Three Years Out and He's Burned Out

Jp Enlarged

I received a note from a PharmD who has been working for only three years.  He is already feeling that he made a bad career choice.  This is an edited version of some of what he wrote.

I work at a closed-door LTC pharmacy in Utah.  There seems to be a high turnover rate at the “Big Boys” when sign on contracts run out. 

He spoke of the potential of becoming an owner, the prospects of adding on to the business and having fun.

I can see how a new grad would sign his/her life away for 3 years for a sign-on bonus just to pay down student debt.  I have plenty of student debt.

He declared that the owner/s are apathetic about taking business away from places that give terrible, rude and poor service such as Pharmerica.


How can I get motivated again?  I love this profession, but find my morale being drained and definitely am not having any fun.  Do you have any words of advice for me?

I’ll tell you what I think.  You will probably hear from other pharmacists in the Comments. 

Owners have run this scam for decades.  It is the old:


I have never met a pharmacist for whom this DREAM ever paid off.  Ever.  They are using you, man.  You have been snookered.  It has happened to thousands of us.  They probably don’t even want to talk about it.  They keep putting you off.

My advice is talk to the “Big Boys”, make them wait and then make a deal.  First, however, go to   Download and print the TPA Sign-on Bonus Agreement and drive a hard bargain.  Take the money, pay off some student debt, get all of the benefits that they will give you.  Max out the 401k.  Make immediate eligibility to the company’s 401k and immediate medical part of the deal.  If they say, “We can’t do that.” they are lying to you.

Three years out.  That makes you 27 or 28 years old.  Patience, man.  Patience. 

This is YOUR profession, man.  You bring your “fun” to the job.  They can’t allow you to have fun or not to have fun.  That is up to you.  I’ll tell you this.  I would never work in an environment where I did not have patient contact. 

Buy my little book, “JPs 20 Simple Rules…….”



  1. Cathy Lane RPh  •  Dec 26, 2009 @10:50 pm

    First year, during residency at a VA Medical Center, I met a fellow pharmacist, must’ve been 75 yrs old. Maybe younger, but the obvious pain with which he walked made it seem as if he was as old as Methuselah, maybe not that old, but definitely past the time when he should be hustling for a living. His similarly aged wife was frail, and with kidney failure, required use of thrice weekly dialysis. Yet, he hobbled around the pharmacy just like us young ‘uns (newer grads).

    I asked him once why he was still working ‘busting a gut’ working full-time. For benefits. He’d been working in an independent shop for 25 yrs… as he understood that working sole staff for a one-person independent owner, he’d get first dibs when the owner wanted to sell the business. Nah, when the owner’s son graduated from pharmacy school, HE took over, and this old guy was out the door. Scrambling to find another job. No retirement. No long-term benefits.

    I learned some basic things that first year during the residency, and that was one of them; wear support stockings (or try to protect legs) and ensure the job takes care of family needs. There is no reason why anyone should make money off of you like a donkey.

  2. pharmacyslave2000  •  Dec 27, 2009 @9:42 am

    I fully understand this person’s fellings as I too feel much the same way. I have both a B.S. in Pharmacy and Biology. Pharmacy was never my first choice as a career. My goal was medical school for much of my life but, for a variety of reasons, it never worked out. I have always loved science and medicine so pharmacy seemed like the next best thing. However, one really has no idea what “pharmacy” consists of until you experience it. In my humble opinion, it is a thankless job. You are saddled with such an enormous debt coming out of school that you really have no choice but to sign your life away for 3-5 years for some hope of paying it down. You are beat down on a daily basis by your superiors about increasing volume, decreasing tech. hours and CSI scores. If you do happen to actually feel good about helping an appreciative patient, that feeling is immediately destroyed by the next half-dozen patients screaming about co-pays. I must admit that I am jaded but I see no real future for myself in pharmacy. It is a business and that business is making money at any cost. There is no loyalty. I accept it for what it is. I have no grandiose visions of owning my own store. I’ve worked with enough older pharmacists who’ve done just that to know that’s not for me. I do the best job that I can everyday and I go home and enjoy my life. I am content with that.

