Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker is the founder of The Happy PharmD, which helps pharmacists create an inspiring career, break free from the mundane "pill-flipping" life. He is a Full-time Pharmacist, Media Company founder, franchise owner, Business Coach, Speaker, and Author. He's also the Founder of Pharmacy School HQ, which helps students get into pharmacy school and become residents.
I remarked that it seems inescapable these days for anyone to exit college without significant debt, unscathed by student loans. Then he said something that intrigued me: “Well, if I only had a simple job like yours and got paid more than a hundred grand a year, life would be a whole lot easier.”
I think a lot of pharmacists hear statements like this now and then. We’re acknowledged as professionals, but we’re still thought of as being overpaid for what we do. Our jobs are perceived as simple, mundane, click-button positions that don’t take much thought or effort.
But we know the truth.
So, I related this anecdote to illustrate a point on justification for a pharmacist’s salary:
Pablo Picasso, the great artist, was once doodling a drawing on a napkin. This was after he’d become a popular, famous artist. A woman approached him and asked him how much it would cost to buy that napkin with a drawing on it, and Pablo said it would cost $50,000. The woman gasped at the price and exclaimed, “$50,000? That’s way too much. I saw you draw that in less than five minutes.” Pablo corrected her and said, “No, ma’am, this took me my entire life.”
As pharmacists, we undergo grueling training and dedicate years to our craft. Even after we graduate, it becomes quickly apparent to us that our training has only just begun. We may graduate knowing the basics to operate on a foundational level as a pharmacist in any role, but how we use it and how we practice with that knowledge develops mostly in the 5 to 10 years following graduation.
New pharmacy graduates have an uphill climb when it comes to learning the nuances of difficult cases, understanding that patients don’t just take their medications like they’re supposed to, figuring out how to persuade someone to take care of themselves, and wrestling through the difficult problems of adherence and therapeutic options.
We didn’t just learn our skills overnight—it took us more than half a decade to learn the basics and another half-decade to become proficient in it. After that, it becomes a continual process to stay ahead of the curve in the ever-changing field of pharmacy.
Knowledge and Decision-Making
Because of our years of dedication and the marketplace value on our profession, we’re paid accordingly for our knowledge and our decision-making.
Lawyers are paid well over $100 per hour, doctors are paid $80 an hour, and surgeons are paid $250 an hour. Remember that a wage is only based on the value that it brings.
There may come a day when we will see salaries decrease (reports vary on whether pharmacy salaries are going up, going down, or remaining the same), but for now, our salary is based on supply and demand. And currently, there’s a demand for pharmacists and our skillset.
As professionals, we make difficult decisions. We might have to deny someone’s claim for an opioid. We might change the dose of insulin in order to achieve the therapeutic effect. We might have to monitor warfarin. We must offer a better-priced medication because the patient can’t afford the medication their doctor prescribed.
We paid a price to gain the knowledge that qualifies us to make these types of decisions. So the next time someone questions whether you’re worth it, tell them about the pressures of the job. Give them some proper context so they can understand what a pharmacist does.
A pharmacist isn’t someone who counts pills or clicks a button and everything is ready. A pharmacist isn’t a robot. If the pharmacist wasn’t worth the salary, then the market wouldn’t pay it—it’s as simple as that.
It’s Grueling Journey
Many individuals don’t understand the challenging, costly, time-consuming steps you took to get where you are today. They don’t understand that at some pharmacy schools, the ratio of applicants to accepted students is 10 to 1. They don’t understand the level of focus and dedication it takes to stay current and achieve in this field.
Many individuals simply don’t understand the grueling journey you’ve taken, and that can be frustrating. But pay no attention. Know that you deserve every penny of what you earn. And if they don’t believe you, just tell them that the market says so.