25 years a WAG Pharmacist: An Exposé: pharmacy

I was inspired to write this after reading this post posted earlier on this sub. It reminded me of 25 years of my dad going hungry. One thing is for sure to all the WAG RPhs here: DEERFIELD. DOESN’T. CARE. ABOUT. YOU.

Disclaimer

Nothing in this post reflects the feelings, experience, nor employment of my father by any means. These opinions, views, and data points are all my own, collected on my own accord. There was never any exchange of patient information, nor any information about Walgreens Boots Alliance nor its subsidiaries disclosed to me during my father’s tenure at WAG. For more information on digital privacy and cybersecurity, refer to HIPAA

I’m no PharmD, but my father was an RPh at Walgreens for 25 years. My mother was a practicing pharmacist in her home country before becoming an RN in the US around 20 years ago.

I can’t speak to the experience behind the counter, but I can speak to how terrible Walgreens treats their most experienced pharmacists in the greater Chicago area, and how it affects their children (I’m an adult now).

No, you’re never guaranteed a permanent store.

My father had a permanent store for a long period of time. However, after many years there, he was moved to be a floater. In Illinois, floaters in the day time are abundant in some districts. There were 54 active floaters in our region alone. My father, thanks to his seniority, was able to secure stores easily, but was always only notified within hours of the start of the shift. Some weeks, he’d be lucky to secure at most 30 hours of work. Never at the same store more than two shifts in a row. The worst part is that some of these stores could be up to 60 miles away from home. During that time, there was never room for day trips anywhere. No family vacations. My dad would be working 2-10 PM, but as most retail RPh’s in this sub know, that meant 1-11:30 PM for him. And his scheduler could call at any time. I even knew her by name; As a 12 year old kid, I probably had over 30 store numbers memorized from when she called the house phone while my dad was sleeping.

No, Deerfield doesn’t care if someone died.

Although a floater, he still had a home-store and a trusted manager. One day, my dad came home and I saw him cry for the first time in years. His manager worked a 2-10 PM shift, and didn’t get to leave until after 11 PM, when 5 inches of snow threw his car into a ditch. He was found dead in the car. Did WAG send any support? Were any mental health services or time off offered to the employees?

No, it was back to work for the whole store the next day. Being an immigrant, my dad of course bottled it up, but this event affected him for the rest of the working fiscal quarter. I never got over the fear that it very well could’ve been my dear old dad. After all, floating had put well over 200,000 miles on his car. After that, I would stay up and leave the kitchen light on. I’d say I had homework (I was in middle school, maybe high school at the time) but in reality I was just killing time waiting for him to get home. WAG never paid him extra for the late night risks, travel, or last minute shift and store assignments.

Overnight shifts will ruin you.

Years later, my father became a permanent, night time floater. He was the only night time floaters in the greater Chicago area at many times, and the schedulers always insisted it was due to his seniority and trust. They weren’t wrong; I’m sure there aren’t many PharmDs among the 900+ stores in Illinois that could just be placed anywhere, overnight, and alone at any given time out of nowhere. As a kid, I thought my Dad was incredibly cool (which he is!) for being one of the ‘few trusted’ RPhs. In reality it was just corporate trying (and failing) to stroke his ego to keep him in his hole. No matter how hard he tried, he never got any priority in bidding for a new store — it always went to new grads. He was nocturnal, arriving home as late as 10 AM, sleeping until around 6 or 7 PM to get up for his shift. I sometimes got to see him before then if it was a weekend and his caffeine withdrawal (which is still the most hilariously ironic thing to see in an RPh of all people) would wake him up. This continued for 6 years. He would always bring a lunch bag with him, but would always bring back ‘the leftovers’ for me. In reality, he just didn’t get a chance to eat. He was too busy filling upwards of 800 scripts that daytime RPh’s had left behind. My dad would keep a journal of the amount of fills he had each shift, and after review, it’s apparent that some nights had more scripts than his daytime shifts. He also has permanent lines on his face, bags under his eyes. His hands still have permanent callus scars from vice gripping the wheel on a cold Chicago night. Thank god for heated seats r/toyota. Daddo considered himself to be lucky to even have shifts. The 72 months of overnight shifts took years off his life, put wrinkles on his face, and changed who he was. He was constantly exhausted, irritable, and unavailable. All to provide for the family. I’d do anything to just relive my childhood and have my dad back for that period of time.

Years later, in 2016, just a year after the Boots acquisition, and Charles Walgreen III passed away, there was an abrupt decision to shut down the overnight stores, the new executives (WAG veterans know exactly who I’m referring to) chose to Shut down overnight operation at many stores in Chicago to maximize profit. At the time, my father had an overnight role in the city. For a good few months after this, he was lucky to get 4 shifts per week.

You are so, so, replaceable

My dad’s seniority meant he trained many, many employees. From students on rotations, to new hired techs, he keeps letters and gifts given from his trainees in a box at home. From my own ballpark, at least 250 employees have learned under my father. I’ve tested his influence, and I found that over the course of around 223 different stores where I asked, 86% of them had my dad as a household name behind the counter. This didn’t matter to Deerfield. At one point, after a long tenure at a permanent store long before he floated, his employment was in the balance. Without the union sending a rep to the district, his tenure at WAG may have been over. I donate to unions and support the Pharmacist union to this day and will continue to do so. I just wish there weren’t conditions so bad that require a union to step in.

In 2020, I was home with my parents in the pandemic, and my father was working nearly 12 hours daily. No amount of ‘we love our front line workers’ made up for how exhausting it was, especially at his age now. The PPE shortage in Illinois was a struggle, and WAG made no effort to compensate the RPhs. There was no reimbursement for PPE. There wasn’t even a hazard pay, but instead there was just a couple hundred $ bonus to everyone. Don’t like it? There’s a desperate new grad ready to take your place. This affected all the WAG employees, and seeing the posts about it on this sub 2 years ago just broke me.

It will affect your family at home.

I’ve learned a lot over the years. I’ve learned about medicinal chemistry, pharmacology, and everything else in between. I probably have memorized more compounds than 98% of other non-PharmD students at my University. I’ve learned about HIPAA, patient’s rights, and everything else in between. I could probably sit for a PCAT and do decently well at this rate (In fact I got bored and took a practice test recently). I learned that Pharmacy means a de facto civic duty of being one of the few roles in healthcare where you actively are a patient’s advocate against privatized insurance in the US; I learned why insurance is fucking bullshit; general brands are better; manufacturer coupons are a hidden gem.

What I also learned is that retail pharmacy takes you away from your family. It convinces you that you’re doing a service for the public, and locks you in an everlasting battle between shitty providers, evil insurance, and impatient patients. I’ve learned that in retail, you’re lucky to get a chance to eat. That you work more hours than an investment banker. That your time is barely yours, and your job exceeds the description. I’ve learned why some PCPs are arrogant, and why I shouldn’t trust an NP or Radiologist’s scripts.

My dad keeps letters he receives from patients thanking him for his service, emergency preparedness, advocacy, and everything else in between. It makes me beyond proud to know that he’s had this impact, but makes me beyond livid every time I remember that there was no other reward than pride. My dad’s time, energy, and youth was taken away from me and my siblings and mom by WAG, and there’s not much more than barely over $60/hour, some stickers, and a handful of hazard bonuses to show for it.

I love you, dad, even though you don’t use the internet and won’t see this. But fuck you Walgreens Boots. I want my childhood with my dad back.

Leave a Comment