Who should I work for? – Global companies and multiples vs Small chains and independents

June 2nd, 2021 General Pharmacy No Comments

This article surrounding who you should work for as a pharmacist was written by Nicholas Colwyn Parry, a locum pharmacist working across the UK, and a subscriber to the My Locum Choice Software.

Okay, so being a locum isn’t for everyone, it certainly wasn’t for me for a number of years. So let’s say you’re weighing up your options on who to take a job from, but with so many companies to work for, who should you choose? This blog will hopefully help you make that decision as I have a vast experience in working with both the independents, and multiples. There are hundreds of reasons I could talk about when working for both, but we’ll look at the main ones that sway my decision. In short, it entirely depends on what you want from your job.

Diversity and job progression

who should I work for as a locum pharmacist

The first reason I’ll discuss is the flexibility with regards to being a pharmacist, and your role within said company. Larger companies with more roles available will always hold more progression over an independent or small chain. Less roles available, less progression; that’s just simple maths, so if progression is your thing, you may fare better in a larger company. Generally speaking, the flexibility within your role in a larger multiple is going to be greater than most independents as they appear to be more proactive in seeking out a competitive edge.

Travel clinics, mole scanning, independent prescribing, skin scanning, occupational and paediatric vaccinations are all private services a pharmacist can perform whilst working within multiples. I know of some independents that offer some of these services, but as a general rule of thumb there is less infrastructure and funding available to facilitate these services in a smaller chain of pharmacies compared to a bigger one. If diversity in your role is so important to you, you will succeed far better in a larger chain, that is unless you have the drive and ambition to introduce the aforementioned private services to a smaller chain or independent with the owners backing. 

Varying Training Levels

That being said, with all these opportunities it means there is also a lot of training that comes with them and for me this is probably my biggest swaying factor. You will get good and bad staff everywhere, but in a multiple, everyone is assessed to the same level and everyone in theory should be working to the same standard. As RP you need to know everyone is trained to an acceptable degree. This is imperative so you can worry less about the operation of the pharmacy, medication dispensed, and advice given over the counter. I will always stand by my point that the training you receive in a multiple compared to a small chain or independent will always be better.

Training with Boots

I went on countless courses with Boots and every single one of them made me a better and more confident pharmacist. Boots has fully equipped training facilities in each of its largest stores, a national designated training team and an entire purpose-built building at head office. During my time I was sent to many stores, some as far as London (I’m a northern lad) for meetings, training and conferences and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed this part of my role when I was the lead pharmacist in my store (forever in my heart 272 Chester). Boots really did have some perks, like if there was an overnight stay involved, you even got a £30 bar/restaurant tab per night. Who doesn’t want free food?

Boots even offer transfer schemes to get you working as a pharmacist in another country where they have a pharmacy chain.

Training with Independents

No independent can compete with this, so most of their training is outsourced to a number of off-site providers. Sometimes you will get 5 staff that were trained by 5 different providers and this can create many issues with the dynamic of the team. Different providers have different focusses, and I agree we need some variation, but sometimes these external providers have completely different outlooks on pharmacy. I have even seen this leading to negativity within a team as it can be challenging to get these staff to work together.

Two members of staff may be competent enough in carrying out the same task in two completely different ways, but might also be telling each other they’re wrong. Unfortunately, I have seen something as simple as the placement of a label on a box cause an argument within a team that has been trained in different ways. Differently trained staff can prove successful if everyone sees each other’s benefits, even if there’s 2 different methods, so long as it’s safe and efficient then what’s the issue? There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

Training with Chains

Now in theory if everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet it is a lot easier to get messages across to the team and produce the same result every time. Playing devil’s advocate, if everyone is trained by the same provider and something is missed in the training, everyone will miss it leading to systematic failure. This is why regular review of training and reflection is so important and feedback after training sessions is an invaluable tool. In the large chains there are annual refreshers, conferences and e-learning which feel like a nuisance but they are literally there to help improve or maintain the level of patient care you can deliver.

Training with Supermarkets

You may think here that supermarkets would provide good training as they are considered a multiple. However, my personal experience with supermarket pharmacies is that they operate on a convenience basis and as a novelty measure for the supermarket rather than “community” pharmacies. With so many job roles within a supermarket, sometimes your staff could have been working on the meat counter on Friday, and transitioned into the pharmacy on the Monday. This can prove its own challenges when trying to explain pharmacy sales law or why they can’t tell their friend who came into the pharmacy today.

Consistency vs flexibility

One thing that is clear in pharmacy is how much freedom you have when working within a smaller company compared to a larger one. Freedom comes in many forms, and you may feel like you’re governed by company policy by being pushed into a way of practice that suits the company you work for. Sounds restrictive right? Well, what if I told you being restricted isn’t always a bad thing? You can view it differently to being “restricted”, you can see it as being kept within the safety boundaries of a company that strives to offer the same exceptional level of service every time you visit another branch. This consistency works best for staff and the public! Every single time I visit another Boots: the systems are the same, layouts are very similar, same computer programmes, retrieval system, products, tills etc are almost all identical! If consistency in your job is something you wish for, this may really benefit you in a larger company.

