In almost all fields and professions, experience is usually considered an asset. Everyone begins with some form of formal education or training and over time, and a life span, gains practical experience. This is how the expression “an experienced plumber” comes about. Or an “experienced cardiac surgeon”. We all want the surgeon who has done 3000 open heart surgeries to operate on us or our loved ones. Even the most brilliant recent graduate surgeon is considered secondary to the veteran successful surgeon. How about jet pilots? Same thing. Notice how pilots are often ranked by the number of flying hours they have logged over their careers.
It seems now that pharmacists are fast becoming a noted exception to this rule. A recent phenomenon is emerging with plenty of available evidence, which indicates that new inexperienced graduates, or recently minted International Pharmacy Graduates (IPGs) (now representing 40% of pharmacists in Ontario), are preferred to older experienced pharmacists with 20 or 30 years of experience.
What could be behind this strange paradox where experience is becoming a detriment over newness, i.e. either from a university setting or from another country? The quick answer in one word is, money.
Many long term experienced pharmacists earn hourly rates above the more recent heavily discounted hourly rates that newly minted graduates will take in a desperate need to get working and to begin to tackle their massive student debts.
Same thing for IPGs. Having come to this country with false promises of a shortage of pharmacists and high wages, these IPG pharmacists are now facing discriminatory hiring practices which exploit their plight, in order to drive down compensation levels to new lows. Here in Ontario, there has been a documented case of a licensed pharmacist earning $20.00 an hour. The guy was desperate, and the employer knew it. Many IPGs who have yet to earn their licences for lack of language proficiency or for other reasons, are now being gladly recruited as pharmacy assistants.
With the stark reality that the profitability of pharmacy business, now being constantly and repeatedly eroded by governments looking “to lower the cost of drugs”, anything to lower operating costs is fair game for those who own and operate pharmacies today, mostly non-pharmacists. Sometimes referred to as BPR.
In a recent example, one large pharmacy chain ‘let go’ 32 experienced pharmacists, paid their severance, only to replace them with recent grads or IPGs at greatly reduced hourly rates. The guys in finance didn’t take long to calculate that the savings in compensation over time, would more than offset any immediate discharge costs, big time. You can’t blame these number cruncher guys; this is what they are hired to do.
Heck, even President Donald Trump in his recent State of the Union address vowed that he “would lower the cost of generic drugs”.
As drug therapies occupy an ever increasing proportion of the cost of delivering healthcare, even more emphasis will be applied to reducing and controlling drug costs. Unfortunately, pharmacists’ value and compensation has been tied directly to the cost of drugs for a long time now, and not to the value of the services they provide.
Hence lower cost drugs (a good thing), translate to lower compensation for pharmacists (a bad thing, at least for pharmacists).
Couple this with the reality that the profession of pharmacy is not controlled by pharmacists, but by big business interests, the future of the profession’s viability has definitely been put into question.
This is a tough reality to deal with. As we enter into a future where automation, artificial intelligence, unsustainable healthcare costs, and internet purchasing prevail, serious second thought must be given by those contemplating a career in pharmacy as to what kind of future they are actually entering into.
Is anyone out there in academia, pharmacy regulation, pharmacy associations even talking about this, let alone addressing it? Not likely.