- Pharmacists, also known as chemists (Commonwealth English) or druggists (North American and, archaically, Commonwealth English), are healthcare professionals who practice in pharmacy, the field of health sciences focusing on safe and effective medication use.
Being a pharmacist is not an easy journey to go through. Hardships is not a hindrance to achieve this dream. being a pharmacist you must remember:
- Lesson No. 1: Clinical pharmacy is not the pinnacle of pharmacy practice.
Although I didn’t understand this at the time, my pharmacy professors were subtly preaching that clinical practice was the ultimate form of the profession; that, to be a great pharmacist, I needed to practice clinical pharmacy. I didn’t really understand what all that meant at the time, but I do remember believing that for me to be a great pharmacist, I need to be a clinical pharmacist, which meant I needed to get a residency.
Even though I had not experienced what a real clinical pharmacist does (more on that later), I was taught to believe that this was the goal and that shooting for anything less than a residency or clinical pharmacy practice was a poor career choice.
Action Step: You need to make sure that you realize what is influencing your career. Don’t allow yourself to be indoctrinated to think any one way. Experience all of pharmacy—from a pharmacy technician position all the way to management or even research. Don’t rule any career path out.
- Lesson No. 2: Academic pharmacy is not pharmacy practice.
There are 2 basic schools within academic pharmacy: The pharmacy practice side of your education and the science part of your education. The science department is theoretical, mostly lacking in application, while the pharmacy practice side is nearly all application.
Traditionally, the science classes come first in order to understand more of the pharmacotherapeutics side of the pharmacy practice. Pharmacotherapeutics is taught by pharmacy practice professors who lead students through their pharmacy practice sites. I remember my rotations and thinking, “This is perfect.” What these pharmacists do on a day-to-day basis is fun, exciting and challenging.
I also remember a rotation with a full-time clinical pharmacist whose job was much different than the academic pharmacist’s. They had different demands and a different, more challenging workload. The academic pharmacist who instructed me had more time to teach me and had more time to give me access to learn some of the applications. But the clinical pharmacist wasn’t able to spend as much time because there was work to be done. There’s also a different kind of work—work that wasn’t exciting to me, like reports or analysis of workload.
Action Step: Although academic pharmacy rotations are great and you will learn tons, you won’t really experience what it is like to be a clinical pharmacist. I encourage all students to shadow real practicing clinical pharmacists to understand what it entails, including the demands, the stress, the workload, etc.
- Lesson No. 3: Never believe more debt is OK.
In my last year of pharmacy school, I had to take out an additional $4,000 of debt in to cover expenses. I remember having a conversation with my mother about this during which I said, “No worries. Another $4,000 isn’t that big of a deal.”
At the time, my mother (being the wonderful mother that she is) said something to the effect of, “Please don’t think that. More debt is not a great thing.” I didn’t listen to her and I took out that debt. Looking back, I really regret that decision.
Action Step: Do whatever you can to avoid debt. To avoid that additional $4,000, I could have scrimped a little bit more. I could have eaten out less. I could have made more money at my job. I should have done anything to avoid that $4,000, because thanks to interest, that $4,000 cost me an additional $800 over the last four years of my career.
- Lesson No. 4: Your network is way more important than you think.
The importance of your professional network is taught to students, but I don’t really think most of them understand how critical it really is. Who you know truly determines where you end up in life. It’s how job opportunities come through. It’s how you learn about residency or career opportunities that no one else knows about. Early in our P1 year we were told that that our network is really important, but I didn’t fully understand the consequences of not developing my network.
Action Step: Do everything you can to learn everything about your professors. As you begin your pharmacy career, they are your synergistic connector. They know dozens, if not hundreds, of pharmacists who could give you the experience you need to get your dream job. Even if it’s not your dream job, these connections could still lead to your first job.
- Lesson No. 5: Go mile deep and an inch wide.
Pharmacy school is made to give you an expansive overview of the entire practice, meaning that you have to become an expert on a lot of things very quickly. This is great and it’s helpful for anyone who has a wide interest in things. However, being a generalist usually doesn’t benefit you.
The jobs are where the niches are. The more you niche down into your career, the more you are able to find a specialty that cannot only give you unique job opportunities, but also lead to a higher salary. Technology has changed many different industries, and pharmacy is ripe for innovation. If you have any tech ability, it would behoove you to learn more about technology and how you can apply it within the pharmacy profession.
