but key among them was to 1) partially remunerate pharmacists directly for dispensing services provided out of the AHI fee (between $0.50 to $1.00) 2) allows supermarket to enter the industry which would increase demand (and pay) for pharmacists whereby depending on hours covered would require on average 2.6 pharmacists per store 3) scrap the CPA entirely and replace it with patient centric supply and access charters that the industry deserves and 4) reducing the price of medicines through better sourcing and 5) digitising the whole (doctor) consultation to (pharmacy) collection process. Put simply the longer inefficient arrangements are in place the greater the pent up need for change occurs when long needed reform disrupts those established arrangements. Hopefully for employee pharmacists it will improve for you and our recommendations went a long way to at least help that process. Hopefully the final recommendations of The King Review will assist this too. In the mean time, as one lady said in the article, being a locum on your terms might be a good way to do what you want on your terms.

  7. Amandarose

    I actually like being a pharmacist. I have not always and some work places in the past were not the best fit for me but I have finally found a bit of a groove. I like the little medical centre pharmacy I work in,I like it’s the home of the misfit patients care and support we can give those that fall through the cracks.
    I like the doctors and the instant ability to sort issues out and educate them and I really feel I have time to help people.
    I also do HMR’s and I really love that- while the cap harmed me financially I kind of like the slower pace as it was emotionally draining stepping into so many people’s lives. Many have not be heard properly by the constant turn around of GP’s in rural areas and it really is a big chance to have chronic illnesses written off as drug seekers or crack pots vindicated – often with severe autoimmune diseases left undiagnosed and ignored or misdiagnosed.
    We have the chance to get to know and support people and help them in ways others have not grabbed the chance to and seeing life changing good outcomes is an honour. Sometimes the hrs reasearching to try and figure out the patients health issues is something no one else has bothered with in 7 minute consults. Those without the ability to advocate to clearly explain their issues are often overlooked.
    I like being the first port of call for people’s health and we can often help with simple OTC products and advice.
    I could always do with more money but I do currently have job satisfaction.

    I have had some bad times in the past though- being rural sometimes choice of pharmacy was limited with horrible locum jobs for big faceless chains with limited morals and disfunctional staff. But for the most part I have worked in good pharmacies for good rural owners who care for their patients and are an intergalactic part of the community. I get scared these will be killed off by the discounter forcing margins so low it is difficult to make do.

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