A Tiny Tale of Retail

The Pharmacy and Therapeutics Journal published a survey study of pharmacist job satisfaction in 2004. It found that pharmacists in chain stores reported “significantly lower job satisfaction than their professional peers in other settings.” It also reported that those differences in job satisfaction couldn’t be explained by demographics or other measured factors. Further research, they say, would be needed to understand “which aspects of jobs in different settings are more or less satisfying.” Never mind. You boys run along now and publish another study on the effects of Viagra on ground-dwelling herbivorous apes. I just have to check the industry blogs for the inside scoop on the state of retail pharmacy. “We went to school,” wrote the Angry Pharmacist, “to end up using our deep pharmacological knowledge so we can apply it via AARP covers Zocor and not Lipitor…Lyrica is only covered if Neurontin is failed and nobody covers f*#^ing Adipex-P or Xenical. We wait on hold to speak with some dillhole in India who speaks like a robot because the ID card has the wrong information or PCN printed on it. Take it and like it; you don’t have a f*#+ing choice anymore.”

CVSsucks.blogspot.com says CVS sucks. Pharmacist blogger Jim Plagakis says, “This profession sucks.” Costcowebpharmacy.com says the Costco pharmacy sucks. The suckreport.com declares, “Yes, retail pharmacy sucks.” The Angriest Pharmacist must surely think retail pharmacy sucks, ergo the blog name “The Angriest Pharmacist.” Retail-sucks.com says all retail sucks, including pharmacy. The cafepharma message board states that retail pharmacies do indeed suck and as a result pharmacists also suck. Blogger Drugmonkey wrote a book entitled, “Why Your Prescription Takes So Long to Fill: A Foul-Mouthed, Liberal  Pharmacist Breaks the Curse of Christmas and Strikes Back Against the Ideological Forces That Threaten the Profession He Grudgingly Grew to Love.” Oh, yeah. Drugmonkey thinks retail pharmacy REALLY sucks.

Remember when you could get good service? When you could go to a hardware store and instead of some mouth-breathing high school dropout, a nice, middle-aged employee would greet you at the door? This was his CAREER. He could actually explain the benefits of a fiberglass- handled hammer over a wooden or steel-shafted one. I remember when an attendant pumped gas for you. I remember sitting down in a shoe store and yes, actually being fitted for shoes. I remember when my doctor took the time to have a discussion with me. And I remember the corner drug store where I could sit and have a soda while I waited for my prescription, get a recommendation for the best thing to use on a sunburn and then be told that since there would be a bit of a holdup on my pill refill, would I like it delivered to my house later today? Jeez. Those were the days. Where did they go?

American businesses are engaged in one big race to the bottom these days. The lowest price. The cheapest ingredients. The skinniest labor margin. Sure, everybody likes a bargain. But everybody also likes products that last. That are safe. Effective. Correct for the individual and the situation. In a race to the top kind of scenario, quality goods would be manufactured, sold and serviced by quality employees whose expertise and dedication to the clientele would be rewarded with a healthy paycheck and good benefits. Instead, we go to concrete warehouses to purchase cheap, plastic crap manufactured in foreign sweat shops sold to us by McEmployees who work for the same wage I got paid in 1979 and have no idea what the advantages of LCD over plasma may be. And don’t care. What that translates to at your local Walgreen’s or CVS store is some $4.00 prescriptions rung up by clueless pharmacy technicians overseen by disillusioned pharmacists. No compounding. No education. No counseling. No delivery. No service.

In the latest edition of Drug Topics, an e-zine for drug professionals, pharmacist Oluwole Williams comments that “public perception of the role of a pharmacist is somewhat distorted, especially when examined beside the pharmacist’s expectation of how he desires to be seen by patients.” No doubt. A dumbed-down public with low expectations and on the hunt for the next deal just wonders what the hold-up at the drive-thru is. How long can it take to get me that cream, anyway? Isn’t it already in the tube?

Pharmacists are drug experts. They went to school for a long time and have the loan payments to prove it. They may work the pharmacy counter at Costco, between the baby diaper aisle and the potato chips, but they are still the best resource you have when it comes to understanding the prescription drugs that can save your life. Or kill you. They should be seen as professionals – as providers of safe, affordable, effective medicines, counselors on the side effects, adverse events and possible interactions between the remedies we take, the source of supplements and safe medical appliances, contributors to public health issues, gatekeepers of prescriptions and poisons and overseers of the potentially hazardous mass-circulation of pharmaceutical drugs.

Retail pharmacies suck because retail corporations and insurance companies don’t care anymore about providing quality services and products. Like everybody else, I love to rag on the corporations – the Exxon’s and ATT’s of the world who wreck the environment, lobby Congress for sweet tax deals, pay their CEO’s 400 times what they pay their employees and export jobs to China for 25 cents an hour. And they deserve our criticism. But as the employees who work for them and customers who buy from them, we have to take some of the blame for what’s happened to service in this country. After all, we let them get away with it. Every day that we don’t complain to management, call our government representatives and professional organizations, or make another purchase at WalMart is a day corporations get away with providing cheap products, terrible service and rotten labor practices.

Come on, people. Your sense of outrage is slipping. Pull your pants up.


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