Conferences, Conferences and Conferences

If you like Conferences, then pharmacy is where it’s at this year.  The Neighbourhood Pharmacy Association of Canada (aka the CACDS) held its Annual Conference on May 11th.  The Ontario Pharmacists Association Annual Conference was on June 9th followed by the OPA Pharmacy Technicians Conference on June 12th.  And if you have not had enough conferencing there was the Canadian Pharmacy Association (in conjunction with OPA) Annual Conference on June 24th.

Key words coming out of these conferences: “Inspire, Engage, Excel” and “Learn, Connect, Discuss”.  Not sure what all these evocations are supposed to mean.

Keynote speakers run the gamut from astronauts to reality TV show stars to newspaper columnists.  Not sure what these people have to contribute towards addressing the challenges facing pharmacists today.

Plenty of awards get handed out at these conferences, for every conceivable reason, to all sorts of people, some of whom some people may question the merit of.  But heck there is plenty of time for networking, party events, and Gala Spectaculars and fun…all sprinkled with educational sessions which, although interesting, often have little practical application in today’s cut throat competitive retail marketplace.

If you look at the attendance at these conferences you will notice some constants.  The same “pharmacy leaders” get moved around and recycled over and over again.  The same kind of attendees (usually representing maybe 5% of the pharmacist population) attend and seem to have a good time at these events.  Professional Pharmacy Conference Attendees would be a good description.

But at the end of the day, are any of the really hard issues which affect every day pharmacists struggling to find a job (in Ontario at least) and being forced to accept $30 per hour, or sometime even less, being addressed?

My organization recently advertised for a staff pharmacist for a rural Ontario town, more than 160 km from Toronto; we received 168 responses over a 48 hour period.  Many actually pleaded for an interview and a chance; you could feel the desperation in their covering letters.  It was really sad to read these letters and to respond to them with some sliver of hope.  Was the subject of the huge pharmacist surplus and shameful drop in pharmacist wages addressed at any of these conferences?   I don’t think so.  Talk about the elephant in the room.

Today the Globe and Mail published a story about Empire, parent of Sobey’s Inc., the grocery/pharmacy mega chain.  Seems things are a little rocky at Sobey’s.  Shares down 11 per cent.  Posted loss of $1-billion in its fourth quarter.  “Clearly, a very disappointing quarter for our organization” the CEO stated.  Wow, that’s an understatement.

Now if you are a pharmacist working for this organization, this is really important information to have at your disposal … and you would never get it attending an endless stream of pharmacy conferences.

This kind of data (found in the business section of all the major papers) has a much bigger influence on the lives of everyday pharmacists than all the inspirational speeches given by astronauts, TV personalities and their like put together.   Will there be repercussions when mega food drug combos (aka Big Pharmacy Retail BPR) jostle and squirm against each other for market share and profits?  You bet there will, and these repercussions could have a huge impact on employee pharmacists.

The use of pharmacy technicians, quotas for MedChecks and injections, salary freezes (or decreases even), working conditions will all be affected.  One pharmacist I spoke to recently working for another member of the BPR food/drug combo club, was recently directed by her “district manager” that any “free time” she had was to be used roaming up and down the OTC aisle prowling for customers with the intent of getting them to switch their prescriptions to her store location.  She quit.

If you want to know where pharmacy (which is now controlled 85% by BPR) is headed, read the business papers, spend less time attending conferences, and save your money.

Until such time as pharmacists realize that their future lies in a spirit of independence and innovation (which we are witnessing more and more examples of everyday), nothing will change.  Wandering around pharmacy conferences eating stale sandwiches is not the path to pharmacy enlightenment.