Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Trip Back In Time (note: this is a long post)

After getting my license, I was a floater for nearly 4 months before getting the opportunity to work full-time at my current store. Floating had its highs and lows. As a new pharmacist, it allowed me to get to know many other people in the company at a variety of locations. It also allowed me to see how each store was run and organized a little bit differently. Many times I worked on my own, which often made for long, boring days. However, it also gave me the opportunity to grow as a pharmacist. I had to learn how to do everything on my own. I had to make my own decisions and solve my own problems. For a new pharmacist with relatively little experience in retail, this was a little scary at times, but ultimately it forced me to get better.

On the downside, I hated not knowing where I was going to be working the next week until Friday. Many times, I would begin a 12 hour Friday shift without knowing my schedule. The in the middle of the day, I'd find that I had to work Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday in another store. It sucks to be given so short notice about your following week's schedule. It made it impossible to schedule appointments or even plan to hang out with friends or family. I finally became fed up with it when they told me my scheduler had changed, and both my new scheduler and old scheduler wrote different schedules for me for the week. I didn't even know this occurred until on my day off, I got a call from another store in which the pharmacist told me I was supposed to be working there that day. I told him I had already been scheduled in other stores all week, and I couldn't make it. He hated me for that. It wasn't my fault, and I wasn't about to drive over an hour away to cover for someone else's mistake.

Coincidentally, the following week, I got a call from the pharmacy manager of one of the stores I interned. One of their pharmacists (worked there for 8 years) was taking a job as a consultant, and he wanted to know if I wanted to take the position. I hesitated at first. The store was the busiest store in the chain. As an intern, I remembered standing in front of a computer for 12 straight hours typing scripts without a single break in the action. However, I knew I didn't want to float anymore, so it didn't take me very long to decide to take the job .

The store was extremely busy, but it was in a good location. The major upside was that I was going to be working with 3 other pharmacists who all had a lot of experience with the company and pharmacy in general. The store manager had been in that location for 23 years. He was a great guy, a great teacher, and bent over backwards to make sure his staff was taken care of. The other two pharmacists had been at the store for 17 and 10 years respectively. I had my license for less than 6 months, and being so new, I understood that I couldn't possibly be in a better place to learn than this.

A few months went by, and everything, for the most part, was going well. We had some problems with one technician calling out constantly and acting like a total bitch to every and anyone, but the experience of the rest of the staff allowed us to get by. Then unexpectedly, in January one of the pharmacists (the one who had been there for 10 years) took a job at a long term care pharmacy. He was fed up with retail and often commented about how he'd get sick to his stomach on his way into work thinking about what he'd have to deal with during the day. He also had a major problem with that one technician who seemed to call out every single weekend she was scheduled with him. One day a recruiter called, and he happened to be the one to pick up the phone. The rest is history.

After he left, the entire pharmacy quickly started going to pieces. For whatever reason, our volume had suddenly skyrocketed. We were setting store records for script counts every week. The volume wasn't really our problem though. The problem was that our district manager took his blessed time replacing that pharmacist. We lost an experienced 40 hour pharmacist, and the only thing we got in return was 20 hours of floater help. We were having record script counts with fewer pharmacist hours than we ever had.

The situation with that one technician also started to spiral out of control. She was a full-time technician, but she was actually at work maybe 20 hours per week. She said she had migraine problems, and I'm sure she did. That wasn't what caused her to call out all the time though. Just by looking at her, it was quite obvious she was a drug addict. Her boyfriend was a drug addict who was in and out of jail. She lived in an apartment with several relatives (all drug addicts), and she was constantly at war with everyone. She'd come into work looking like she hadn't slept in weeks. She'd wait on 2 customers, then get a phone call and spend 20 minutes SCREAMING at the person on the end. She'd be swearing at the top of her lungs in plain view of all the customers. We'd tell her to hang up the phone, and she would, but then she'd go hysterically sob in the back of the pharmacy for 30 more minutes before returning to work. One time, she literally sat down on a crate and cried for her entire 8 hour shift over something that was happening outside of work.

When she called out, we were short staffed. When she came in, she was of absolutely no use to us and served as a distraction. We tried to get rid of her, but management didn't really want to hear our complaints.

Therefore, we all kept chugging along... until our company decided to roll out a new software system a couple months later. They didn't exactly spring it on us by surprise, but because of numerous delays, we were never sure when exactly we were going to be converted until 2 weeks before the conversion date. We didn't have time to train everyone, so just the pharmacists and two of our full time techs went to the training classes. When the switch was finally made, no one knew what they were doing. It only took me a couple days to catch onto the system, but everyone else, particular our technicians were much slower. They couldn't put in a refill without asking for help. Anything more complicated than that, we had to do for them... and by "we", I mean "me" since I caught on much quicker than everyone else.

