Do you enjoy your job? Granted, you probably don’t love it all the time. But if the times when you silently curse your employer while drowning beneath a seemingly endless pile of paperwork vastly outweigh the times that you feel happy with your role, then you are far from alone.
The results of C+D’s Salary Survey 2016 reveal that the majority of pharmacists feel dissatisfied with their jobs. Three-quarters of 776 pharmacist respondents* to the survey, which took place between October 16 and December 21 last year, said they would not recommend pharmacy as a career.
Others felt so disenchanted with their jobs that, of 519 employee pharmacists who responded to the survey, some 83% said they had thought about leaving pharmacy over the past 12 months. And 44% of those who had considered leaving had already started actively looking for work elsewhere.
These figures may sound shocking, but they are sadly familiar to Pharmacist Support’s chief executive Diane Leicester-Hallam. She says the charity has seen a “steady increase” in the number of pharmacists enquiring about employment outside of the profession over the past few years.
In fact, 34% of all the enquiries the charity has received so far this year have been related to employment issues. Of these, 25% were from people who were unemployed or seeking alternative employment, Ms Leicester-Hallam says.
These concerns have been an ongoing theme running through C+D’s Salary Survey in recent years. Figures from the 2015 survey show that 72% of 267 employee respondents said they had suffered from work-related stress in the previous 12 months. And earlier surveys have shown a steady rise in the proportion of stressed pharmacy employees, from 61% in 2011 to 70% in 2014.
Of the 1,046 employees who responded to the C+D Salary Survey 2015, almost three in 10 said they rated their job security as worse than the previous year. This figure was slightly higher among the large multiples, with 35% of employees at Well, Lloydspharmacy and Boots reporting the same concern.
It’s clear that many pharmacists seem to be facing a crisis of confidence in the profession. So why are so many of them fed up – and can these figures be turned around?
A fabulous job?
A closer look at some of the responses to the latest Salary Survey gives a greater insight into why pharmacists are feeling so dissatisfied. While one respondent sarcastically referred to their job as “fabulous”, the survey reflects the long list of concerns often voiced in the pages of C+D and the comments section of its website. The list includes poor working conditions, understaffing, abusive patients, “stagnant” wages and forced unpaid overtime.
Other respondents cited target pressures and “bullying” employers as reasons they were unhappy in their jobs, with one individual threatening to leave the profession because “life is too short to feel this unhappy”.
The picture is so bleak for some that it has become difficult to see a way out – and there could be serious consequences. One response simply reads: “[I’m] going to kill myself if this continues.”
Looking to the leaders
Pharmacists are being pushed to breaking point and the situation cannot continue as it is for much longer. Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) head of corporate communications Neal Patel tells C+D the survey’s results are a “huge concern”.
“I’m a proud community pharmacist,” he says. “I enjoyed my job [when I worked in the sector]. I feel very sad if the majority of pharmacists who responded to [the Salary Survey] feel differently.”
He says he is concerned about the consequence of this dissatisfaction, because the sector simply cannot afford to lose any more good pharmacists. “The profession needs fantastic pharmacists to help the public
and improve patient care, but to also take on what is an increasingly heavy burden of workload,” he says.
C+D’s survey results were gathered late last year, just before the government announced its plans to cut pharmacy funding in England by £170 million. It begs the question of how pharmacists’ morale will be affected when the cuts finally bite.
Al Patel, owner of Lee Pharmacy in Lewisham, south-east London, says his job satisfaction is “getting lower”. A key problem is that electronic prescriptions make it more difficult for him to prioritise his time, “so the workload is just absolutely constant”, he tells C+D. He says his main frustration is that he is “burdened down with paperwork”, but he is also concerned about the staffing problems that are faced by his colleagues across pharmacy.
Unfortunately, the planned drop in pharmacy funding could make this situation even worse, says the RPS. Neal Patel says the society is “really concerned” that reduced income – due to the impeding cuts – will force businesses to cut their staff even further, and increase pressure on those remaining. The society is now concentrating on encouraging pharmacies to “look beyond” the cuts and find ways to manage workloads. “Otherwise, we will lose good people,” he warns.
Time to move on?
Given this tough backdrop, it’s unsurprising that Al Patel is doubtful that he would choose pharmacy as a profession if he were given a second chance. And he’s not the only one who believes that they might have been happier in another line of work. Some respondents to the Salary Survey said they are seeking pastures new.
