Why are newly qualified pharmacists going straight into locuming?
With many pharmacies recruiting for full-time positions, why are so many newly qualified pharmacists turning to locuming instead? C+D investigates
It's a long journey to qualify as a pharmacist. After a four-year degree, one year of practice, and passing the much dreaded registration exam, newly qualified pharmacists can finally take their first steps of their professional life as registered clinicians.
More than 2,000 candidates passed the June registration exam earlier this year. Together with the 584 who successfully completed the assessment in November 2021 and 2,371 in June 2021, these candidates represent the freshest cohort of the pharmacist workforce in Great Britain.
But it has arguably never been more important to look at newly qualified pharmacists’ employment preferences.
With many contractors lamenting that pharmacist roles are difficult to fill, and worries over “rapidly-inflating locum rates” as the debate over whether there is a shortage of pharmacists rages on, it is crucial to future-proof the community pharmacy workforce.
With anecdotal evidence that many newly qualified pharmacists are eschewing salaried roles in favour of working for themselves, C+D spoke to three newly qualified pharmacists and a tutor to hear their views.
Better pay and more flexibility
Co-founder of PreReg Shortcuts and tutor Marvin Munzu told C+D that he has noticed a “trend” where many of his trainees choose to start off their pharmacy careers as locums before accepting permanent contracts.
This was a decision he decided to take himself when he joined the register. Despite being offered a permanent role after completing his pre-registration training at Lloydspharmacy, he decided to become a locum due to better hourly rates and the increased flexibility that came with the role, he said.
“After locuming for a year, I was a lot better at negotiating my salary. I also worked in different pharmacies, and I was able to compare and chose the one that suited me best,” Mr Munzu added.
Similarly, a newly qualified pharmacist – who wishes to remain anonymous – told C+D that they also chose to go down the locuming route as they believe it allows them to earn more money and comes with added flexibility.
“I [already] had experience in community pharmacy,” they explained. “It was an easy role to step into so not a big jump from a pre-registration pharmacist [role] to working as a registered pharmacist.”
Being a community pharmacist manager comes with its own responsibilities, “having to report back to the head office to meet targets, which is something that I am not currently interested in”, the pharmacist said.
“Being a locum, you do not have these responsibilities,” they noted.
Much less stress
For Birmingham-based pharmacist Viveak Sangar, who joined the register in January, the decision to start off locuming was dictated by his view that it is generally less stressful to work as a locum compared to taking on a full time community pharmacist role.
“This is primarily due to workload versus rate of pay. Being continually employed as a regular pharmacist demands much more service provision, responsibility and overall workload if managing [the pharmacy], too compared to the rate of pay received for efforts,” Mr Sangar told C+D.
Additionally, he feels locuming offers a better work-life balance “as evidently one is able to choose their own hours, negotiate rate of pay and decide where best they would like to work” – for instance by avoiding areas notorious for pharmacists and staff receiving abuse from patients, he added.
Bad experience as provisional pharmacist
A locum pharmacist who has been on the register for just over a week and who has asked to be referred to as SJ told C+D that their decision to work as a locum follows a difficult experience as a pharmacist manager.
Within this role – which SJ covered while on the provisional register – they only worked with one dispenser and had two apprentices who they were asked to train themselves.
“I had a lot of pressure from the head office about services; I struggled. So, I’ve decided not to take a full-time pharmacist or pharmacist manager role until I’m comfortable or know a pharmacy and the company,” SJ added.
Furthermore, locuming is giving them a chance to potentially explore a career as a hospital pharmacist, as they spend part of their time working in a hospital outpatient pharmacy.
What would make locums consider a permanent role?
Mr Sangar told C+D he would only consider a full-time role in community pharmacy if there “was a movement towards more private services, now including prescribing”.
He feels this would lead to more pharmacists being employed within a branch, “leading to shorter hours and a better work-life balance”.
Meanwhile, another anonymous newly qualified pharmacist told C+D that they would consider a full-time role in a community pharmacy if they were offered a higher salary than what it is presently available. They feel most pharmacists are underpaid for the work they do to “keep the pharmacy afloat, alongside dealing with all the NHS cutbacks”.
“A four-day working week and also more career opportunities funded by the company” such as clinical training would be welcomed, they added.
Workforce issues in community pharmacy remains a hotly debated topic, with some claiming these are down to a shortage of pharmacists, while others say there is a lack of pharmacists willing to work in the sector in its current state.
Whether the newly qualified pharmacists have been scared away from considering full-time employment in community pharmacy or whether starting off as a locum is simply more appealing, it is for pharmacy owners to devise ways to make their full-time roles more attractive to the pharmacists of the future.