  3. vga  •  Dec 27, 2009 @12:13 pm

    I’d recommend a career change.
    Get the hell out of dispensing pharmacy.
    Retail, LTC, home infusion, hospital staff… Doesn’t matter, they’re all the same. 12 hours, no lunch or breaks, everything is urgent, being undeservedly chewed out at least once per day, everything is your fault, not enough help, total lack of resources to do your job… We all know the drill. In my opinion, a majority of the profession is a pit and totally unsalvageable.
    Aggressively pay off your loans and bail ASAP. There is no point in spending your life working at a job that you hate. It’s nice to say that you can retire early. It’s also really easy to do. But even if you retire at 50, you’ll have spent around 25 years of your life being beaten down. Not worth it.
    I’m not sure what your interests are but maybe you could do a residency and try to land an academic job. Or maybe a true clinical position. Something where you are paid to think, not count pills. Perhaps you could consider a position in industry or maybe try to be a drug rep.
    Consider downshifting to part-time. Even part-timers make great money. This could reduce your stress and help you clear your mind.
    Maybe you could find a way to change professions entirely. Like becoming a teacher or even going back to school to do something else (engineering, IT, whatever interests you). Joining the peace corps is probably even a more rewarding career choice than where you are now.

    Bingo, vga. I worked part-time for 4 years between 1977 and 1981. I even had a wife and, the reason I married her, a toddler step-daughter. We lived like hippies because we were. Life was really good and the most I made in that period was $15.00/hour. I worked enough to be in the union. I had all the benefits, health care, etc. and never worked more than 4 days x 8 hours, usually 3 x 8 hours. When I cut back even more for one full year, continuing the health insurance (Kaiser Permanente) cost me $120.00 a month for the 3 of us. So, my young friend in Utah. Just take a break. You can work enough to get medical and make up to $65.00 an hour in some areas. If you are married, ask your wife to
    continue to help paddling the boat. Kids? Well, if you have kids, you have to do your job. Take vga’s advice and take a break. Make your $75,000.00 by putting in 3 eights. Enjoy the other 4 days off and come back when you are more steeled to what the job is right now. Trust me, all of you, this “galley slave” job will not last. The Big Guys know that there is a sea change coming. More Rx business than the job could handle right now. I am an optimist. I just cannot give up, you guys.

  4. peon  •  Dec 28, 2009 @7:19 am

    Jim has it right! Part-time can be great. Out of 40 years in pharmacy, I have only worked about 5 years full time. For about 25 years I did relief work, I might work 6 days a week or 2 days a week….whatever I wanted to do. About 10 years ago, I started working for a major chain as a floater. I would work, maybe, one day a week at one store and another day at another store. I might work 4 days a week, traveling to a different store each day. It was fun to travel around and meet the different pharmacists and techs. It felt like I was back “visiting” with them and catching up on the events in their lives. As JP says, you can make some good money, and work just a few days per week, and have most of the benefits. You will have time to have a life outside of pharmacy.
    It is a sad commentary on pharmacy that if you work full time, the hours, the abusive customers, and all the hassles will beat you down. However, part time is certainly a good option. You can make as much money, maybe more, working part-time in pharmacy than you would at another job. Why become a teacher? You will be working full time and not making as much money as you can make in pharmacy working part-time? A lot of women have discovered part-time work. They can work and have a family too. They can have a life outside of pharmacy by working part-time.

  5. pharmacyslave2000  •  Dec 28, 2009 @6:25 pm

    According to this blog, the “profesion” is doing great. Opportunities everywhere. Now everyone thinks this person should work part-time to escape the crap heaped upon us on a daily basis. So which is it? JP, I thought you created TPA to better the profession and the work environment. In this post you’re basically saying, “You’re right, this sucks. Just half-ass it, work part-time”. No one is acknowledging the real issues that need to be addressed and changed. Many people can’t afford to work part-time, it’s not an option. I am also a “floater” for a major chain. I work full-time and more when I can. I HAVE to eat the shit that others don’t want to. The real problem is the fact that the best answer anyone has is to run away from the profession.
    Are you a member of TPA, Slave? Yes, TPA came from my brain. I presented to Paul Trusten and he added weight to the idea. Paul and I are co-founders. That was in November, 2006. Nine months later, I presented it by Email to the 650+ pharmacists who were in my Hotmail address book. There were 40+ bites and we had an organization. April, 2008, 15 pharmacists and 3 technciians had a weekend At the San Luis Resort on Seawall Blvd. in Galveston. By late Sunday morning, TPA had been formalized. Go to http://www.thepharmacyalliance and take a look. It is impressive. TPA deals with Dignity, Self-Respect and Integrity ON THE JOB. If you are a member, Slave, where have you been when we need you? If you are not a member, kiss my toucus. Myron, Cindy, Paul, Keith and myself have put in hundreds of hours on this. We may be dumb, but we are not stupid. You have had your pound of flesh from me. I’m giving it up grams at a time now. If you are not a member, Slave, then you are just another indifferent whiner. No other organization gives a shit about work-place conditions. TPA is your last best chance. If you cannot come up with $60.00 for membership, you are seriously institutuionalized. You, me and thousands of others are pathetic.

