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Think twice before criticising a pharmacist's locum rate

C+D's clinical editor draws on his personal experience to explain why we shouldn't always blame locums for taking low-paid shifts

I recently wrote an article about locum rates, and the extent to which they vary across the UK. As expected, it sparked a heated debate on the issue on social media.

Pharmacists complained about the low rates, and some even chastised those who would take them. After all, it was individuals’ willingness to undercut their fellow pharmacists that was cited in my feature as the reason why the sector can’t agree on a base level of pay. Despite this, I still think we should careful before criticising locums based on the rates they will work for.

So what locum rates do I think are acceptable? The following story explains my stance.

After working as a community pharmacist following my graduation, I moved to Edinburgh to begin a master’s degree. I had saved a bit of money as a pharmacist, but this was a finite amount, and I soon found that high university tuition fees, expensive rent and my love of avocado on toast were putting me out of pocket. So I put myself to the task of finding steady employment.

I had moved to Scotland – which due do its government’s vocal support for pharmacy and range of national services I had always considered to be a ‘land of plenty’. I therefore thought I would be able to easily find locum roles to keep myself afloat. However, this stream of well-paid work never materialised. Every pharmacy door I knocked on already had a pharmacist who worked evening and weekends. Because of my university classes, I couldn’t work weekdays.

I would have taken any work, no matter what the rate was – simply because I was desperate. With every failed attempt my anxiety grew – and my nest egg further depleted.

One day, I was walking home when I passed a hiring sign in the window of a Subway fast-food chain. As I had worked in another branch of the franchise in my younger days, I almost walked in to apply. It was only the thought of donning once again the regulation-issue apron and baseball cap that had me quickly turning on my heels.

I persevered a few weeks longer and eventually found regular, well-paid locum work. This led to more shifts and sustained me during my master’s degree.

However, the point still stands – I would have worked for almost any rate. I knew work would beget more work and my priority was a steady income, rather than a well-paid shift. In my desperation, I had even considered resuming my abandoned career as a Subway sandwich artist.

As a pharmacist, I agree our unique skills and responsibilities should be reflected in our pay. That being said, I don’t think we have the right to criticise another person for the rates they accept.

It’s great when we have the luxury of turning down shifts in favour of a higher rate. But we don’t always know an individual’s circumstances and – as such – we should be wary before condemning them.

Kristoffer Stewart is CPD and clinical editor of C+D, as well as a locum community pharmacist. Email him at [email protected] or contact him on Twitter @CandDKristoffer

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