“I am now considering early retirement as pharmacy is no longer the profession that I once loved. [There is] too much pressure and too little reward, either financial or job satisfaction,” one respondent said. “I will be leaving the profession shortly and will be having a better life whatever happens,” said another.
But what of the next generation of pharmacists? Al Patel believes they will be just as blind to the challenges that the profession faces as he was at their age. He remembers the pharmacist at the store where he worked as a student complaining about problems within pharmacy, but as a young man he didn’t see that side of the profession. “The changes of the past 10 years are probably more than the past 100 years. But students don’t see this picture,” he says.
Room for improvement
Clearly, pharmacists are dissatisfied. But what solutions can the profession offer on how to improve their working conditions?
“We’ve got to recognise that we’ve got highly trained people putting a lot of work and a lot of money into getting a degree and a professional qualification,” Neal Patel says. “We’ve got to work really hard to make sure that the role
they take on is really rewarding and lineS up with their ambitions – [both] professionally and personally.”
So what could be done to improve the situation? Lee Pharmacy’s Mr Patel says he would be a lot happier at work if the government upped the amount of funding it gives to the sector. “We’re having to work harder for the same amount of money,” he says. “The issues we’ve got now are the same as last year – we’re not moving forward.”
It’s doubtful that this will happen any time soon, and the government’s plans to cut funding from the sector means that life for those working in pharmacy is unlikely to get any better.
But for Al Patel, any outward signs of respect from the government would still help the profession to see itself in a better light. He points to Prime Minister David Cameron’s failure to mention pharmacy among “front line” healthcare services, during a parliamentary debate on the funding cuts in April, as an example of pharmacists being put “right at the bottom of the chain”.
Pharmacist Support’s Ms Leicester-Hallam recommends that if you are no longer enjoying your job, you should think about what aspects you used to enjoy and consider where else they might be useful within pharmacy. “Pharmacy as a career is versatile,” she says, advocating the virtues of the “diversity” a portfolio career can offer.
Taking a look at the Salary Survey responses reveals that there are some plus points to the profession that are encouraging pharmacists to stick with their roles. One respondent praised their company for being “fantastic” at supporting them through a time of ill-health.
Encouragingly, another lauded their company’s head office for being “extremely supportive” of employees’ day-to-day jobs. “I am happy with my pay and work conditions and feel that our head office is doing a brilliant job for us,” they said.
Al Patel says that he will stay in the profession, having looked ahead and already become an independent prescriber – a skill he feels will be an advantage to him in the future. He is also excited about the “opportunities” presented by NHS England’s practice pharmacist pilot. It is an area, as he points out, that the government also seems keen to support, having increased funding for the project by an additional £112m earlier this year.
So, with pharmacy at the brink of months of financial hardship, is there any light at the end of the tunnel? Al Patel is philosophical about the sector’s future.
“You know what – at one point I thought there wasn’t [any hope].” But he is encouraged by the fact that pharmacy has faced obstacles throughout history, and has always managed to prevail. For him, the current level of dissatisfaction is “another obstacle” – and one that pharmacists will also have to overcome.
*Survey covers pharmacist branch managers, second or non-manager pharmacists, locums and contractors
Why are pharmacists so dissatisfied?
According to the Salary Survey results, the average pharmacist earns £38,647. This includes branch and area managers, second or non-manager pharmacists, locum contractors and superintendents. Many pharmacists commented they earned far less than their level of responsibility suggests.
Pharmacists cited pressures to hit targets and complete paperwork as factors that make their job extremely stressful.
Many respondents reported dangerously low staffing levels in their pharmacies, which can add to work pressures and create an unsafe environment.
Pharmacist Support offers its advice on what to do if you’re unhappy at work
Talk it through The charity recommends that pharmacists get in contact with them if their issues relate to factors such as poor working conditions, bullying or staffing levels. Pharmacist Support can give confidential employment advice, as it may be possible for you to negotiate better terms and conditions.
Consider counselling It also offers e-therapy programmes (available here), and sessions with its in-house counsellor, which can help pharmacists who are stressed at work.
Find out what’s right for you The Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education (CPPE) offers coaching support, which may be useful if pharmacists have a “specific goal and are not sure about how to achieve it”, Pharmacist Support says.
Perhaps seek out pastures new The charity can also help pharmacists looking to find a new role, with tools such as advice on writing CVs and job applications, as well as tailored careers coaching.
Who is Pharmacist Support?
Pharmacist Support is an independent charity working for pharmacists and their families, former pharmacists and pharmacy students, to provide help and support in times of need. It provides a range of free and confidential support tailored to meet the specific needs of pharmacists.