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“I came from abroad to study pharmacy but instead I was shouted at, talked down to and bullied”

I started my pre-registration training at an independent pharmacy in 2009. My first choice was hospital training. I was interested in the clinical aspect of the hospital role, but I lost the position to someone else. I accepted one at the community pharmacy, believing that training at an independent pharmacy was the second best option.


As an international student, the pharmacy owner refused to help with the visa and I had to apply for a post-degree work permit to work there, independently. The visa took a long time to get processed and I was having problems at the pharmacy. My only options were to stay and continue or go abroad and apply again. They were aware of this at work which made matters worse because they knew I was stuck.


It was an extremely busy pharmacy. I was not given any training and told to start dispensing straightaway. I was shouted at, talked down to and rushed several times.”You should be running” the pharmacy owner would say when waiting scripts landed in the dispensary. He would often stumble in a few minutes late, sometimes still smelling of alcohol from the night before and sit on his chair all day telling everyone what to do whilst we bringing items for him to check. He compared staff dispensing speeds and accuracy, including mine of course.


His wife was my ‘tutor’ but she was hardly ever there, waltzing in a few hours a week, only to take boxes off the shelves saying they looked untidy and leave them in a mess on the counter. She would then leave shouting and gossiping along the way and the dispensary would look like a hurricane went through it.


I wasn’t allowed any studying time which I know we aren’t entitled to. I was not given any training or preparation time for the exam. The one time I was placed on the counter and had a chance to sneak a look at my BNF I was told off and shouted at. They would say if there is nothing to do I should run back and dispense. I was more or less being used as a free dispenser.


I was also constantly bullied by two members of staff who had worked there a long time. I just tried to ignore them. The owners were aware and their only advice was when you are newly qualified and working somewhere new you should be prepared because your staff will try to do that to you. A well-known fact in pharmacy apparently.


Often the owner’s wife would say I’m not ready for my competencies on my training to be signed off (which I needed to sit the GPHC exam). This continued for most of the year. I found a former preregistration student who explained how horrible his experience with them was. His advice to me was to keep my head down and stick through it if I can’t leave.


Months later there still was no visa, I was still not signed off on my checklist. I complained to the GPHC who sympathised and said I should have a conversation with my tutor. My tutor said I wasn’t ready.


Eventually, at the end of the year, she reluctantly signed me off and I failed my test at 66% then resat again two months later at 65%. In hindsight, I had not tried any past papers under strict exam timing which was my downfall.


They asked me to come back in to work there and I refused. By then I had my visa and the GPHC informed me I would need to do another placement elsewhere.


Three months later I found another placement. In my desperation, I accepted payment of £6 an hour. The pharmacy was in an area with terrible public transport and I didn’t own a car. I didn’t need either because I was there to concentrate on being ready to qualify. This affected me adversely a couple of months down the line. The team was better, my tutor was knowledgeable and took time to teach me clinical, legal and operational procedures. But he was unhappy with the owner of the family chain, they could not reach an agreement and he resigned two months later.


The GPHC informed me that I had to obtain a new placement by the following Monday in order to sit the exam that year. I was unable to commute anywhere and I was stuck.


The pharmacy owner assured me I could stay at the same branch, would be signed off by him and that I could sit the exam. Without much choice, I believed him. Six months later after sending off my application to sit the exam, the GPHC informed me I would not be able to because I was signed off by a different person than the one who signed me on.


I had a month left to find another placement and ended up returning home to look for a placement while abroad. Luckily I found one, after sending about 100 emails. It was a great placement. A healthy working environment, amazing staff and a helpful, committed and knowledgeable tutor. He even allowed me to attend a pre-registration exam training course for two days in London. Eight months later I sat my final chance at the exam and qualified.


I am still grateful to him until this day.


I worked as a locum for two months whilst looking for a sponsored position so I could stay in the UK. I found a pharmacy branch which was struggling to find cover for over a year. I applied, was accepted and offered the new working visa. Once I moved to the area and began working there I understood why it was struggling to find cover.


The staff would get by doing the basics and expect the pharmacist to do the rest, they were extremely rude and unhelpful not to mention condescending and constantly making sarcastic remarks. A member of staff walked out one morning because I refused to accept their behaviour. This was when the area manager finally got involved. When they realised I wasn’t going anywhere, their behaviour slowly improved. Eventually, the part-time member of staff retired and the other colleague had no partner to gang up with, so I had a great few years with a great replacement. When she left and a new member of staff started, I was also preparing to leave.


