The present ongoing situation between Shoppers Drug Mart (SDM) management, and their “Pharmacist Owners”, also sometime referred to as “Associates”, has become a textbook example of what happens when control of the pharmacy profession slips away from pharmacist practitioners to big business…really BIG business now that Loblaw has purchased SDM.

The situation has reached the point where at least one former associate has now launched legal proceedings against the company for breach of contract.

Some speculate that this present, though not recent, approach by management may represent the first step towards a change in business model.

There appears to be a good deal of information, widely circulated and available to the public. Many tactics appear to discourage or even punish any associate from daring to speak out against perceived injustices.

The nub of this current action appears to stem from any attempt by any associate to align him/herself with the United Association of Pharmacist Franchisees (UAPF), though this may just be coincidental.

In many cases this response could include cancellation of the Associate Agreement and immediate removal of the associate from his/her store.  There appear to be several cases on record of this already happening, at least one before the courts.

The modus operandi (MO) often happens at 9 AM, offsite (donut shops appear to be preferred), with little warning the associate agreement is terminated, followed by security personnel coincidentally changing the store’s locks.  Store staff is caught totally off guard and is often very upset.  No reason is ever given to staff.

SDM has likely retained the biggest and best law firms in the business to advise it in this policy.  In spite of this, these tactics appear inconsistent with a corporation of this size and sophistication.

SDM has repeatedly indicated that no such anti UAPF attitude exists, but some evidence appears to contradict this.

One Ontario VP Operations has been quoted as referring to the UAPF as “the 600 pound gorilla in the room”; … a curious euphemism.

These tactics appear to be gaining traction on the short term.  Actual membership by associates in UAPF today includes only about a third (30%) of the associates across Canada.  Compare this with say, the Canadian Tire Dealers Association which has virtually 100% membership.

Most examples appear to be occurring in Ontario where a ‘surplus’ of pharmacists is prevalent.

Ontario is also the province where relief pharmacy rates have now descended to $28.00 per hour, the same rate as a pharmacy technician working in a hospital.  PharmD anyone?

None of this is inconsistent with the mandate of all businesses, big or small, but especially so in the fiercely competitive retail pharmacy business.

Other big pharmacy retailers follow ‘different but similar’  business strategies to ensure their commitments to shareholders remain secure.

Cost control and maximizing revenues are the two big mantras of today’s big retail business realities, whether pharmacy businesses or otherwise.

The burning need for pharmacists to break away from this big retail/business paradigm and become practicing community pharmacists in control of their own destinies has never been greater.

There are many examples, and growing out there, of pharmacists who have the guts to take the plunge.  If you need inspiration, read Joan Cochrane’s (SK) most recent blog. Joan asks a great question:  “Are pharmacists victims or professionals?”

Which one are you?