PHARMACY or WHAT? [Archives:1998/39/Focus]

September 28 1998

This is an OPINION page.
Every week, a different intellectual writes a FOCUS on a pertinent issue!

Sumiah Al-Azeib,
Have you just finished school? Are you thinking of going into pharmacy? Has it been your life-long dream to grow up to become a pharmacist? Are you one of those people who once they find out that the person in front of them is a pharmacist, drop their jaw, gaze in amazement and utter “reeeea-lly?” Would you jump at the chance to marry a pharmacist? …
All of you – stop right there and hold your thoughts until you have finished reading what I have to say. Allow me to take you into the real world of pharmacy (only in Yemen of course).
Imagine that you’ve just graduated from pharmacy school. Now, let’s take a look at what your supposedly bright future has in store for you. In the beginning I’d like to reassure those of you who graduated with okay grades, and they have influence. You’re in luck because you have a big chance at getting appointed in the faculty, because of the VIP in your family. An uncle for a minister or senior officer or prominent sheikh would do just fine. You’ll find yourself welcomed with open arms and big false smiles on everyone’s face. But at least you’re in, with no problems whatsoever. Oh and one more thing, you don’t have to worry yourself about actually working, no one really notices, well except for the students (and who cares about them anyway!)
On the other hand, if you were one of the most brilliant students in your class and you achieved top grades and you don’t have an important relative, then I’m sorry to say “you don’t stand a chance at all!” I mean just who do you think you are competing with those less deserving candidates? I’m advising you from now. Don’t bother yourself and spare yourself the headache.
Unless, you are prepared to go on fighting a mind-boggling battle – a war in which you don’t really know who you’re up against. A war that could last for two to three years and which could end by either you giving up or surrendering. In very rare cases, after years of fighting, they might end up telling you, “Sorry, if only you came earlier. You would’ve definitely got the position, unfortunately you’re over the age limit – you’re too old!”
Oh well, who wants to teach anyway. Don’t worry, you still have so many choices ahead, you’re a pharmacist, don’t forget. Let’s see…what could be next? Oh yeah, you could always try and get a job with the government. You can start with the Ministry of Health. Why, it would be such an easy job, all you have to do is go to sign in and sign out and show your face from time to time, just to prove that you actually work there. Or you could try getting a job in a hospital. Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones who gets to sit in a real pharmacy and do some real work.
There’s a third choice which is preferred by so many, you can get a position in a village somewhere working in a phantom pharmacy that belongs to a non-existing health center (it’s your choice). And, if you’re clever you can collect your full salary. But, if you don’t want to be bothered with all the hassle, then you’ll just have to split your salary with whoever is in charge. Piece of cake!
Alright, forget all of this government stuff. The salary they pay isn’t enough to cover transportation costs, let alone for you to live on. And by the time you retire (if you can hang in there that long), the retirement pension will barely be enough for bread.
So, now we’ve ruled out both work in the university and the government. What’s left?
The private sector, dummy.
That’s right, why didn’t we think of that before. If you’re lucky, you could be chosen by a very big pharmaceutical company to act as one of their medical representatives. You’ll get a good salary, lots of work and most importantly loads and loads of STRRESSS! That is what our genes live on.
I mean you have to compete with all those cheaper and smuggled products, which buyers seem to prefer due to poor economic conditions. A bad drug is better than no drug… don’t you see?
One more thing, don’t forget dealing with weird wholesalers.
There is yet one more option. If you couldn’t make it to the big company, you could try working in a pharmacy under the management of an illiterate rich man, whose son isn’t around any more to work in the pharmacy because he has been accepted at pharmacy school.
O.K. You don’t like that too. What else is there? How about going into your own private business? Great idea, but first, do you have the money? If you can conjure up to two million riyals, then you’re half way there to opening a pharmacy. The, of course, you have to ‘convince’ the Ministry of health to give you a license. After that, all you have to do now is find a suitable spot for the pharmacy. Since every street has around lots of pharmacies, it’s virtually impossible to open one in the city. Your best bet is to open one in rural areas. Now, a word of warning – if you want to be a successful pharmacist, then you’ll have to throw your conscience out of the window and forget about it. After all, the Ministry of Health has been doing it for years and no harm has come to it.
Last, but not least, if somehow you don’t find yourself in any of the above, don’t fret. There is still hope. You can lease out your license to absolutely anyone out there as long as they pay the right price. In Sanaa it’s around YR 15,000 per month, in Hodeidah it’s a little bit more and in Aden it’s a little bit less. But, if you’re really desperate and everything has been shut in your face, then you could try selling your license. It could fetch you around 1-1.5 million riyals (easy money, just worth five years of your life). But you’d better hurry and sell up quick because prices are on the fall.
I hope that I wasn’t too harsh and I certainly didn’t want to come across as a pessimist. On the contrary, I was merely trying to clarify a big misconception and I only wanted to tell you the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
One last word, if in the end you don’t succeed in the pharmacy business try something else. So many people have done exactly that.