Retail Pharmacist

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John, 34

What does a retail pharmacist do?

In a crisp, white lab coat John presides over myriad bottles of pills and tubes of bizarre-sounding ointments. He's the owner of two busy retail pharmacies in Brunswick and, as well as dispensing drugs, making up prescriptions and working with trainee pharmacists, he oversees a staff of around eight shop assistants. "It's hard to keep your finger on what's happening in both businesses. But it's important to maintain a cohesive relationship between the staff, and to deliver and maintain a high level of customer service," John says about his owner-manager role.

What are the pros and cons of the job?

John's demanding work schedule means he has little free time. Typically he works a 50-hour week, with the hours spread over five-and-a-half to six days. When setting up his second business John says that he worked around 100 hours a week in the month leading up to the opening date!

For John, the most satisfying part of being a pharmacist is the high level of community respect and being well known and liked within the community. "People always come up to me in the street and say 'Hello' or shake my hand and say, 'Thanks'. I like being able to help people and to be appreciated for it." Another satisfying aspect of his work is forging close relationships with his staff and being a part of their lives, through the highs and the lows.

Pharmacy also has a high financial incentive and owning a successful business can be very lucrative. "I'm really proud that I've been able to open my own business. I've worked really hard and through sheer slog have made it work. It's also been great to be able to help relatives by employing them." These are huge sources of satisfaction and pride for John.

Lowlights include having to settle and resolve customer or staff disputes. And the pressure of having to provide safe and quality medicines in the community. "There's definitely pressure to prevent public harm," he says.

What sort of skills and qualities do you need?

Apart from having a degree in pharmacology, John believes that a successful pharmacist must be highly organised and analytical. "You need to be able to decipher certain scripts and make decisions on dosages recommended by General Practitioners. For example, the weight of a child will affect how strong the dosage should be." Good problem-solving skills are essential and he stresses that being able to communicate effectively with patients and staff is crucial. "You also need to be extremely honest and above-board because you're dealing with drugs," John says, "And no picking your nose or grotty lab coats! You've got to have a neat appearance." In retail pharmacy, it's also vital to have an understanding of business practice - like how much mark-up to put on the products - and a clear grasp of how money works.

What are some tips for breaking into the industry?

John's tip for breaking into the industry is to start looking for a job in a pharmacy - perhaps as a shop assistant or trainee - on the first day of pharmacy college. "If you start working in first year," John emphasises, "by the time you get to fifth year [the final year of a pharmacy degree], you're ready to practice."

Overall, John feels that the future of the industry is with large franchise pharmacies - like Priceline, My Chemist and Terry White - and that the concept of the small, local pharmacy is folding. "It's very hard to open a pharmacy outright. Align yourself with one of the bigger groups, prove yourself in a managerial role, and work on the agreement that if you do perform well as manager, you'll be made a junior partner." He also suggests considering opening a pharmacy in the country as there's a chance to get into smaller partnerships, "and there are better mark-ups".

Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (new window) (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).