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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Our "friend" the pharmacist

I posted a little story yesterday about a pharmacist who made several inappropriate remarks. Not surprisingly, most of those who commented identified the man as a jerk and alternately asked for his dismissal, write up or behind in a training class.

The thing that concerns me the most about this story is not that the pharmacist was a jerk, but that the other employees laughed along with him.

Let's face it. Society has (for some unknown reason) determined that pregnant women are fair game and that your child bearing decisions are open for criticism. Before I had children people constantly asked when I was going to have children. Once I got pregnant, people started to ask when I was going to have my next one. (Answer: We're going to wait and see if we like this one first.)

When you're pregnant, your weight, your age, and your diet--normally forbidden topics--become the focus of strangers. (Another true story: When I was pregnant with offspring #1, a co-worker used to berate me for eating popcorn. Popcorn! Don't you know it's full of salt??? I did know it was full of salt, and I also knew that my blood pressure was on the low side and I wasn't having problems with water retention. I also knew that this coworker had smoked during her entire pregnancy. But in her mind, my salt was worse than her cigarettes.)

Women have story after story about how people have told them they are going to ruin their only child and they really need to have more kids or that they are going to destroy the earth by over-populating it.

So, it doesn't surprise me that this man felt that he could comment on this woman's family size. He thought he was being funny.

So, as for him (assuming and investigation confirmed the story), he'd get a formal warning with the clear understanding that questions of pregnancy and birth control are only appropriate when it is relevant to the prescription he is filling. He would also be informed that similar comments on someone's weight, height, age, marital status, whatever, are inappropriate as well. He would be required to write an apology letter to the woman.

But the real problem is the culture at that pharmacy counter. If the other workers knew what was going on enough to giggle at what he was saying, then they also knew that the victim was not amused and that his actions were inappropriate. And they not only giggled (I agree, sometimes you just can't help it, even if it is inappropriate), but they didn't stop the behavior either.

I would be concerned that we had developed a culture where employees are not willing (or not comfortable) stepping into a situation like this. This is a culture that is ripe for bullying.

The district manager, corporate HR, or even the store manager may be unaware that inappropriate behavior is occurring. And it appears that the only way to get truly through to a bully is through peers. The fact that the other pharmacist and the tech just laughed scares me.

One commentator, who labeled himself (herself?) as a pharmacist wrote:
the pharmacist is more educated than anyone in HR, so he can say what he wants and you won't do a damn thing.

This person is a bully. This person scares me. That culture is exactly what I want to stamp out. So, where would I start? With this person's boss. Not to punish, but to see what is going on that made this employee think this inappropriate comment was appropriate.

It's important, in retail and all businesses, to treat the customer right. But, in order to do that, you need to make sure that your employees feel comfortable doing what is right.


Anonymous said...

In what world does education equal class and tact? In what world does choosing a different profession that requires more years of education equal becoming untouchable and unapproachable when it comes to getting feedback on innappropriate behavior? Since when does getting educated as a pharmacist equal being an expert on all things? Shame on the commenter who said that. He/she has embarassed themselves in quite a public forum.

Henning Makholm said...

"This person is a bully. This person scares me."

That person was a (fairly unsophisticated) troll, nothing more.

Welcome to the internet.

Anonymous said...

So, it's alright for a pharmacist to question my choice to still be on birth control (at my age!), constantly tell me I'll "change my mind" and want children someday, laugh at me when I assert that I know my own mind, and even refuse to sell me Plan B - but the comments this guy made were inappropriate and he should be fired for them?

Bob Hall said...

I'm bothered by the pharmacist's poor behavior. I'm bothered that the co-workers didn't stand up and make him stop. I'm also not surprised at all.

So many bosses don't want to hear problems. They've got enough problems on their plates that some "malcontent" who can't get along with the others in that team is just another annoyance.

I've seen employees laugh and go along because they didn't know what else to do and didn't think anyone above them would care...or they just plain didn't think.

The other thing is that many people are followers. In the absence of strong, positive leadership, the pharmacist may have been seen as the leader they looked to for what was and was not acceptable...or worse yet, maybe he was their leader.

I agree that the boss, whoever that is (store manager, area manager, etc) needs to know what's going on, but I wouldn't hold my breath on getting any suitable response without knowing what kind of boss that person is. Like I said, bosses don't like more problems to deal with.

