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Why are so many pharmacists unhappy?


Why are so many pharmacists unhappy?

Some people think happiness is reality minus expectations. When our reality is greater than our expectations, we are happy. This might explain why a lot of pharmacists seem unhappy, says Peter Kelly



Twenty years ago, when I was being persuaded to become a pharmacist, I was told that it was a well paid and secure job. That was the selling point of being a pharmacist.

The problem with that now is that it doesn’t feel well paid or secure anymore. Our reality has become less than our expectations and that creates unhappiness.

So community pharmacy, what happened? The pay got hit by austerity and the emergence of new technologies has increased a sense that no job is secure. We are going through a period of dramatic change. We are right in the middle of the fourth industrial revolution.

Let’s look at austerity. Austerity is the transfer of wealth from the middle and working classes to the richest in society. The richest pay less tax and the middle and working classes suffer through less service provision and lower wages.

Pharmacy is particularly vulnerable to austerity as most of our income comes from the government’s coffers.

When austerity was first introduced, one of the main justifications for it was an academic paper by Reinhart and Rogoff. Their paper claimed that rising levels of government debt lead to weaker rates of economic growth.

In 2013 that paper was found to be full of flaws, including excel data entry omissions. The paper was not credible, the evidence was not concrete and yet austerity continued.

Austerity has failed on so many levels and yet still continues. It has hit pharmacy hard. It has also shown that pharmacy in the UK is not very politically powerful.

Pharmacists’ wages have not gone up in 10 years because of austerity. Now it is easy to blame the government and politicians for that but it is not that simple. We are in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, a revolution that has made tech entrepreneurs extremely powerful.

Silicon valley always had an ethos of disruption. They want to disrupt whole industries, they want to disrupt governments and societies, they want to change how we do things. They have never made any secret of that.

We know they have a very powerful lobbying influence. They benefit from austerity. I don’t think it is too big of a jump to say they are playing a role, somewhere, in its continued implementation.

So should we blame and hate the tech companies? Again, it is not that simple. Anyone who has read ‘Factfulness’ by Hans Rosling will know that the lives of most people around the world are getting dramatically better.

Access to education has increased around the world and extreme poverty has greatly decreased. The tech companies have played a big role in this. Think about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

To be a pharmacist in the UK for the last decade is a strange place to be. We are going through great change due to improving technologies. On balance that change is probably going to be of great benefit to the world but at the moment that change is detrimental to pharmacists, not only in pay, but also in the sense that there is now a constant and real fear that improving technologies could do a lot of us out of a job.

The idea that being a pharmacist is always going to be a well paid and secure job is gone and we need to accept that. Nobody is really to blame. It’s just the way the river is flowing at the minute.

Being a pharmacist is an interesting job. In a small town or village, a pharmacist is well paid and they will have a degree of financial comfort. They can start a family, have holidays, live a nice life. In a big city like London though, starting a family on a pharmacists’ wage is more difficult.  

A pharmacy degree is a very versatile degree. You can use it to get into academia, you can us it to set up a business, you can use it to pursue a career within the NHS or a corporate career. Or you can simply work in a community pharmacy like me.

I have worked in community pharmacy for 12 years. I don’t see it as a career. I see it as a job. I have to say the last 12 years working as a pharmacist have been very good to me. I am a happy pharmacist.

For the first six years, I lived and worked in a small town in Ireland. I was financially comfortable. Over those six years I went on numerous big-ticket holidays. Six years ago I came to London to pursue my dream of becoming a media personality (I do the occasional stand-up comedy and pharmacy press work.)

Being a pharmacist has allowed me to do this. Now I am far from financially comfortable in London and big-ticket holidays have fizzled out but I am very lucky.

A pharmacy job is a great set-up for pursuing a dream job. In community pharmacy when the door closes the work for the day is pretty much done. That is a great plus in this day and age with emails on phones. This gives you time to pursue other interests.

Being a pharmacist is like a lot of things in life - you get out what you put in. My advice to young pharmacists is decide what you want to do and put everything into it. If you want a life in academia, go for it. Drugs are fascinating to study.

If you want to be a clinical pharmacist in the NHS, there appears to be a good infrastructure to progress and climb the ladder there. If you want to climb the ladder of a large corporation, you can do that through pharmacy. My sister, who is a pharmacist, climbed the corporate ladder through pharmacy and thoroughly enjoyed her experiences doing so.

If your goal is money, you can take risks and set up your own pharmacy or pharmacy-related business. I know at the moment it is a very difficult time to set up on your own but that’s business – it’s tough, there will always be times of chopping waters.

I know the late Kirit Patel had difficult years where he went from two shops up to six or seven and then had to go back to two during a recession before then taking off and going on to build the huge chain Day Lewis is today.

Or you could do what I do and use pharmacy as a job that pays the bills and gives you the opportunity to chase your dream job.

I know a pharmacist who is locuming his way through pilot school. I know a pharmacist who became a trained actor, now works three days a week and auditions, shoots ads and small movies the rest of the week.

I also know a pharmacist who got into politics and is now a prominent politician in parliament in Ireland.

The world is changing, pharmacy is changing and, whether you like it or not, your reality is changing. If it is all making you unhappy, maybe you need to change your expectations.

The actor Jim Carrey once said his dad could have been a great comedian but decided to become an accountant because that was a safe job. His dad got made redundant as an accountant and never recovered from it.

The message from all of this? You can fail at what you don’t want to do, so you might as well pursue what you do want to do.

After all, looking to the future, are there really any safe jobs?



Peter Kelly is community pharmacist and occasional stand-up comic based in London…

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