The ups and downs of being a community pharmacist and why I want to change
by Hasan Mahbouba
“Community pharmacy,” a term you may associate with your local chemist, refers to the practice of dispensing prescriptions, advice, and over-the-counter medicines for common ailments. It’s the career I chose in my late teens, when I had to make a decision regarding the next 40 years of my life. Pharmacy looked appealing because I liked science, and I figured having a stable career wasn’t so bad. So I went to university and did all that was required of me, attending those early lectures and late labs, staying in the library later than I wanted, and cramming for exams like a madman. I enjoyed my studies and time at university but craved having greater responsibilities than just submitting essays. I wanted to put everything I’d done into practice.
After all the exams, fees, and time, I finally qualified to be a Responsible Pharmacist. Once I saw my name and registration number displayed on the pharmacy wall, I thought, “that’s it, mission accomplished.” But most people don’t tell you that getting to this stage means you’ll end up having the same conversations with patients about their health, or with management to keep them at bay. The job has its ups and downs: funny stories, weeping rashes, silly questions, and unappreciative patients, to name a few. The shifts associated with this role can take their toll as well. Working from 7 AM to 3 PM and then switching to a 2 PM–10 PM shift the next week can make you feel like a zombie. Your body lacks rhythm and is unable to adapt to extremes, and your social life is on life support. When you actually have a weekend off, you’re so excited you don’t know what to do.
There are, however, some positives. I’ve had the chance to observe the entire spectrum of the populace in all sorts of circumstances. I’ve seen panic buying for COVID-19 (sorry, there’s just no escaping that topic), the entitled businessman demanding special treatment, and methadone patients doing all they can to keep it together. Working as a pharmacist has given me the confidence to deal with any situation before me without fear.
Although the mid-£30k starting salary is higher than that of many of my peers, frankly, it’s not worth the stress. Nor is the lack of progression, unless you’re willing to enter the world of management. And sometimes, the repetition of community pharmacy can make you feel like you’re living your own version of Groundhog Day.
It’s these drawbacks that led me to pursue a career change, to a role with more variety and a stronger focus on the science of healthcare. My options include hospital (which doesn’t appeal to me), industry (very difficult to get into), and MedComms.
MedComms, not too well known yet, form the brains behind those clever health adverts and congress stands, and generally represent advances in the healthcare sector. Roles in the field amalgamate science, creativity, and commerce. Entering the industry presents the same catch-22 situation you’ll encounter in many other industries, in that you need experience to get a job, and to get a job, you need experience. I’ve been fortunate enough to gain an internship at Stgilesmedical, an opportunity that has given me insights into the industry, cemented my belief that this direction is what I want, and given me crucial experience.
All in all, I’ve enjoyed most of my time as a community pharmacist. However, I’m looking forward to the next chapter.