In so many cases, it's almost like customers are a necessary evil instead of the company's reason for being and its primary focus.

Anonymous said...

To the anonymous on birth control (at her age!), I don't really understand how you're getting the message that what your pharmacist is telling you is okay. It's not okay for the pharmacist to be making comments like that because it's not related to the prescriptions he is filling. You should file a complaint if you haven't.

Reality Rounds said...

Very well said. I love the changing the culture of the business. I must admit, as a nurse, I have heard physicians say some really crude and offensive things. In my younger years, I would just blush and giggle. Now, I say my piece and am labeled a "shit disturber." Oh well.

noah said...

I've never worked in a pharmacy, but isn't the pharmacist a supervisor over the techs? I realize that there may be several pharmacists, but generally a pharmacist would outrank the tech. I wasn't as concerned with their behavior because I assumed they were uncomfortable and didn't want to get into a confrontation with one of their supervisors in public.

I can also see how a store manager could easily feel intimidated by a pharmacist. The pharmacist has several more years of education, and most retail managers have come up through the ranks.

Just saying I guess I can see how there is a disconnect between the store portion of the drugstore and the pharmacy.

TheLabRat said...

Wall of text impending.

This is probably a little weird but when I was reading the post and responses yesterday I found myself sympathizing with the general idea the pharmacist must have; I share the belief that I wish more people would have smaller families (though I don't think 3.5 is all that out of hand). And at the same time - because I have a running pet peeve about bad apples in groups ruining things for everyone else - I thought, "dude time and place, ur doing it wrong."

I feel for those of you yesterday who come from or have large families (or just children at all) and get these awkward conversations and touching and what have you. I get it from the flip side because I'm not having any munchkins of my own by choice. And you guys have really been screwed by people like the Duggars; I don't think it's that uncommon for folks to assume large family = fundamentalist whackjob because of folks like them. Some of us know better, if it helps.

So on behalf of all the reasonable people who wish more folks would have fewer kids, my apologies for the dorkus pharmacist.

THat said, having worked in several drug stores I can almost assure you that he was the supervisor of the gigglers. And when I worked for Longs drugs specifically, store and shift managers were required to have degrees or some serious equivalent experience.

All of ha

Chris said...


I don't have children by choice either, but I find it disturbing that you think it is OK to under any circumstances express your opinion (with which with I completely disagree) that people should have smaller families.

How many children other people decide to have is none of our business, period.

Anonymous said...

pharmacists, doctors, and engineers are all in demand and short supply, so chances are they will not be fired.

Anonymous said...

In my country, you need a four-year degree plus a one-year internship to become a Pharmacist. To become an HR Manager, you need a four-year degree plus 5-10 years relevant work experience. So how is the pharmacist more educated than the HR person? And lets not get started on the relationship between emotional intelligence (which neither pharmacist in this discussion demonstrated) and performance etc.

TheLabRat said...

Rats. I had a feeling, after the fact, that I stated that really poorly.

You misunderstand if you think I would run around telling everyone with large families they are screwed up for having them, which is what I am interpreting you meant when you said I should to state my opinion. For one thing I don't think that (some are great, some suck, I just happen to know a crapload of the ones that suck) and for another I wouldn't do that.

I have expressed this concept to exactly one person who had large numbers of kids and shouldn't have; my chronically welfare abusing cousin who is the very definition of the stereotype of a "welfare mom." She literally is "on #10 to get a bigger check," her words, not mine.

I don't wish to legislate how many kids people have; that is a personal choice, as you stated. I'm more of a "change their minds" than "change the laws" type of gal when it comes to many such personal things. Takes generations but is easier on the fabric of society on the whole.

I am assuming the phrase "time and place" is what you made the incorrect inference from. My actual meaning was that if this idiot pharmacist feels as I do then on the job is not the time and this woman does not sound like my definition of 1) someone who probably shouldn't have had a large family and 2) someone with a large family to begin with. I'd call 4 kids moderately sized, personally.

But I do think it would be nice if SOME people who have had large families, did not. And I think we are already seeing a cultural shift towards more people doing just that, choosing on their own to have smaller families. Which again, is awesome.

By the time my nephew's kids are my age (nephew is only 12), my hope is that one or two kids is the norm, and my expectation is that there will be exceptions to either side but less of a spread than now.

And it absolutely is all of our businesses in a general way; these children will be our doctors, lawyers, homebuilders, etc. Our taxes will fund their education, something which even the childless have a vested interest in. Put another way, the individual personal decision may not be our business, but the overall trend is.

