IPGs …the casualties of incompetence

We all remember the famous quote by Dick Cheney about the “unknown unknowns”.    Some may question the existence of an unknown unknown, but for sure we can’t deny the existence of a known known.

Here’s a known known:

There are way too may pharmacists in Canada today, especially in Ontario, and especially in the GTA.  This oversupply has severely hurt employee pharmacists, has created unemployment, has depressed compensation by as much as 35% and has exacerbated poor working conditions.

Here’s another known known…a corollary:

IPGs have been the most severely affected by this oversupply, to the point which should bring shame to those who, through incompetence, have allowed this oversupply to occur.

IPGs now outnumber Canadian graduates in terms of numbers of new annual registrations each year; this, in spite of the fact that a second pharmacy school (Waterloo, Ontario), opened a few years ago.  Why Ontario needed a second pharmacy faculty in light of the huge influx of IPGs is a total puzzle.  Waterloo may be a great school, but more pharmacists were not needed except to feed the proliferation of retail locations being created by Big Pharmacy Retail (BPR).

The majority of these IPGs come from three countries: Egypt, India & Pakistan.  All come to Canada for various reasons…political, economic, etc. and all share the common goals of seeking a better life and a path to economic prosperity.  This is the immigrant story as it has been told for at least the last 100 years.

Unfortunately IPGs have largely been sold a bill of goods.  I have personally spoken to many IPGs and I have heard many sad stories.  Through the double whammy of poor immigration policy and academic/regulatory bodies focussed on their own self-interest, rather than the interests of the community, and even less the interests of hundreds of pharmacists, many IPGs are now under employed and poorly compensated.

The pharmacy relief companies of course have taken maximum advantage of this situation.  These vultures of the system relentlessly continue to drive down compensation to the point where in the GTA the going rate for a pharmacist is now often as low as $35 per hour or even less.

I spoke to one IPG recently who desperately needed to earn some money.  He lived in Toronto and a relief agency offered him 2 days in Chatham Ont. (3 hour drive one way). He drove there on his own time and at his own expense, worked 12 hours, paid for his own accommodation, worked another 12 hours and then drove home.  Rate: $42.00 per hour.  After expenses he was lucky if he cleared $30 per hour.  I have heard dozens more stories similar to this one.

The reality is that IPGs have become the mules of the system.  BPR actually encouraged the introduction of high numbers of IPGs knowing the supply demand curve would play into its favour.  Low compensation is one fallout of this unfortunate development, but maybe even worse has been  deteriorating working conditions:  Long hours, no breaks, reduced tech help, quotas, forced Medschecks, injections, disrespect from district managers etc. …all have become the norm.

The unfortunate reality is that we have created at least two classes of pharmacists.  Those who are so desperate for funds they will do almost anything, and for any rate, in order to survive, and the all the others who are riding out their pharmacy careers oblivious to their pharmacy associates.   We should all be ashamed of this situation.

Yet all those who represent the infrastructure of pharmacy: the academics, the regulatory bodies, the endless multiple pharmacy associations preoccupied with frivolous issues, and even governments, turn a blind eye to this situation that they all have contributed towards creating.  Their shame is of the worst kind as it stems from their incompetence, and they are accountable to no one.

It may well take a generation for IPGs to find their way in this pharmacy jungle.  Fortunately many are far more entrepreneurial than Canadian graduates and thank goodness for this.  In time IPGs will earn their way to where they deserve to be. In the meantime they deserve our respect and all the assistance we can give them.  They were dealt a bad hand; it’s now our collective obligation to help them any way we can.