Ultan Molloy considers the relative value assigned by our modern materialistic society to a person’s existence 

‘High net-worth individuals’

Now, there’s a phrase that I’ve come across more than once when dealing with people working in the financial services sector.  The literal implication being of course that the more money, or assets, that you have, the more valuable you become.  Maybe you ‘are’ one already?  So, living in a society that highly lauds consumerism and individualism, what does the absorption of this perspective do for our own self-esteem and sense of self-worth?

Remembering that the top 1 per cent of the world’s population has more financial ‘wealth’ than the bottom 50 per cent (or some such proportion), then how content are we going to be with average, or even above-average, as is likely in your case? If you’re an Irish pharmacist reading this, then more than likely you are financially privileged. It’s important for us to remember this, and to remind ourselves to be grateful for this, when considering how ‘successful’ we are, and indeed how valuable we are.  

Dia dhuit comes to mind. ‘God be with you.’ What a beautiful sentiment — it’s not, ‘I see that you’re well-heeled, I know what you do for a crust, you’re close enough to being like me that I don’t feel threatened, and it’s unlikely you’ll want to take something from me under the pretence of friendship’.  

‘You’re okay… so far’.  The bizarre anxiety that drives us, and I’m somewhat aware of my own experience here of course, continues to intrigue me. 

As an aside, and a bugbear of mine — what is going on in the minds of people who will look directly at me when I greet them, saying ‘hi’ when we’re passing by one another, or temporarily in one-another’s company, and just fail to reply or acknowledge that they’ve just received a greeting? A greeting snubbed.  I don’t like it. You know who you are, and if you’re not sure, well now, maybe it’s something to consider in future.  Open your mouth, for Christ’s sake, and greet the other person back. Maybe you’ll even eke out a smile. It’s not that hard, and the world may even be a better place with a little bit more humanity and connection with the people around you.  Ah, now, it feels good to get that off my chest!

So, what do you do for a crust?

Anyway, so I’ve advertised for the last couple of weeks for a Supervising Pharmacist for a new opening in south east Mayo. Some recruitment companies are now looking for silly money for a successful placement, so we haven’t gone down that route — yet, in any case.  There appears to be a shortage of pharmacists and it’s very much an employee’s market at the moment in the west. I was discussing our search to date with the CEO of a tech company in Galway whose wife is a pharmacist, and his comment was “all pharmacists seem to ever talk about is their hourly rate”, noting that some of his workmates and colleagues could earn more money elsewhere, but they wanted to work there with him, in that company environment, doing that work, in that work culture, for those customers. How short-sighted have we become when the singular focus of interest seems to be on the “hourly rate” of pay?

Tommy Smith (HR) noted in a conversation recently that we’re one of the few jobs that still talks about hourly rate, rather than annual wage. “You stay until the work gets done”, is what he said.  Now, why might you want to do that if you’re not clocking-up the Doubloons?! Well, perhaps because other people do it, and employment is a reciprocal arrangement. Win-win, or no-deal, as Dale Carnegie would suggest is healthy. They go to work because they want to make the most out of their day, in a nice environment, making it an enjoyable experience as best they can for themselves, their colleagues and their customers. 

We want to be the ‘go-to healthcare outlet for the area’, through living behaviours based on our core values of warm friendship, exceptional service, trusted advice and community focus. I’ve seen some colleagues have since ‘borrowed’ these values, incidentally. I’ll frame it as a compliment, sprinkled with a sense of frustration, noting that our primary value in having these is that we mined them from our own team.  

We drop the ball from time-to-time of course, given that we’re human beings, but I’d like to think we continue to return to our values as our true north, and we hire on the same basis. I feel that conversations to date with potential candidates had a disproportionate focus on hourly rate. A recent study (referred to in The Pharmaceutical Journal, 30 May 2019) showed that 14 per cent of pharmacists in the UK are experiencing “overwhelming distress” due to time constraints on how they practice.  Surely you deserve more than to be just ‘paid-off’ when you’re considering where you want to spend one-third of your waking hours?  