  6. sumotoad  •  Dec 28, 2009 @7:56 pm

    if you’re not burned out after 3 years, you’re not carrying your share of the load…. I am only half joking. Here in CA we have seen, since the demise of our Board Exam and the acceptance of the Naplex, an order of magnitude decline in the quality of pharmacist. Now we have a plethora of know-nothing, do-nothing foreign grads who are content to let us old warhorses do 80 percent of the work because that is our ethic. Meanwhile they chat in some other language on their cell phones, plan their vacations and get out of as many shifts as possible with impunity because if we old-timers complain, we are deemed racists. For the public, if your pharmacist kills you, you have only our state board to thank.

  7. Mayreau  •  Dec 29, 2009 @10:15 am

    Here’s my caveat on part-time work. I am 60 years old. I have been working part-time since 1994. Its Okay. But its disappearing. No new stores being built on every corner, soaring grad numbers, foreign imports from who knows where, and the pharmacist surplus is disappearing. Yeah, there are going to be a lot of prescriptions to fill, but it will be done robotically, centrally, or tech driven. The economics won’t support the current pharmacist pay scale. The cost must come down.

    To all of those that are critical of TPA: Its not working because we cannot get enough participation from our colleagues. The pervasive line of thought is that everything will work out and in the meantime, things just get worse for the grunt behind the counter. Its like Democracy, if people won’t participate, then they need to be content with the decisions others make on their behalf…..Bad or Good.

    We are still there and do what we (the few and proud) can, but pharmacy needs everyone’s participation.

  8. peon  •  Jan 2, 2010 @8:41 pm

    I have done my share of complaining about pharmacy. But, I have also done my share of trying to get change in pharmacy. There has to be a vision for pharmacy. For a lot of pharmacy graduates, they have chosen the clinical path. However, a large bulk of pharmacists still work retail. There is probably a much clearer vision for the clinical pharmacists than the retail pharmacists. Chain pharmacists seem to have no vision for retail pharmacy. They find themselves stuck in a job they hate. But, it does not have to be that way! Collectively we can bring change to retail pharmacy. We can nudge the chains into changing the way they design pharmacies and in how we work. We all know how ridiculous it is to work 10 to 12 hours without a break. We all know how ridiculous it is to look up and see a line of people waiting at the counter. Things can be different! Join me and others at The Pharmacy Alliance. Together we will see change in pharmacy.

  9. Heather  •  Jan 5, 2010 @5:13 pm

    I work for a PBM. I know a lot of you hate us. But, let me say this. As a pharmacist I have never worked in a more profesional enviroment. When I answer a patients call, they get my full attention. No interuptions, no drive through beeping at me, no second line ringing, no one asking where the toilet paper is, and no nurse waiting for an iv bag. Whats more, every single day I get three 15 minute breaks I AM REQUIRED to take and a 30 minute lunch that I usually enjoy with fellow pharmacists where we can discuss pharmacy issues, articles etc. The pay is good and the benefits better. I have worked big chain retail and I have worked independent. The independent was a good challenge for the first 5 years, we did everything,retail, home infusion, chemo, DME, and drug studies. I wanted to buy out the owner who was older. HE didnt want to sell and then couldnt afford too. He fired all the other pharmacists and my work load tripled and my pay didnt. It was an accident waiting to happen. I left. I found my current posisition and I havent looked back. I do what a pharmacist and a pharmacist alone should do. I talk to my patients all day long. I give them information about their medications, drug interactions, how to stay healthy etc. You name it Ive counseled on it. Do I wish there was face to face? Of course, but an uninterrupted phone call is a thousand times better than a half assed job done at chain level with all the interruptions. When I hang up from a call, I know that that patient has had my full undivided attention and has gained knowledge about their therapy. My advice, if you dont like where you are at: leave. Dont wait to pay off your college bills. Leave now, run and find a different posistion in which you are happy. They are out there. Life is short and you spend a great deal of it at work. Dont waste it on something you hate. Even three years is to long, you never know when that unexpected bus will hit….

Leave a Reply

Allowed tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>