I’m a pharmacy student working at Walgreens. Most people getting the COVID booster shot are excited, but our pharmacy is severely understaffed.

Walgreens pharmacy
‘The line kept growing – some people were picking up their medications, others were asking for refills. The phone calls never ended,’ said a pharmacist of her recent Sunday shift. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • Jennalynn Fung, 19, is a pharmacy student who works at a Walgreens in New York City.
  • She says her location has been overwhelmed between giving out the COVID vaccines and flu shots and filling regular prescriptions.
  • Despite being on the front line, Fung says she rarely feels respected by patients or treated like a healthcare worker.

I started working at Walgreens during the spring semester of my first year in New York City. As a pharmacy student, I wanted to start working to develop my skills and understanding of medicine in a practical setting.

My first few months at a Walgreens in Queens were stressful to say the least – I was hired in March 2020, when the pandemic began to take over. New York quickly became the center of the epidemic, but having just been hired, I didn’t want to leave.

Jennalynn Fung, 19, is a pharmacy student in New York.
, 19, is a pharmacy student in New York. Jennalynn Fung

When the vaccines were approved for emergency use, our responsibilities doubled, but our staff size stayed the same.

During most shifts, we only had one pharmacist available, which often meant there were only one to two immunizers. At that point, we were just trying to keep up with workflow.

Eventually, I switched to a pharmacy in a different neighborhood, but it was also severely understaffed. We spent all day just trying to get everything done, with little leeway to provide attentive, patient-centered care like we normally would.

Now, most people are coming in for the Pfizer booster shot are eager to get it.

One patient, a woman born in the early 1940s, told me she remembered receiving the polio vaccine as a teenager. As a result, she’d never contracted the illness, and believed the COVID vaccine would give her the same protection. Another older man suffering from chronic heart disease said that for him, the third shot was necessary for his own peace of mind.

We’ve also had patients under 65 with health conditions come in for the third dose. One young high school teacher who was immunocompromised said the moment she heard the Pfizer booster shot was approved, she wanted it. Schools in New York City shut down in September due to outbreaks, so she felt she was at high risk of contracting the virus. Since the booster is voluntary right now, most people coming in for it have been relieved – and even excited – to get it.

The long hours and lack of available pharmacists mean we’re all working back to back shifts.

Jennalynn Fung
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine. Jennalynn Fung

We’re giving vaccinations all day long as well as keeping up with the steady flow of prescriptions coming from local clinics and hospitals. Since flu shots are also walk-in, there are long lines of people waiting for different vaccinations. This is especially tough on a single immunizer who must keep track of who is getting what shot and what version (flu shots for babies, children and adults, and the elderly).

In spite of what we do, we’re rarely respected as healthcare workers.

Staff pharmacists have consistently come in at 6 a.m. and stayed until 9 p.m. throughout the pandemic. Had there been one more technician or pharmacist at each store, things might be different – we would be able to catch our own breath and think more deeply about the health of our patients.

Walgreens’ own treatment has made me feel like they didn’t value me as a pharmacy worker. Many days I dread coming into work – every work shift is exhausting, from the rude patients to the constant influx of prescriptions. I continue to wonder: Why am I studying for six long years to be a pharmacist if people are going to treat me with no respect?

With the booster shots, Walgreens hasn’t gotten any better – in many ways, it’s worse.

Just a month ago on a Sunday, we had a family of six walk in for their flu shots. There was already a line of six elderly and immunocompromised patients waiting for the COVID booster. The line kept growing – some people were picking up their medications, others were asking for refills. The phone calls never ended.

Worst of all was, it was just me and the staff pharmacist working that day. We didn’t close on time that night, but in order to keep to hourly budgets, my pharmacist told me I could leave and that she would stay behind. She spent another hour scanning in vaccine forms, filling more prescriptions, and cleaning.

Being understaffed puts patient safety at risk. There was a memo by “WAG Justice” circulating in Walgreens emails about a walkout – this was when pharmacists were doing up to 100 vaccinations by themselves in a day.

In pharmacy school, I’ve learned how crucial and indispensable a pharmacist’s drug knowledge is for public health. For that reason, I hope people continue to get vaccinated – and that treatment of pharmacists giving the vaccinations will improve.