Luck = hard work + opportunity


Dan Zlott served on the APhA–ASP National Executive Committee (President-elect and President) from 2005–07.

It is hard to believe, but it has been almost 10 years since I graduated from pharmacy school. If you had told me when I was handed my PharmD degree that I would end up specializing in T-cell immunology, I would have laughed at you. Immunology was always interesting to me, but it was never my passion, at least until I learned that researchers were exploring new and interesting ways to use the immune system to treat cancer. That got my undivided attention. Careers, and life, are funny like that: they have a strange way of leading you down paths you might never have considered.

Being open to new and unexpected opportunities has allowed me to accomplish things in my career that far exceeded my hopes and expectations.

Right place, right time

Oncology has always been my first love, so when I had a chance to work at the National Institutes of Health, home of the National Cancer Institute, I jumped at the opportunity. The team that I work with uses T-cells from tumors to treat patients’ cancer. Sometimes we use the T-cells just as they are, and other times we genetically engineer them, so in effect, we are teaching T-cells how to recognize cancer cells.

When I first joined the research team, the idea of using the immune system to treat cancer was an obscure concept in oncology. Now, it is has captured everyone’s attention, and the concept is being hailed as one of the biggest breakthroughs we have ever seen in the fight against cancer. So how did I end up working with my current team? I would love to say it was because I had the foresight to know that cancer immunotherapy was going to be a breakthrough, but the truth is, the team badly needed a pharmacist just as I was finishing my PGY2 oncology residency. I was in the right place at the right time.

Learning as I go

Although I am not officially a new practitioner any more, there are days when it feels like I graduated just last week. There is a lot to juggle: career, family, making your foray into the world of finances, first houses, and the list goes on. I wish I could tell you that I have it all figured out, but the truth is, I am still learning. I am still learning to say “no” to things. I struggle with work–life balance. 

Throughout it all, APhA has been an important part of my career. I can say, without a doubt, that I would not be where I am without APhA. As a student pharmacist, APhA gave me some of my first opportunities to learn and grow as a leader. This real-world leadership training has been invaluable as I have advanced in my career.

Additionally, through APhA, I have formed strong friendships with people that I never otherwise would have met. These same friends often became mentors. They have been new practitioners, they faced many of the same challenges that I am facing, and they are a great source of advice and wisdom. It is not an exaggeration to say that the insight and advice given to me by my network of friends and mentors has helped me navigate challenges for which I had no solution. Once again, I didn’t plan things this way. I just embraced new opportunities and made new friends when I had the chance.

My career path has not been entirely serendipitous, however. I believe that luck is the residue of preparation, or for those who are mathematically inclined: Luck = hard work + opportunity. You can rarely control when opportunities will present themselves, or the form that opportunities will take, but you can control the hard work part of the equation. Hard work prepares you to take advantage of opportunities when they do come knocking.

Explore new areas

Like many of you, I chose pharmacy because of my desire to make an impact on people’s lives. To work with a team that is literally helping redefine how cancer is treated is my dream job, but I could never have predicted the path I would take to get here. Work hard, don’t be afraid to explore new and unexpected opportunities, and there is no telling what successes might await you in your career.