I’d be encouraging you to think about:

  • The support you get from your employer, peers, and the rest of the pharmacy team.
  • The working environment in which you’ll be spending your time. 
  • The working hours and flexibility that you are afforded (bearing in mind it’s often retail, which is led by the customer and business needs). 
  • The culture and behaviour of your workplace team (bitching kills workplaces and it’s tolerated way, way, way, too much!). 
  • The customer base and behaviours accepted from them in the business. 
  • The systems and processes in place, the type of pharmacy professional service and dispensing (ie, production line or involved). 
  • The opportunity for patient interaction. 
  • And maybe ask yourself if you really want to be there at all working as a pharmacist, or would you rather be perhaps brushing your hair or reading a book? 
  • Then, once you’re clear on all of the above, think about the wages that are on offer.

I know I’m biased, and I also know that you will not be sorry. I’d give the same advice to anyone considering a move to any new job for a change or a challenge, and have done.  That, along with thinking about what you’re really good at, that you ideally enjoy to some degree, and do more of it. 

Money will find a home

‘Lifestyle creep’ is of course an important behaviour for us to manage.  The more you have, the more you’ll spend, most likely.  I’ve a good friend who’s qualified as long as I am and has his mortgage paid-off working part time as a pharmacist so he could spend time with his kids as they grew up. He didn’t go mad on extravagant cars, holidays, or an unnecessarily large house, but managed to keep some smacht on his spending and mindset around his ‘needs’ versus his ‘wants’.

We’re not alone in this situation, of course.  I was sitting beside a lady in a cafe this bank holiday Monday morning. She made some polite conversation, prompted initially by my two-year-old, who was on a mission to impressively dismantle the place, one piece at a time. “Medicine is in an awful state,” she said at one point. “Why would one want to be a doctor?” Her daughter is an oncologist in Canada and “has no intention of coming home”. Is it really that bad? Maybe it is in some ways, or perhaps expectations just aren’t being met. You study like your life depends on it for a reasonable number of years, with grand promises and prospects, and get to the other end only to find that you’ve been sold ‘a pig in a poke’.  Sound familiar?  

I trained in the UK and worked in a teaching hospital while completing an MSc in Biopharmacy in 2000/2001.  At the time, we were doing the usual green pen in the eltroxin drug chart notes, ‘take half an hour before food’, like that was the best use of my time having spent five or six years studying.  I returned to a system in Ireland that was 10-to-15 years behind the UK in the evolution of the role of a hospital pharmacist, clinical or otherwise, other than providing a glorified distribution service with little or no patient interaction.  That’s what ‘clinical’ means in this context, by the way, ie, patient-facing.  I’m now delighted, 20 years on working in community pharmacy, if the majority of patients successfully take their medicines on a regular basis. Bioavailability, oh yes, that’s very important.  Sure, isn’t everything important to someone?

Gender balance

Here’s one for us to ponder as a parting thought. There are nine grounds for discrimination recognised in Irish law. Gender, civil status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race, and membership of the travelling community. If you’re an employer, do you have a clear conscience that you’ve never discriminated on any one of these grounds through your interview process, if indeed you have a reasonable process that would stand up to challenge?

I note that I am presently the only man working in our business. This can lead to its own challenges and downsides of course, as would an all-male workforce, and I’d only love to have greater gender balance. 

Where have all the men gone, through? I have been slow to consider men for over-the-counter roles, which is something I regret in retrospect.  I don’t think I have ever seen a CV from a man for a technician role through my 20-year career to date.  

I’d be interested to know the percentage of  males and females on the PSI register as pharmacists who are presently working. If you’re in a position to educate me on that one, then please do drop me a line. Thank you for reading this, and special thanks to those of you who get in touch with feedback and comments. λ