Anti-social hours and poor information about training courses are among the reasons cited for a growing shortage of dispensing pharmacists in France.
Around 15,000 pharmacists are needed to fill shortages, says the Fédération des syndicats pharmaceutiques de France (FSPF).
It claims that two-thirds of pharmacies across the country report being understaffed and overworked.
“It is a big problem,” says Denis Millet, FSPF general secretary. “It is difficult to recruit pharmacists and even harder to retain them.”
He also credits the shortage, among other reasons, to an image issue.
“In the past, some medical students chose pharmacy only because they failed their exams to be a doctor. This has led to the profession wrongly being seen as a bit second best.”
A recent FSPF report claimed 80% of members it surveyed had experienced trouble recruiting assistants.
Lack of career progression, difficulties achieving a work/life balance, modest salaries, decreasing social status and anti-social hours were among obstacles cited.
Mr Millet points out that a pharmacist must be on the premises the whole time a dispensary is open. “It means long hours, opening until 19:30, opening Saturdays, and being the duty pharmacist over some weekends and nights.”
Most pharmacists in France are independent and own their shop.
Also require business skills
“To have your name on the door, you have to own the business, which usually also means owning the premises, so pharmacists are required to have business skills too,” Mr Millet says.
The FSPF report also noted the impact that Covid has had on people’s attitude to work, including a growing reluctance to sacrifice family and personal responsibilities to their jobs.
This is particularly noticeable in pharmacy roles, 90% of which are held by women and which do not offer many opportunities for remote or flexible working.
In the last two years, the number of university places to study pharmacy has increased by 16.4%. However, at the start of the 2022 academic year, only 2,700 out of a total of 3,802 second-year places available had been filled.
The FSPF said the national admissions platform for higher education, called Parcoursup, does not make it easy to find information about pharmacists.
In addition, it claimed entrance qualifications do not easily align with the current baccalauréat curriculum.
“We need to signpost entrance into the profession better,” says Mr Millet.
Need awareness in schools
“And we need to raise awareness in schools that this is an interesting profession which is evolving fast, with lots of new responsibilities to take on.
“As well as dispensing medicines, giving advice, vaccinating people, testing for a range of diseases, you are a link between patients and their doctors.
Finally, we need to make it clear that although starting salaries look low, the profession is better paid later on.”
In 2014, a report by the Inspection générale des finances put pharmacists on a net monthly salary of €7,671, ahead of specialist doctors (€7,186), dentists (€6,912) and general practitioners (€5,666).
The average salary for an assistant pharmacist is around €3,500 net per month.