Backing from larger Companies

Working for a large company can really work in your favour too, for example if someone is unkind enough to complain about you. You will receive full backing from the company if you have stuck to the SOP and company policy whereas you might not get this in a smaller company or an independent. I was investigated in Boots for complaints a couple of times, but because I had stuck to the company policy the company had my back. This was really reassuring knowing I had the support from them, furthering my confidence as a pharmacist knowing I was doing the right thing.  One of these investigations was because I wouldn’t give a certain brand of levothyroxine against a prescription as it was over £100 more than the cost of the generic. On reflection, by having these policies in place actually protected me and allowed me to get on with my job as a pharmacist whilst they dealt with a Teva Diva. 

Generics & Suppliers

Oddly enough when I moved to Boots after working for an independent, I couldn’t believe my eyes when people were dispensing Lipitor and Neurontin instead of their generic equivalents. Something that was a cardinal sin in my old job was now common practice. This seemed the exact opposite as my investigation too, but I soon learned that due to Alliance and Boots being the same company, they can sell some branded stock to themselves at a cost no more than a generic.

Generics in large Companies

I mentioned generics there, and this is where I will say an independent will always be superior over a large company. This is also where being restrictive may mean you have to let a patient down and probably my biggest issue with working with larger companies compared to smaller chains or independents.

In a large company you are limited to 3 maybe 4 suppliers for all your medicines, and to get a new account with a new company would take a lot of conversations with head office usually resulting with the annoying answer of “we can’t facilitate this”. If one of your suppliers doesn’t have a certain drug in stock you will have to send patients elsewhere, and this is where smaller chains or independents can help.

Suppliers in Independents

When I was a manager for an independent and we needed stock, we had at least 8 suppliers to try before setting up a new account with a new supplier. This was sometimes done within 24 hours through the company account which simply isn’t feasible for a larger company. I completely understand the reasons such as: it’s hard to keep track of payments to every supplier, not every supplier can supply within 24 hours, the supplier might not cover your area, check it’s not fraud and check it’s a reputable company. It is why larger companies avoid this, but regardless of the loss of business, the person that misses out the most is the patient. 

Recruitment Differences

Recruitment in larger Chains

In any pharmacy role you may have to make decisions that will immediately affect the business and, in my experience, it takes FOREVER in a larger chain compared to an independent. It can take weeks just for you order a CD destruction kit as you have to get it from a specific supplier, you can wait 2 months for a fitter to come out and fix the broken shelf and it can take an eternity to recruit a much-needed member of staff.

For example, you need to take on another member of staff as your items are about to double once you take on 5 new care homes. Larger companies will need to advertise the job, go through applications, check the store budget, check qualifications, interview, check the staffing model and find a suitable care home store to send the prescriptions.

Recruitment in Independents

Of course independents have to carry out the same checks, but they happen on a much smaller local scale and usually in store, this is much quicker than going through head office and the national recruitment team. The fewer number of steps required for recruitment in a smaller chain means it is significantly quicker and easier to recruit staff in a smaller company compared to a larger one.

Bonuses have always been better in independents compared to larger companies as you are assessed more individually rather than on a company performance. 

Difference in Wages

Don’t undersell yourself

Lastly, it’s only fair to discuss the wage between both larger companies and the independents and sorry to be anticlimactic, but it doesn’t really change. Most jobs vary from £40-45k for a pharmacist, with roughly 10% extra to be a manager. £5000 a year more to be a manager may look great on paper, but once you factor in tax, NI, student loan and pension then divide that by 12 you’re actually only looking at an extra £200 a month. This may be a lot to you, but you could get that for working one locum shift a month without any of the extra stress or responsibility. Employers will always try and lure you in with big numbers, so have your maths ready before entering any negotiation, and don’t undersell yourself.

I’ve recently seen larger multiples offering £60k +£5-10k welcome bonuses for pharmacist manager jobs so if cash is your thing, this might sway your decision. 

Wages from Small Chains vs Independents

I often check wages of pharmacists on Indeed, LinkedIn and Glassdoor and the biggest amount of variation is not actually the wage, but the employee benefits. Your average small chain or independent will try and operate at the lowest cost possible which means two things. Smallest overheads, largest margins. As a consequence, you may see the minimal holiday and sickness allowance offered for a smaller company role, but 6 weeks holiday plus bank holidays and full sick pay from day 1 in a larger company. Other benefits can include bigger pension allowances, lieu time, flexi time, private healthcare, discounted dental for you and your family and company share buying schemes. If employee perks are your idea of a dream job, take one with a large company as this will benefit you massively! 

The choice is yours to make

I’ll always fare better in a chain compared to an independent, they’re just suited better to my personality and my idea of a pharmacist. When I work in a chain, I feel a clear sense of direction which is something I’ve never felt in an independent. My final note to everyone is just try different places, there are so many jobs available and it is one of the few careers that is so flexible! Hopefully this blog was an insight to the comparison of employment in larger companies’ vs the small, and I wanted to mention some points you may not have even considered. Good luck with whatever decision you make, and please do not hesitate to get in contact with me for further advice!

N.B. No cats were harmed in the making of this blog

who should I work for as a pharmacist
who should I work for as a pharmacist
There’s many reasons Boots has thousands of pharmacies across the UK, but it started out as one.

If you found this blog on who you should work for as a Locum Pharmacist useful, you can read more on my journey on the My Locum Choice Blog.

This article was uploaded on behalf of My Locum Choice by Carla Moore from Pharmacy Mentor.

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