I truthfully think that we need to drop below replacement level fertility again for a couple of decades, and then level off to strictly replacement level. But again, I don't think this needs to be legislated. I think over time, society on the whole will figure this out on their own. And I think that if/when this happens, there will still be plenty of room for those that want large families to do so because of people who choose to have none.

keckardt13 said...

Excellent doctors,pharmacist,nurses,
and engineers are in high demand, bad snotty ones that cost the company more then they are worth due to high volume members complaints, not so much. Anyone can be let go, anyone can be replaced. No one is that good.

Anonymous said...

no pretty much all are in high demand. These aren't sales people you can pickup off the street.

Anonymous said...

LabRat, I would like to point out that my four kids are going to grow up and, through their own hard work, fund what's left of the tax base that will support the infrastructure you will need to survive into your dotage. If everyone obeys your all-knowing dictum, you won't have anything but a crumbling mess to maneuver your amigo around in during your old age.

For some of us, there are religious guidelines that bear on our decisions about childbearing, and those guidelines are not something you are positioned to comment on.

It is the height of arrogance to assume that you know 'what's best' for my family, my soul, or my community.

TheLabRat said...

Reading comprehension FTW. Honestly, from what you say, you are so far removed from the example I gave, I can't figure out why you responded. Did I touch some kind of nerve?

1. Four kids is not a large family. It is moderate at most. I already said this.

2. Re: dictum - You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. I'm pretty sure I said I'm not into legislating this sort of thing.

2.5 "all-knowing" - hardly. But I do trust peer reviewed papers on the topics of the global environment, the economy, and the effects of overpopulation in western civilization on all of the above and more, from people far more learned than I.

3. And if every single person (or couple I guess) on the planet had 8 babies they would devour that infrastructure. Oh wait, that's already happening. Basic arithmetic, also FTW.

4. "those guidelines are not something you are positioned to comment on.

It is the height of arrogance to assume that you know 'what's best' for my family, my soul, or my community."

Oh irony on the interwebs, don't ever change.

Anonymous said...


I don't think 'dictum' means what *you* think it means: according to my dictionary, it means "edict, decree, fiat, order, or declaration." They use the term legally to talk about judicial assertion, yes, but your vocabulary has some holes.

I don't care if you think four is a lot of kids, or if you have decided it's a moderate number. Your opinion is meaningless in the face of things like my value system and my religion. So maybe you should quit feeling all sanctimonious about not walking up to strangers and lecturing them and go all the way and just keep that stuff to yourself completely.

Anonymous said...

"Your opinion is meaningless in the face of things like my value system and my religion" is a really rude statement. There's a way to discuss these issues without getting so nasty about it.

Yes, many reasonable people do believe that having more than two kids (replacing yourselves, essentially) is other people's business -- because overpopulation affects us all. Water shortages, environmental damage, and all the other problems that come along with having more people than the earth can comfortably sustain -- that's everyone's business. Obviously, you'll do what you're going to do, but believe me, plenty of reasonable and polite people are quietly wishing you wouldn't take more of the earth than is yours.

TheLabRat said...

And to illustrate my point, here's a guy with five kids that I think is awesome, though I'm not religious myself. I particularly like his snarky response to the "are they all yours" question. Seriously, he seems like a dope dude and while I may disagree with many of tenants of his religion, I expect kids kids will grow up to be fairly awesome people.

Anonymous said...

As a former hiring manager in a pharmacy, I am disturbed by this person's lack of professionalism. I told my employees straight up that if they had a problem with dispensing medication because of personal beliefs of any kind, they could seek employment elsewhere. This, obviously, applies to this flip side situation as well. He is an extension of the medical profession engaged in a capacity where judgment is not warranted. I understand his implied perspective very well - and I AM coming back to that - but as the Labrat said this was neither the time nor the place to discuss such theories.

Though I should say, that were the letter your friend wrote to come across my desk as it was written in the previous post, I would find it extremely suspect unless there was a history of problems with this employer. As another commenter wrote, is comes across as some sort of propaganda. If your friend wishes her valid complaint to be taken seriously, I'd strongly advise her to rewrite it in a more neutral tone.

