‘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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