The Moment I finally Graduated from Pharmacy School

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The year was 2011, and I was a new pharmacy graduate from the University of Toronto. I would be lying if I said it was easy – it wasn’t. I felt as though I was waterhosed with an incredible amount of information that I was going to need to solve the world’s biggest pharmacy problems. Like all new pharmacy grads, I was eager to conquer the world and practice true patient-centered care as it was taught in school. But, I quickly realized that graduating was
just the beginning of the challenges I’d face.

I was all about patient-care: catching doctors’ mistakes, dodging drug-therapy problems and being the ideal “pharmacist” that patients would love and respect. So, my job hunting began and quickly realized that landing a full-time job in the GTA was like finding a needle in a haystack – nowhere to be found.

They warned us in school that the market might be a bit more competitive than it once was, but could it really be THAT bad? The reduction in government reimbursements to pharmacies was apparently making it less affordable to hire pharmacists, let alone pay them any signing bonuses or incentives like they once did.

Big chain pharmacies used to fight over new graduates, offering tuition reimbursements, huge contract bonuses and competitive wages. Sadly, those days are long gone! With new pharmacy schools opening up across Canada and the influx of internationally trained pharmacists, the market for pharmacists was oversaturated – literally overflowing with licenced pharmacists.

I was one of the lucky ones to find a paid internship at a large chain pharmacy (many of my colleagues had to intern for free); there I got the best training and my preceptor taught me all the tricks of the trade. I loved it there and quickly became part of a great team. Sadly, my three-month internship went by quicker than I could say “P-H- A-R- M-A- C-I- S-T”, and that’s when it hit me – there was no room for me to be taken on as a full-time pharmacist once my internship ended.

I’m lucky to have had a preceptor who gave me shifts whenever he could – covering vacations and sick days, but it wasn’t nearly enough to pay the bills. I was left to fend for myself and find more hours in order to make ends meet. So I decided to do what many non-employed pharmacists do – WORK RELIEF SHIFTS.

Since the beginning of time, pharmacists have relied on traditional relief agencies to find work – a process that is as much time-consuming as it is frustrating. I signed up with two of the biggest Relief Agencies in Canada and waited for relief shifts to come to me. And I waited, and waited, and waited some more.

These companies were unbelievable. I found myself playing phone tag for days or even weeks on end, waiting for email responses just to find out if they had any shifts for me. I felt like I was living in 1993 when pagers were the hottest commodity and people beeped you so you could return their calls. Sometimes these relief agencies would email me shifts, but by the time I responded they were already taken.

But, what REALLY got to me was the types of shifts they were offering me.

I would be offered shifts in far areas like Timmins or Owen Sound. I’m not complaining – any work is better than no work, but I wanted shifts in my neighbourhood – right in the GTA. They would say the most mind-numbing things to convince me like “it’s just a couple hours drive” and “it’s a very scenic route”. Sure, perhaps, but this isn’t what I wanted or asked for. I don’t really feel like driving 2 hours to get home after a 12 hour shift. I think I’ll pass.

And the pay rates they were offering licensed pharmacists was laughable. Sometimes the rates were less than what I was getting paid as an intern! It’s true – the availability of GTA shifts were scarce and the rates left a lot to be desired – to say the least.

As a well-educated and hard-working pharmacy graduate, I expected more from the workforce. These relief agencies were over charging pharmacies, while underpaying hard working pharmacists, which left me wondering why I had to go through them in the first place. I mean, I’m licensed to practice and I am graduate from one the finest (actually, THE finest) pharmacy school in Canada – I am qualified to work at any of these places and would do a darn good job with more work ethic and ambition than the average pharmacist. So why is it that I can’t find any local shifts, and why do I feel like I’m being underpaid for my work?

I still haven’t shared why I started my own company – Relief buddy, but I think you have a clue, which I’ll share in my next blog post.

So, I’ll end the blog post here with this question in mind to all you pharmacists, pharmacies and readers out there: Why should any professional pharmacist or pharmacy have to go through the pains of dealing with these traditional relief agencies just to book shifts?