However, my days in the pharmacy are done. I now have degrees in - and work in related fields to - biochemistry (MS), environmental science (PHD), and sociology (BS). And I must say that as a scientist, I find the lack of concern displayed in the side conversation over a well documented problem in the world at large and the "civilized world" specifically to be alarming.

While I don't agree with those who think we need a rapid reduction in fertility rates - the short term repercussions are too severe - we do need a long term reduction of fertility. Current estimates have our global population as being between 10 & 50 billion by 2050. 10 is doable; 50 is not. It is good that our rates are up from the baby bust of the 70s but it is critical that we taper off to replacement level fertility only sometime in the next 50-100 years. The very survival of the species could depend on it. And it is more than possible to do so in a way that would still allow some couples to have more than the requisite 2.1 children.

And finally, as a debater, philosophizer, church goer, and member of the global community, I am absolutely appalled at the behavior that was shown here towards someone who tried to politely explain a different view in a way that did not attack others. If you consider yourselves Christians - as from your sanctimonious tones I can only assume you are one of the more "exuberant" of my own flock - then you should be ashamed of yourselves. Instead of taking the opportunity to do likewise, and explain why you see this the way that you do, you attacked. You have only yourselves to blame for the vitriol you receive. May whatever God you believe in forgive you.

HighpaidDoc said...

In my practice, I tell the help we have a few rules. I have a Medical Degree, so all the staff is not to make eye contact with me when speaking to me. If they do they can go home and look for new work. We earned this status by achieving a level of success few can. Human Resources has absolutely no function in the workplace, I honestly couldn't tell anyone what they even do....I suspect it's just so we have jobs for woman to fill.

Anonymous said...

I can say with complete honesty I have been absolutely appalled at some of the things said behind the counter in the pharmacy where I work. I realize we see people at their worst, and we deal with a steady stream of people who quite regularly make me think "I truly do just hate people in general" on a daily basis.

What I've come to understand is that I think we tend to forget the pharmacy ought to be a professional environment. That's compounded by the fact we're in a drugstore or grocery store environment, and are quite often treated poorly by the companies for which we work. We deal all day with people who come in demanding things we cannot do, running interference between doctors offices and insurance companies, and being belittled by customers all day.

None of that excuses the kind of remarks your original reader had. Absolutely none of it. I wonder what would happen if we started taking ourselves more seriously, stopped pulling pranks on each other behind the counter and rolling our eyes when "those people" come up to our counters. It's a stressful environment and I understand the need to deal with that stress, but inappropriate remarks to patients are not the way to do that.

I've only been working in a pharmacy six months now, and am already starting to put out feelers to get back in the administrative path. I know it doesn't help in the long run, but as someone who is part of the profession of pharmacy, I'm very sorry your poster had to deal with that kind of behavior, and it was handled the best way it could have been.

(Posting anonymously not out of shame for what I wrote, but simply because I don't want someone I currently work with to stumble upon my remarks. My job is hard enough as it is.)

Kimberley said...

Is it possible that the pharmacist is also the owner of the pharmacy? In that situation I would simply go elsewhere. If not, you can be assured that I would be filing a complaint about the behaviours of everyone at the counter (and probably switching pharmacies too).

Also, while it's true that many pharmacists have more years of university education than many in HR, it's not true for all of us. It's not fair to make blanket statements. I don't think that anyone would assume that all pharmacists are jerks based on the poor behaviour of one. And years of formal education do not equal the right to be a jerk.

Anonymous said...

I work in health and the comment by HighPaidDoc pretty much sums up the attitude held by senior clinicians to HR and anything people related.

I'm not sure if the comment was tongue in cheek but if it was actually written by a Doctor I'm sure they were 100% serious.

Unfortunately with a chronic shortage of senior medical staff an organisation is basically held to ransom and these types of behaviours and toxic "god complex" cultures are very hard to challenge let alone eradicate.

