This is not how things should be. The profession of pharmacy has reached such a point that speaking up will destroy your career.
Everyone has a voice these days but no-one can speak.
Welcome to community pharmacy where rampant asset stripping has been happening for years. Corporate looting you might call it. A few years ago I felt the effects of this culture and environment directly and I can assure you it was not pleasant.
Here is my story, for what its worth.
I applied myself during my pharmacy degree and I did really well. I flew through pharmacy school. My grades reflected this. I worked hard though.
I began my pre-registration year. I was eager to get going.
This was my first encounter with community pharmacy. I was at the bottom of the pile and I was ready for that. I was stacking shelves and helping with the running of the community pharmacy that I worked in. This went on for weeks which ran into months. I tried to rationalise the activities I was doing and reconcile them with the role that I was working towards. The reality of pharmacy, and in my case community pharmacy, was completely remote from what I had been sold.
I decided to stick with it. I had some previous life experience so I decided to basically put my head down and get on with it.
I reached out to colleagues in the company, including a manager above the level of my pharmacist tutor. We had a discussion about my progress. I described how I had come in and basically been allocated to sales assistant jobs. I explained to this colleague how I felt I was not making progress. For example, I had not been given any direction, had been assigned no developmental tasks and had not really progressed towards my goal of becoming a pharmacist at all.
We had a great chat and agreed on some steps to accelerate my learning. I was really excited and encouraged at this point. The senior colleague left and I went back to work.
What I didn’t realise at that time was that there was now a target on my back. And actually this is how it goes in community pharmacy. The penny would slowly drop over the coming months and things would rapidly go from bad to worse.
The concerns I raised about my pre-registration training clearly set alarm bells off somewhere in the bowels of the company. After that day it was absolute hell.
The pharmacist in the store was a bully. I have never encountered a non-pharmacist store manager so scared to approach a pharmacist as this one was. It was breathtaking how that pharmacist spoke to the team but also spoke to the store manager.
Looking back with hindsight I can now see that the pharmacist was clearly being managed from above because I gradually began to be given tasks and projects but very grudgingly. It was about this time that the sniping passive-aggressive comments started. Before this whole episode in my life happened I prided myself on being really quite confident but, to be honest, these little comments began to really wear me down.
And that’s the thing about bullying. The sadness builds over time. Quietly, gradually it builds until one day you really can’t do it anymore.
I had wanted to be a pharmacist for years so getting to the end of the pre-registration year was absolutely essential. Besides, I simply couldn’t afford to give up. Again I decided to put a smile on and get on with it.
My clinical knowledge was good. I picked up the dispensing role quickly and effectively. I kept going.
I was working one Sunday. A lady came in. She said that she was without her blue inhaler. This was the classic emergency supply situation. She asked if she could acquire an inhaler. I said I would go and check but that likely that would be no problem.
Just as I turned around to seek help my pharmacist shot out of the dispensary and declared loudly;
“I am the pharmacist. He is not. I decide what happens around here not him.”
Quite understandably the lady looked shocked. I didn’t know what to say but was completely astounded. I’m ashamed to say I got upset for the first time at this moment.
After the lady left the pharmacy the pharmacist took me aside in the dispensary and immediately said;
“I could have punched you in the face for what you tried to pull there.”
I was upset and completely mortified by this comment. I said to the pharmacist that I was leaving at that moment. I told the pharmacist that I would need at least ten minutes before I could start again.
I need to explain at this point that the acute stress I felt as a result of this situation was largely down to the fact that the pharmacist was also my pre-registration tutor and therefore had great power over my future destiny. This pharmacist had the power to deny my route to becoming a pharmacist.
This situation was consigned to history and we all moved on. Or so I thought.
The next stage of this story is what happened towards the end of my pre-registration year. My pharmacist tutor had indicated to company officials that I would not be signed off as competent at the end of my pre-registration year.
I couldn’t believe it. My worst fears were being realised. The reasons given were that there were a few areas of competence that I did not meet.
I was told I would have to find another placement.
I was pulled out of the store for a few weeks. I was embraced by a new pharmacy team, completed the rest of my pre-registration placement with relative ease and was proud to make it on to the pharmacy register. I had achieved my goal.
However, the cost of this achievement has been significant. Over this period I suffered an episode of situational depression and still have anxiety to this day. At the worst point I admit I had dark thoughts.
I wanted to write this to hopefully ensure similar stops happening to other pharmacists. I thought I was as strong person but when bombarded repeatedly with horrible comments and behaviours from a terrible individual that strength dissolved and for the first time in my life I reached my mental limit. You should never assume what is happening behind the eyes of your colleagues and if you see them struggling just be kind and try to support them.
I can’t see a long term future in community pharmacy for me but I have to endure it for now. I wonder how many others are trying to escape.
The author is a pharmacist and wishes to remain anonymous.