Pharmacists and The Endless Pursuit of Greener Grass

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Most pharmacy professionals work for Corporate America, and in the retail setting. For many like myself, getting pigeon-holed in retail can feel like a constant struggle, whereby you feel like if you can just break out and get into something like compounding, it will be better. It will definitely be better. How can it be any worse?

Is the grass greener on the other side?

I’m going to say no. And maybe that is a disappointment to some, but it can also save you some peace of mind. I used to think, “If I can get a job with an independent, then I will feel like I’m working to support a locally owned business that operates to serve the community in a way that is genuine.” I definitely thought I’d escape the cut throat profits-over -people agenda, and that having over 2 decades of experience would result in me being valued and appreciated. I’m a hard worker. And I’m willing to take less money for a job where I’m not timed and graded, but rather treated like a healthcare professional.

When my dream finally came true, admittedly, for a while I thought I was experiencing heaven on Earth. Yet, much to my surprise, it was just a mirage. Little by little my mind started to understand the problems that independents have and how it transfers to the pharmacist and to support staff. Inconveniences can happen with smaller companies and in various other settings. You may not have someone pushing you to meet over 100 metrics and complete over 100 modules in a year, and at the same time you might miss your old job’s slick computer software that made the dispensing process and recordkeeping simple, organized and streamlined.

Problem number 1:  Lack of SOP, job descriptions and long term plan leads to confusion, broken workflow, decreased productivity and diminished morale. When you’re used to structure and clear processes, the lack of organization and polished processes can be maddening if the pharmacy owner hasn’t taken the time to map out SOP and Job Roles. Managing pe

Problem number 2: Nepotism.  I was completely unprepared for this phenomenon because I never experienced it in my career. One of the most shocking aspects of nepotism in the workplace is that a relative or friend of the business owner can actually be sabotaging the business and destroying team morale, and it goes unnoticed and unaddressed. It’s frustrating trying to run a pharmacy when you have to work around your support staff while coddling some of them and enabling bad habits. There is no way to be “in charge” of the pharmacy when you work, when you have staff that ignores the pharmacist on duty.

Problem number 3: Retaliation can exist in any work setting.  When you’re a hard worker you want to be evaluated on a fair level, so at least your effort and work ethic is recognized and appreciated. Until it’s not. Until you voice your concerns and you realize you’re not guaranteed an open door policy that will result in understanding and acceptance. There’s no HR department, and you can be told that if you are not happy at your job, you should look elsewhere for employment.

Problem number 4: You can be micromanaged by the business owner. Talk about feeling the pressure at work. Most of us get a visit from the district manager about once a month if that.  Those visits can be intense, especially when you’re busy.  Owners who have other pharmacists working for them are always going to have a level of power and control, even when their way of doing things lacks something. Some owners trust their colleagues and have a hands off approach, and some simply can not give up control, share information and power, or trust that a colleague can do as good of a job, or better, than them.

Problem number 5: Sometimes you not only take less pay, you have fewer, if any, benefits with local employers. Small businesses are shutting their doors more and more every day. There’s not that true sense of job security you’re used to having as a licensed pharmacist. Sometimes the software, hardware and other technology is ancient, or just very basic, making the workflow less efficient, which reduces the ability to give excellent customer service while you’re giving excellent patient care.

But I think the real reason the grass is not greener on any one side when it comes to practice settings, or corporate vs local, is that the people you work for and with make or break your work experience. What makes the grass greener is proper care. And every workplace is tolerable or not based on the immediate, daily environment.

There were some pharmacy teams I had along the way that were amazing. I looked forward to going to work because we were not only efficient but fun. At other locations I’ve worked in, there were teams that had morale so low that my mental health declined and depression and anxiety set in after working there for just a few months.

One of the most important things to keep in mind in a job that has a high burnout rate, and especially if you’re at a place that has had high turnover – there are always other jobs. No job is worth your mental health and state of wellbeing. I’ve watched colleagues stay in positions where they were miserable, and in conditions that could have been made better, just because they felt like -“I need this job.” The truth of it is most of us need a job. Many don’t like change, but change can be very liberating and refreshing. It seems so many of us are convinced that there is no green grass anywhere. That is simply not true. Sometimes it is just a matter of asking to transfer to another store within the same company.

If you’re a pharmacist and you run a pharmacy where your support staff are not supportive, or where your support staff are not well trained and it is stressful, or maybe your personality just doesn’t fit with a few of the full time employees that work in the pharmacy – there are ways to improve your working conditions. If you’re a staff pharmacist, you may not feel as though you have much control over your pharmacy, but by pharmacy law, the pharmacist on duty, even if they are a temp filling in, is in full and actual charge of the pharmacy. When technicians don’t see it the same way, a power control tug of war can start. Sometimes you have to bring it out into the open with honest conversations. Use healthy communication when you do. Your place of work probably has policy and procedure in place to address things like insubordination. Unfortunately, not every pharmacy manager supports their staff pharmacist. If this is the case, you may have to have an open door meeting with the district manager.

What if the district manager says, “Yeah, I don’t care. Learn how to get along with your colleagues, we don’t give transfers for personality conflicts.”? This is where it’s important to keep in mind, again – there are always other jobs. Turnover is very inconvenient. A supervisor might be willing to move you to another location if you’re at a point where you are going to leave the company all together if they don’t take action to support you. Again, your mental health is not worth staying in a place that makes you miserable. Your district manager, or any other kind of supervisor should care and respond with care if you’re struggling to the point of asking for a transfer.

You’re a healthcare professional. You can be valued as such. If you’re not being valued as such, keep searching for a job where you will be. Those kinds of jobs are out there. Unless you’re the kind of person that likes no one, ever. In that case, you won’t find the green grass because you can’t see it when it’s there.

No job is perfect, but there are people in this world who make it worth waking up and going to work in the morning. Your coworkers, your patients, and even your boss can be those people if you’re open to finding them, recognizing them, and appreciating them.

Good luck in your search for greener grass. Look within.



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