Perspectives of a new pharmacist—does this sound familiar?

Recently I received a story from a young pharmacist who is practicing in a chain pharmacy. I believe her story is not unlike that of many others who are fairly new in practice. I appreciated her thought process, and thought I would share an excerpt:

I have recently been thinking about my career and my goals for the future … I had to make some choices. Did I want to work in an independent pharmacy or in a chain pharmacy? Did I want to be a staff pharmacist or did I want to be a manager? Where did I want to live? All of these decisions had to be made at the same time, and quickly.

I chose to be a pharmacy manager in a chain pharmacy in a rural state. Now that I have worked for 1 year, I am re-evaluating the decisions I’ve made. I definitely don’t regret any of my decisions; I just have time to think about them now. During my first year as a pharmacist, there were a lot of growing pains. The day I received my license, I instantly became a pharmacist. I was expected to know exactly what to do, and to do it perfectly, because pharmacists work on a zero-error standard.

In my first year, I made mistakes. A lot of them. Some were medication errors. When I made my first medication error, it crushed me. I started to second-guess my ability and worth as a pharmacist. Then, over time, I realized that I am only a mere mortal, and as long as I give my very best every day, everything will be fine. I am not the first pharmacist to make a mistake, and I will make more mistakes in the future. That’s life. Some of my mistakes were related to managing my technicians, which is a whole other world that they do not teach you in pharmacy school. Many community chains have management programs, but I was not given any official training. Pharmacy managers have two sets of rules to follow, including pharmacy law and store policy, and differences between them cause confusion. Managers have to handle scheduling, personnel issues, and disciplinary action, on top of daily pharmacist responsibilities, and do all of it while getting Mr. Smith’s prescription finished in 5 minutes because he is yelling at you and he has to catch the next bus. Lesson learned: being a pharmacist is stressful.

Maybe it was not the wisest decision to be a manager right out of pharmacy school; however, sometimes options are limited. In my situation, other pharmacists were older than I and probably more qualified to be a manager, but they lacked the desire. Not everyone is a leader, and that’s okay. I am glad that I am the manager; it gives me the power to implement changes that make my pharmacy better and more efficient.

Having worked for a year, I have also had time to experience the good parts of being a pharmacist. Like when a patient thanks me for calling the doctor to change his prescription … He is happy that I took a minute to help him out and change his prescription cost from more than $100 to $10. Or when I am helping a patient find the garlic tablets and I ask what prescription medications she is taking. She tells me she takes warfarin, I explain that the garlic tablets can increase her bleeding risk, and she has a moment of realization. I could go on, but you know what I mean when I say it is very fulfilling for a pharmacist to make a therapeutic intervention that improves patient care.

So as I re-evaluate my decisions, it turns out that the negative and the positive aspects of my job are pretty evenly balanced. I am left to consider my goals for the future. In community pharmacy, the world beyond the role of the pharmacy manager is more business-focused than patient-focused; that is not what I want. Because I want to stay involved with direct patient care, it feels that I have already peaked in my career at age 25.

That realization that I may have peaked is kind of depressing; however, it is not true. Having given it some careful thought, I realized that a career path should not be a single vertical line. It should have many side branches, kind of like a tree. A plain tree trunk with no branches is probably dead and is definitely not bearing fruit. A tree with many branches full of green leaves is alive and fruitful and beautiful. That is what I want my career to be.

So, I need to add more branches to my tree. I need to explore different pathways to achieve my goals. I can be a preceptor and share my knowledge with students. I can write pharmacy articles like this one. I can join pharmacy organizations like APhA, the National Community Pharmacists Association, state organizations, alumni associations, and advocacy groups. I can volunteer for local health care initiatives. I can do community service. I can find ways to improve my day-to-day routine. I can do anything I want to do with my career. I don’t have to be the stereotypical disenchanted pharmacist who just doesn’t care anymore, works for 30 years just going through the motions, and never realizes her full potential. I don’t have to end up as a dead tree with no branches who eventually burns out from stress.

My career goals are simple. I want to do something I can be proud of. I want to share my experiences and knowledge with others. I never want to stop learning. If I can accomplish those three things, I will be able to say that I had a fulfilling career. My tree had a lot of branches. How many branches are on your tree?