Pharmacy Web Series Represents the Dark Side of Community Pharmacy

The show highlights the aspects of the profession that can make it unbearable.

Amazon’s original show "Vials" represents all that is wrong with community pharmacy.

I made a short video about my review for those who would rather watch.

Ironically, the pharmacy job issues that make community pharmacy unbearable are the same problems that plague this new series.

Written by a former pharmacy technician, "Vials" takes place in a store called Gateway Drug, with a cast of characters I do not really care about. It features a series of random events and a parade of predictable customers with an almost non-existent storyline.

The messages from the show, however, are unfortunately spot-on for many retail pharmacists.

1. The Gateway employees are indifferent to each other.

The owner and the pharmacy technician do not like each other, because the tech is dating the owner’s daughter, who also happens to be a pharmacist there. The tech, Joe, goes out of his way to antagonize the owner and create discord between him and his daughter, an unlicensed and yet practicing pharmacist.

I have worked in a retail setting before, and my coworkers and manager made no secret of the fact that they hated me.

They caused me to doubt whether I had made the right career choice.

Ultimately, they drove me out of retail pharmacy, but they drove me to something much better.

2. Everyone at Gateway hates their jobs.

The narrator in the pilot episode of "Vials" explains that pharmacists are not protecting their patients’ safety because they care about them. They are doing it to avoid liability if something bad happens.

The narrator reports that one pharmacist looks as though she wants to "eat a bullet."

A 2013 study of pharmacists’ job satisfaction found that more than 50% are dissatisfied with their work. The show's portrayal of our profession does not paint a pretty picture, but many agree it is the truth.

"Vials" has more than 400 ratings, the majority of which are positive and praise the show. However, a closer look shows that the higher star ratings do not say much more than "love this" or "very relatable."

For this many people to highly rate "Vials" demonstrates the harsh reality of many retail pharmacists, and it might not resonate with those outside the profession.

3. Gateway Drugs features a “lifetime of anxiety and a shortage of Xanax.”

The owner of the pharmacy is so stressed out by the job that he regularly turns to Xanax to counteract it.

The customers are "vile," but the narrator allows for the possibility that perhaps their doctors did not prescribe the right medication or dose, or maybe the patients do not feel well.

In either case, it is a hostile work environment for everyone involved.

Although pharmacists do have a 20% higher-than-average incidence of substance abuse, not all pharmacists abuse drugs to cope with their difficulties. All pharmacists should, however, realize that burnout is a very real possibility and the health effects can be far-reaching.

High-demand jobs are notorious for creating feelings of burnout, but pharmacists should not buy into the lie that they are stuck. They can transition into work they love if they plan accordingly and consider all the options.

4. Gateway Drugs is ripe for corporate takeover.

In the final moments of the pilot (spoiler alert), pharmacy-tech-turned-attorney Joe discovers that Gateway is being considered for takeover. News that the owner’s daughter is working as an unlicensed pharmacist has leaked via email.

The fallout will certainly result in more anxiety, infighting, and hostility in the pharmacy.

Corporate takeovers of pharmacies frequently lead to less focus on helping customers and more on dollars and metrics, as health care is increasingly becoming "number care" in pharmacy settings.

Unlike the dental and medical professions, the pharmacy field does not enjoy protection from corporate ownership. As a result, many pharmacists find themselves with diminishing help and increasing workloads.

The reality is that other jobs are available, and by keeping themselves competitive, pharmacists can find other opportunities, even non-traditional ones, that will help them recapture the reasons they chose the profession in the first place.

Pharmacists who find that "Vials" strikes a chord should check out an online and free-of-charge summit I am putting on right now. The Happy PharmD Summit explores non-traditional pharmacy options that can create meaningful work opportunities.

Those who work in a community pharmacy may get a few laughs from "Vials" or maybe a painful reminder

that this is not why they chose the profession.