I am a locum now, it’s much healthier. The paycheck, however, is not. Locums are severely underpaid taking into consideration inflation, short staffing levels but there are some benefits to my mental health and peace of mind.


Unfortunately, many people say that bullying is normal in all workplaces, in any career, why is this acceptable? The GPhC is there for the benefit of the public, not pharmacists. Surely an unhealthy work environment affects the public adversely?


They say that if it is an unsafe work environment, not up to standard, it is the pharmacist’s responsibility to refuse to work there. But what happens when all the pharmacies are run by similar people in a similar manner, and when working in these pharmacies is your career. I hear from many pharmacists that they are leaving community pharmacy to work in other fields.


Healthy working environments for pharmacists and staff should be a necessity and a reflection of the healthcare parcel offered to the public but sadly I very rarely see them.


The author of this blog wished to remain anonymous.

12 thoughts on ““I came from abroad to study pharmacy but instead I was shouted at, talked down to and bullied””

  1. I was a foreign trainee and the only male who is not among the managerial staff. So the rest of the female, either envious of my position or whatever reasons, constantly seek to pick on me, onion by onion, even when I go to ASDA buy food (they said that I was intentionally about to push the trolley to bang them; absolutely absurd!). At workplace, they constantly speak ill behind me, the managers know that but don’t do anything. Probably because they are long-term or British staff and I am not. The pharmacist is the son of the director so he can do whatever he wants. In one year he had already taken 3-month annual leave, been late at work by hours because of previous night’s hangover. But if I took leave or was late for three minutes, they would be unhappy and yell at me. The director was occasionally late because of traffic, at work he constantly sought to play with his puppy dog, ate snacks or went absent due to private affairs. Yet he shamelessly announced that “I had never been missing for one minute, that’s my record” or “I used to work 16 hours a day” (probably 10 hours were dedicated to social facebook or eating!). The manager tutor would intentionally raise the bar standards for competencies to make it difficult to sign me off. At work, he asked me some very irrelevant questions. If I asked him the same irrelevant question he would throw back at me: “That’s not something for you to ask”. When I used computer for social media to help relax my mind in my study room, they sought to discipline me. But when the pharmacist manager used them to watch the Olympics and yelled out loud before the patients, other dispensers booked travelling ticket holidays; they did not face any consequences. In the final day, they denounced that “You are the most useless I have ever seen”. I didn’t say a word, but was dumbfounded further when they said “He did not respect us at all”. How could they shamelessly say that I was not respectful when they were the ones who undermined my values first? I was shocked by this aloof, haughty, supercilious attitude. In short they played by the rule of the one in charge, not by the rule of law; protecting only those who work for them long-term. I hope that justice will one day come to them and they are right, now they do not earn my respect.

  2. My experience is the same as the author and the first comment. I’m also a foreign trainee currently undergoing pre-registration training in a community pharmacy. I have been subjected to several instances of bullying, constant harassment, been undermined on a daily basis by several dispensers and technicians; and I believe it’s not only because I’m a foreign trainee, but it also has a racial undertone to it. However, the difference between me and the author is that my tutor and the second pharmacist have been very understanding and welcoming to me. They are both the main reason why I’m committed to finishing my pre-registration training regardless of what I have and I’m currently experiencing from other members of staff.

    The GPhC really needs to look into the culture of bullying and harassment that exists in all spheres of pharmacy practice, but even more so, in community pharmacy.

  3. It’s amazing how many people are bullied especially by their pre-reg tutors . I had no experience when I started my pre-reg and my tutors used to shout at every error I made . This made me so scared and nervous which resulted to even more errors . I would cry rivers while serving customers . But one day just one day I woke up and told my self I am not a weakling . I just became rebellious .. I know it’s not right but it helped me calm down and when I wasn’t afraid of her I managed to start dispensing and doing work well without any errors . With time I improved greatly and was good at my job. My tutor was about to go on maternity leave and she would not sign me off at first because she said I wasn’t ready . Even when I was ready she just found me no good enough to be a pharmacist . I had to call her boss and gave them up to 12 midday to sign me off and I had always contacted the gphc. That is how I finally was signed off . It’s important to have a good person to mentor u because it affected my work , I only passed on the third sitting . There is a power imbalance , the tutor knows they hold your life in your hands and they can misuse that power to abuse and bully others .