There we were doing record numbers with a new software system that no one knew how to use and doing all of this with 20 fewer pharmacist hours than before and a full-time technician who was hurting us more than helping us. To say it was crazy would be an understatement. All the pharmacists knew that no matter what time we were actually scheduled to leave, we would be staying until closing time. Often, we'd have to stay an hour after the gate went down just to finish filling the prescriptions that were dropped off that day. Throughout the entire day, we had lines at the register 20 people long. One time, I walked out of the pharmacy to help someone find something, and a customer walking by joked, "Are you guys giving away free concert tickets or something?" It was funny, but I didn't laugh.

We had no time for paperwork or the ordinary, non-prescription filling tasks of a pharmacy. We didn't have time to pull the old scripts that weren't picked up out of the bins. Any semblance of organization that we had was gone because we just didn't have the time to worry about being neat. The situation was horrendous.

We were getting burned out, and we started to fear that we'd begin to make mistakes. We were already noticing some smaller mistakes popping up more frequently (giving the wrong size on a cream or antibiotic suspension and putting 30 tablets in a bottle instead of 90, etc.). Therefore, we contacted or district manager and demanded that he do something to help the situation. It was more than 3 months after that other pharmacist left, and he still hadn't replaced him. We'd send emails and leave voice messages for our DM, but they never got returned. Finally, we decided enough was enough. The pharmacy manager wrote a letter addressed to our corporate office and basically spelled out the issues that needed to be quickly addressed with the threat that if they were not, we'd all request transfers out of the store. We all signed our names at the bottom before it went out.

At the same time, I started looking for other jobs. I couldn't take it anymore. I was spent. I was a new pharmacist. I wasn't vested in the company yet. There was no reason for me to have to put up with that kind of work environment and risk making a mistake. Moreover, I was dealing with a ton of personal issues at the time (specifically the break up with my ex-girlfriend). I was absolutely miserable. I was so stressed that I couldn't sleep. I'd come home from work and stare at the wall in silence for an hour just trying to unwind. One time, I actually had a mini-panic attack at work, which manifested itself in an extremely upset stomach and forced me to go home early. Of course, I felt terrible for leaving them short-handed, so I came back a couple hours later to finish the day.

Two days after the letter went out, they sent in a pharmacist and a full-time technician who both had experience with the new software to help out at our store for a few days. The extra help allowed our manager to catch up on paperwork and get things a little more organized. Over the next few weeks, our volume started to come back down to normal levels and our staff started to catch on to the new software. Things were finally starting to settle down. I think I may have even left work on time once or twice during that time.

Our DM finally decided to replace that pharmacist four months after he left the company. He hired Betty. Our DM and my manager hated each other. I swear Betty was his idea of a cruel punishment for going over his head.

The toughest times were over. Things started to go more smoothly. Want to know our reward for sticking things out? My pharmacy manager (who had been there for 23 years) and the other pharmacist (17 years) got transferred out of the store. Apparently, corporate thought that the relationship between him and the DM deteriorated beyond repair, so they transferred him to a different district. The other pharmacist had developed a heart condition, which was exacerbated by the high stress environment, so they transferred her to a slower store.

In a time period of 9 months, a pharmacy that had a stable staff of 4 pharmacists for about a decade suddenly had all new pharmacists. It left me, with my whole 11 months of pharmacist experience, as the longest tenured pharmacist at the store. Luckily for me, the new manager was also very good, very experienced, and an all-around great guy, so the transition wasn't that bad.

This was also about the same time I started writing this blog.

(We also finally got rid of that technician. After a major fight with management, they finally had to get rid of her when we caught her stealing bottles of Vicodin. We all celebrated the day she left.)

The whole year was just so weird for me because I went from being the inexperienced newbie to being the one everyone looked to for answers. Since that big transition, our volume has decreased by 20-25% thanks to two major competitors opening within a half mile of us. Basically, I went from working in the worst pharmacy environment you can imagine to working in one of the best. We now have adequate help for a reasonable prescription volume. Of course, we're probably not as profitable as we were a couple years ago (for several reasons other than prescription volume). However, I can actually say that I don't hate my job. I'm glad I stuck it out.


Spankie said...

good post

Anonymous said...

wow. that was some intense stuff!

Anonymous said...

Glad you gave the full!

Frantic Pharmacist said...

Now you can look back on the whole thing and be glad you stuck it out (and you're stronger for it.) Two things strike me as recurring themes that we've all seen many times: 1) the one highly dysfunctional employee who is allowed to make everyone's lives miserable and 2) the good, experienced pharmacists who are allowed to drift away because corporate looks at the situation and says hmmm, how can we take a good thing and make it BAD?