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Retail pharmacists walk out, citing overwork and understaffing

Savannah Maher Nov 2, 2023
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Most retail pharmacists don’t belong to a union, but these recent walkouts could lead to more interest in organizing, says Richard Dang, a professor of clinical pharmacy of USC. Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Retail pharmacists walk out, citing overwork and understaffing

Savannah Maher Nov 2, 2023
Heard on:
Most retail pharmacists don’t belong to a union, but these recent walkouts could lead to more interest in organizing, says Richard Dang, a professor of clinical pharmacy of USC. Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images
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Pharmacists at retail drugstores are fed up. That’s the message some sent by walking off the job this week. 

Organizers of the “pharmageddon” protest, as it’s been dubbed on social media, told said Thursday that it’s hard to know exactly how many pharmacists participated. Numbers ranging from several hundred to 4,500 have been reported. CVS and Walgreens said disruptions were minor. 

But these walkouts follow similar actions around the country in October. And they’re just the latest sign that the pharmacy system many of us rely on to get vital medications is plagued by understaffing and employee burnout. 

When pharmacist Bled Tanoe started working for a drugstore chain in 2016, she said her lean staff was already overworked. Then came the pandemic. 

“I could really feel a shift within my team,” she said. 

On top of filling prescriptions, Tanoe and her co-workers were running a busy vaccine clinic. 

She said she asked her supervisor for a break on prescription quotas and other corporate performance metrics. 

“And the answer was ‘No. You are still expected to perform like you’re supposed to perform,'” she said.

Already burned out, Tanoe believes the pressure led her to make a mistake. In 2021, she quit. 

“For me, that was my breaking point,” she said. “Because I could not stay there and put my patients in danger.” 

Tanoe now works at a hospital in Oklahoma City. But she still helped organize this week’s retail pharmacist walkouts. 

Persistent understaffing and profit-driven performance quotas at these chains mean worse patient counseling, said Anandi Law with the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy.

“There’s constantly this at our backs saying, ‘Fill more, fill more, get those prescriptions out.’ But we’re not able to dedicate that time, much-needed time, for our patients,” she said.

Law said part of the solution is increased staffing at retail pharmacies. But chains like CVS and Walgreens say filling open positions is tough. 

There’s no shortage of pharmacists looking for work, said Richard Dang, a professor of clinical pharmacy at the University of Southern California. 

“However, there are many graduates, and many individuals in the profession, who are hesitant to work in a chain setting where they don’t feel supported,” he said.

This is why many of his students look for work in clinical settings after as many as seven years of schooling. 

Dang said most retail pharmacists don’t belong to a union, but these recent walkouts could lead to more interest in organizing. 

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