  4. In my workplace, the sale assistant was the director’s wife. When I started, she constantly made fun of me at work, mocking me whether I could survive here for the whole year. Twice they opened my confidential letters but then only offered a simple apology. But when I accidentally disclosed the address of the patient who was also the member of staff, she immediately grasped the opportunity to report to the boss and they eminently did not let go that chance to discipline me. They frequently sought ways to harass me, from professional mistakes to attitude. They made numerous near misses and dispensing errors; forgiven; I forgot to ask a question to the patient before selling medicine, they immediately escalated to patient safety and made into the disciplinary report that I sold medicines in a harmful way. In fact no patients have been harmed because of my practice.
    But once they made a dispensing error of epilepsy medicine that went the patient to hospital, they reported the error and blamed the dispenser, discredited their checking responsibiltiy.
    I could not stand working in that unfair, unjust environment, working with people having no honour, self-respect, money-driven. The tummy of the boss is quite huge, but their staff’s feet are dying. I wonder if that chap knows.

  5. I would not rely on the GPhC or PDA whatever cause they are the British people. And British people by playing with their rules, would subconsciously protect their people whilst exerting hostile animosity towards foreign trainees. The sense of discrimination is rising higher during Brexit… Sad…
    I would suggest another country like Netherlands, they are more welcoming and more sincere.

  6. I would not rely on the GPhC or PDA whatever cause they are the British people. And British people by playing with their rules, would subconsciously protect their people whilst exerting hostile animosity towards foreign trainees. The sense of discrimination is rising higher during Brexit… Sad…
    I would suggest another country like the Netherlands, they are more welcoming, more sincere, more correct and not politically correct.

  7. You get the idea of how the British treated African slaves and sold them to America, how they exerted control over Hong Kong and Singapore, played by their rules to discriminate against the Chinese but protective towards themselves. The traits still exist today. British… “sigh”. I am emigrating!

  8. Yes, the British bring in a high number of immigrants but then treat them as underdogs (Indians, Pakistani, African work as delivery drivers, taxi drivers, manual labourers). Now they claim that they are becoming more embracing of other cultures. No! The rules of genetics haven’t changed.

  9. Against racism + bullying

    “We have had reports of situations where, if a reason cannot be found for dismissal, attempts may be made to wear down the pharmacist – alienating and bullying them until they just give up and leave anyway.”
    “People who are introverted, anxious or submissive are more likely to become targets, it explains, because the bully can use these qualities to their advantage.”
    “Another factor is prejudice – people can be targeted because of their gender, age, sexual preference, race or religion.”
    “As the target, you may feel you are bearing all the consequences of the bullying behaviour, while the perpetrator gets away scot-free.”

    Exactly what happened to me!
    The bully gets rewards, the victims gets beaten down, becomes hopeless. What a Brexit world.
    Where is justice in this unequal world…

  10. One year on following the incident and I am still having nightmare about that pharmacy. Whatever I did was always below par, looked down upon. That pharmacist manager just happened to marry the daughter of a rich business man and benefited from their father-in-law’s assets, apart from that, the chap had nothing special, no superiority compared to an unknown pharmacist from Day Lewis (whom I totally respected). Harassment, bullying, shouting, he inflicted all upon me during my training. But because he was the son-in-law, he enjoyed the protection from his father! Nepotism! For 5 weeks he was away on holidays (which had already exceeded any employee’s allowed holidays!), I had incredibly happy time, free from yelling and fear of bullying. Immediately when he returned, problems cropped up. In the final day, both father and son, took turn to harass, humiliate me, denouncing me useless, convicting me that I will kill their business. Ludicrous, how about me, had I stayed there, they would have killed me for sure! The director father was the owner so he could do whatever he wanted, say whatever he liked: I used to work in Japan, I used to work in the USA, I was born in Thailand, I got a PhD, do you know that? I couldn’t help laughing! Yes, a PhD in Bullying Science!
    I would advise against any foreign students from studying pharmacy in the UK, in short!

  11. I am so sorry to hear about your horrendous experience. Those two bosses were such cowards, two big elephants stomping on a small fish like you. Have they got any self-respect I wonder? They could only manipulate the feeble brains, please believe me, you and your calibre deserve a much better, more rewarding employment than that. Wish the best to you!

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