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'Will I end up just stacking shelves when I qualify as a pharmacist?'

"I don't think it's fair to demean the role of community pharmacists"

After hearing less than flattering opinions about the profession, The Student Pharmacist goes in search of a more accurate picture of working life in the sector

“Boots, Lloydspharmacy, supermarkets – it's all the same. You will just be stacking shelves with medicine.”

I was told this by a long-term friend (who is not in the healthcare field), when we were discussing my career path.

It was an interesting perspective, and I was prepared to challenge it there and then. When I explained the spectrum of roles available within the profession, I was pleased to see how surprised my friend was at the prospect of a pharmacist being useful beyond the counter of a community pharmacy.

After this conversation, I decided to question other people I know who have limited knowledge about healthcare careers, on what they assume the role of a pharmacist is, and where pharmacists work. I was intrigued to learn that many people were not aware of the extensive clinical knowledge and skills pharmacists are equipped with from the early days of their educational journey.

For starters, a four-year degree with integrated masters would be a waste of resources if the final result was dozens of graduates from pharmacy schools across the UK going to work in retail, pricing and stacking medicines on shelves.

I recently attended a Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) conference at the House of Commons, to launch its model of pharmacists working in care homes. I heard about the integral role of pharmacists in a multidisciplinary team, and learned about yet another role on offer to pharmacists.

At another RPS conference I attended, about the growing need for pharmacists in general practice, I met a pharmacist who works at a prison, along with several others who had completed their independent prescriber course and were working in hospitals.

As my educational journey continues, I am constantly exposed to more positions available for pharmacists. One thing I have learned is that every role available offers a completely different perspective on the day-to-day tasks of a pharmacist in a given sector. It seems to me that the underlying common factor between most pharmacist roles is, undisputedly, patient care.

All pharmacist roles are equally vital today, and although they may be challenging in varied ways, they all (including community pharmacy) demand skills beyond retail: problem-solving; efficiency; time-keeping; and patient consultations.

Of course, roles such as academic positions may not involve a great deal of patient contact, but it is important to remember the journey academic pharmacists went on to get to their current role, which will have included several hours of patient care and empathy.

Overall, I don't think it's fair to demean the role of community pharmacists. Saying, “You just stack shelves” is an outdated view, which is nothing like the actual daily tasks in community pharmacy.

Saffah Huseeba Danial is a pharmacy student at the University of Lincoln, and a national representative for the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association


Alexander The Great, Community pharmacist

LOL awesome. This just sums it up.

John Ellis, Community pharmacist

There are still many avenues available for pharmacists, but community pharmacy is about to become something unrecognisable.

In a centralised dispensing and delivery model, I doubt it will be a Pharmacist stacking shelves, more than likely it will be a robot. The pharmacist will probably be working from home running a mini call centre. Walk in physical pharmacies will still exist and would still need a present pharmacist, but
with nhs funding cuts and the death of the high street, it will probably be a non-NHS private model in limited locations.

Christopher Jay, Community pharmacist

Yes you are a negative lot. There is both a science and an art to correct merchandising, that's what you call stacking shelves. I learnt this vital business task while taking to customers, they are the good folk you call patients. After time spent in multiples, big bad pharma industry, they were the business men and women pharmacists who encouraged and paid for my degree in business, managing around a 100  pharmacies, ensuring that they met budget sales oh and profit to ensure a future for all, to operating my own business where I 'stacked shelves' with medicines to luxury fragrance, I did MURs NMS, all the boring clinical stuff, it was nothing compared to making sales and profit. How did it end for me? Well respected in society, recognised for promoting health, asked to give talks on all sorts of subjects, happy, contented and pretty well off. Thank you shelf stacking, I could not have done all this without you.




Andrew Weatherill, Community pharmacist

well said

Mark Boland, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Why offer any advice to a MPharm student? They either didnt bother to listen to the negative experiences of qualified pharmacists or they did and chose a) not to believe them or b) agree that those things are negatives. Whatever the case, they have signed up to huge debts in order to work in community pharmacy (community - reference stacking shelves). You have made your bed...........

Define Offensive, Primary care pharmacist

To most people pharmacists in community is simply a glorified shopkeeper. Stacking shelves? Surely as you will likely be the only person in the pharmacy doing everything yourself with no staff, while you keep getting nagging from your manager saying why you haven't hit the mur and nms targets of the week, and why you haven't done any flu jabs at all today because you are busy catching up with scripts which are 2 weeks behind. Mind you Boots just annouced another $1 billion cutbacks so things will just get worse and worse over time. 

Apart from stacking shelves you also get the chance to cover food tills, cosmetics and photo machines because there isn't anyone there at all. Oh I forget to mention you will also have the privilege of scanning orders and take the wrath of customers why their orders haven't arrived, and answering stupid questions from people who think you are just a customer assisstant and have no idea that you have nothing to do with the shop floor.

I am out of community now. Been there, done that and will never ever ever look back. This sector is utterly a joke and disgrace.

John Smith, Locum pharmacist

A very accurate description, but it still does not fully capture the utterly banal and soul destroying nature of community pharmacy, which is probably impossible to anyway. It'll fall on deaf ears, the young tend to think that they will change the world and with them it will be different.

While being paid in real terms approximately 40% less than I was earning 10 years ago, I'm saving to get out as soon as I possibly can. I'll always have a personal gripe with myself about choosing such a horrific job choice that cost me the rest of my twenties. I have no doubt that pharmacy lecturers are still spouting the same old BS to fresh faced, naive students-'Its an exciting time to be a pharmacist'. 

Sharon Stone, Communications

What an accurate summation from Much Bootshite , brilliant but unfortunately it will probably fall on deaf ears , I pity those poor souls who end up working for those miscreants Boots .  

Z Z, Pharmacy Asistant/ Medicine Counter Assistant

Retail jobs are all about problem solving, efficiency and time keeping. You get these by the bucketload in retail and pharmacy because they are both surprise, surprise, retail jobs run by regional managers with similar mindsets.

The problem is pharmacies aren't valued by large swathes of the public and not by politicians and the NHS, leading to an unsustainable funding model. 



Benie I, Locum pharmacist


RS Pharmacist, Primary care pharmacist

Lets hope you have medicines to stock the shelves with....

Define Offensive, Primary care pharmacist

There won't be much to stack on shelves when brexit kicks in..good luck

anti-depressed Pharmacist, Manager

There is more to Community Pharmacy than just stacking shelves, you get the chance to cover the tills too as there is never any staff and any staff you do have will require training from the beginning as turnover is always high.


You also get to deal with patient queries such as: “Is my medication ready yet? I put it in the surgery an hour ago.”


You also get to deal with patient complaints such as: “Why is my medication not ready yet? I put it in the surgery an hour ago.”

La Dakinio, Community pharmacist

Don’t be negative. I often get asked taxing questions that really allow me to draw on my university learning, such as “why are my tablets round? I want the OVAL ones. NOW!” and “why did the surgery only me 28 days - I’m supposed to get monthly scripts and there’s often 30 or 31 days in a month”


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