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion. I AM actually a Pharmacist, I suspect unlike the man or woman who wrote, "the pharmacist is more educated than anyone in HR, so he can say what he wants and you won't do a damn thing." True...highly the US, a PharmD - six years minimum, but no excuse for that comment or the behavior of the Pharmacist in question. HOWEVER, in my wildest dream about the WORST RPh I have ever worked with, I cannot imagine this scenario. FYI, not everyone in a white coat behind a Pharmacy counter is a Pharmacist...far from it...most of the people working in the pharmacy are working under the supervision of a Pharmacist, but have a hs degree only...if that. Sad, really...when you think about what's at stake. RARELY is a Pharmacy staffed with more than one Pharmacist unless it is a high volume store. In the end, the individual in question, whether a Pharmacist or a tech or a cashier should be sanctioned...that is wildly unprofessional and intolerable behavior. Again, can't imagine it happening, but there's always one bad apple and maybe she got him. To that I would add that a Retail Pharmacy is an incredibly STRESSFUL place to work. You are the one person in the store responsible for making sure that everything goes out correctly and are forced to rely on largely unskilled labor to do it (A special thank-you to the ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS techs out know who you are...who make our job possible - NOT...I repeat NOT talking about you!). People are cranky and you get literally SCREAMED at at least a handful of times every day. Somehow, you are personally responsible for the wait time even though you are doing your damnest to get things done, you are blamed for high copays, required PA's insurance rejections, backordered meds, FDA name it! To be clear, NO EXCUSE FOR THIS BEHAVIOR, but if it did happen, that could have something to do with it. To HighpaidDoc, who I do not believe to be a highly paid doc either...get a life.

Anonymous said...

To reject anyone's insistence that I abandon the tenets of my faith (which don't necessarily have to be Christian, by the way...heck of an assumption there) to comply with your views, however supported, is hardly 'vitriol.'

Seriously: the mere act of faith pretty much says, "This faith is above the concerns of man, as far as I'm concerned" and as such, you really don't have a leg to stand on to tell me to reject my faith.

Unless freedom of religion doesn't mean what I think it means...I know it doesn't mean "we'll tolerate you believing what you want unless something I think is more rational comes along."

Our forefathers defended freedom of religion with a lot more heat than I bring to the discussion today. I shudder to think that you might be a person who is charged with being sensitive to the needs of an employee population.

And as far as God's forgiveness is concerned, you see to your soul, and I'll see to mine.

Anonymous said...

you have a pharm.d and work at rite-aid lol

El Comodoro said...

Like many here, I'm just flabbergasted that someone would have the nerve to comment on my (or the wife's) childbearing choices. I cannot fathom the circumstance where I would feel this is an appropriate topic, especially talking to a stranger on the street. Or in Walgreens.

LabRat, your soaring rhetoric aside (which I disagree with)... bottom line, it just irks parents when folks like you try to use the chilrun as a "teaching moment" to enlighten us.

The implicit argument is that people have lots of kids because we're not as knowledgeable/responsible as you are. I can only assume you're linking this to some sort of "green" rubbish. Err... I mean reasoning.

Think what you will, but any "teaching" foisted upon me isn't appreciated. And might be met with 45 minutes of me trying to fit a large pill bottle up your nose.

Anonymous said...

I think you might be misunderstanding what labrat means by teaching, if she feels the same why I do about this. It's more of a long term goal (think generations) of having the philosophy and talking about it, usually mostly with likeminded people or people who sincerely want to know why we feel the way we do. Speaking for myself, its not anything I expect to change significantly in my lifetime or my daughter's. And I know lots of wonderful intelligent people with large families who generally agree with the overall philosophy. Obviously not everyone who has many kids is irresponsible or stupid. But it sure seems like the awesome ones are outnumbered by the idiots (or maybe it's just like politics and the idiots are louder).

Although in the case of the cousin example she gave, I hope she was a little bit more literal on the teaching. That is a prime case of someone who never should have had one, let alone 10 (?!).

Anonymous said...

Well, as far as demographics changing, you're already getting your wish. America is at replacement (2.1) with most of Europe hopelessly anemic in the low 1-point-somethings.

(Almost) completely off-topic, but if half the world chooses to hamstring itself, in whatever way, and the other half doesn't, it doesn't take a GED to figure out how that works out. Basically, you morally superior uber-"responsible" types will breed yourselves (and your ideology) into oblivion anyway. I digress.

But I think the bad-outnumbering-good is only going on in our minds, simply because the bad are just more darn memorable. It's the same reason people charge on to Amaz0n to leave a negative review about that awful coffee maker... but fail to do so when it works like a charm.

Anonymous said...

"(Almost) completely off-topic, but if half the world chooses to hamstring itself, in whatever way, and the other half doesn't, it doesn't take a GED to figure out how that works out. Basically, you morally superior uber-"responsible" types will breed yourselves (and your ideology) into oblivion anyway. I digress."

Cool, so you believe in eugenics. Have you found evidence yet that ideology is inherited?