Action Step: Don’t join every pharmacy group. There are lots to choose from (American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, American Pharmacists Association, National Community Pharmacists Association, etc.), so pick one that really interests you and go deep within that group.
Gain connections through the group. Find out who’s in leadership on a national level. Connect with them. I once connected with the CEO of American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy and that led me to a unique job opportunity (ultimately, I turned it down). The deeper you go with your interest, the more people you’ll connect with.
- Lesson No. 6: Leverage your connections.
I know I’ve harped on growing your network, but I can’t overstate how important this is. The temporary pain of spending time growing your network will far overpay in dividends in the future. You must spend time growing your network, because if you don’t, the job opportunities won’t be there for you after you receive your degree.
Action Step: As you grow your network, be sure to cultivate it. Don’t just go on in life and never say “hi” to people. Make an effort to regularly connect with your contacts, because you never know when your hospital could shut down or your pharmacy group could be bought out. When those things happen, it’s your network who will provide you with new opportunities.
To make sure your network is alive and well when you need it, you should make an effort to use your expertise to help others out. Volunteer for a cause that is important to a friend or help a contact organize a professional meeting. You should also try to meet new people through your existing contacts to expand your reach. And, don’t just think in terms of pharmacy. People from a range of professions might have advice, expertise or experience that could benefit you in some way.
By learning these lessons and following these action steps, you are on your way to being MUCH farther ahead than I was during my time in pharmacy school. Even though some of these suggestions will involve sacrifice and time, they are well worth the effort and will set you up for a successful transition from student to pharmacist.
Advises for New Pharmacy Graduates
1. Respect your license. Do not knowingly participate in activities that put it at risk. Forgetting to complete required annual CE, inappropriate use of social media, or an indiscretion at a Phish concert can quickly annihilate everything you worked so hard for.
2. Remember that you answer to a higher authority. Your employer is a secondary responsibility. Never forget that your primary responsibility is to your patients and the Board of Pharmacy that licenses you to care for them. Do not, under any circumstances, violate your professional code of ethics or willingly break the law because your employer tells you to. Even if to do so is made a condition of your employment. There are few certainties in life, but I can guarantee you that at some point in your career, you will be faced with this dilemma. Make the right choice.
3. Insure it. Get professional liability insurance, even if your employer puts you on its group policy or you’re covered through a professional membership. You need your own policy that covers you at every site where you work and anywhere you may volunteer, as well as to protect you if an acquaintance decides to get litigious over some medical advice you gave her at a party.
4. Be kind to your technicians. Always, every day. Keep your superstars happy and do your best to coach up your low performers.
5. Use your lifelines. There is no shame in calling/texting/smoke signaling another pharmacist if you get stumped at work. There is however, a lot of shame in allowing your pride to interfere with your ability to provide quality patient care.
6. Attitude is everything. You will not always be able to choose the work you’re doing, but you will always be able to choose the attitude you bring to it.
7. Be fiscally responsible. I get it, you’ve been eating canned beans and taking public transportation for the past six years and you suddenly have a paycheck sporting a lot of zeros. You’ve achieved something amazing, and you should reward yourself. Just don’t reward yourself with a yacht. Do not put yourself in a situation that requires you to stay in a job you hate because you have a car/boat/house payment due. Find a financial planner you trust and take the advice you receive seriously.
8. Respect your elders. I don’t care what fancy degrees you hold or how many letters you have behind your name, a 30-year pharmacist has forgotten more than you will ever know.
9. Your first job won’t be your last job. In the meantime, take the job that’s available and give it 110%. Be the first to show up and the last one to leave, and spend your days off searching for your dream job. Know, though, that you cannot put a price on job satisfaction. Often, the jobs that are most fulfilling also happen to pay the least.
10. In case of emergency, break glass. Have an SOS plan in place for surviving your worst days at work, because you will have days where you want to walk out the door, move to Bolivia, and raise alpacas for a living. You need to ensure that you have an escape hatch for managing stress before you experience any stress. My own personal fire-escape plan involves dark chocolate M&M’s and a visit to the NICU or the outpatient oncology center to remind me why I became a pharmacist in the first place.
And finally, the golden rule – less a piece of advice and more the mantra of quality pharmacists everywhere – Put Patients First.