The non-linear career of a New Practitioner

Residents Corner By Erica M. Tolle, PharmD

While recently attending a residents’ conference, a speaker referenced Ithaka, a poem written by CP Cavafy in 1911.

            “Arriving [at Ithaka] is what you are destined for.

            But do not hurry the journey at all.

            Better if it lasts for years,

            so you are old by the time you reach the island,

            wealthy with all you have gained on the way,

            not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.”

I am not sure about you, but this excerpt solicited an examination into the direction of my career. Where should I go next? How do I seek out the perfect position? Ultimately, where do I belong in the profession?  

In a matter of weeks, thousands of pharmacy residents will graduate from their respective programs, prepared to transform patients’ lives, other health care providers’ perceptions of pharmacists, and the profession’s future. Some graduates will pursue a job, some a PGY2 or fellowship, and some will pursue additional education such as PhD programs or medical school. Residency prepares graduates to practice as clinicians and collaborate with leaders, networkers, and researchers with the expectation of going out and changing the world! Is it realistic, though, to think that soon-to-be graduates can change the world with their very first quivering signature on the dotted line?

‘The Plan’
During residency interviews, I outlined my career path to my interviewers: community residency, junior partnership, full ownership in 8 years, and unparalleled happiness, satisfaction, and success. In fact, I have referred to my career path as “The Plan” since eighth, yes, eighth grade.

During the second quarter of residency, I began to search for the junior partnership of my dreams. Unfortunately, I was coming up empty. I considered altering “The Plan,” but truthfully struggled with the idea that my career may not follow the straight and narrow path I had previously envisioned. After 3 months of struggling through journal writing about 10-year plans, watching copious amounts of inspirational career talks, and soliciting advice from every business card I own, I finally convinced myself that it is okay to alter “The Plan.”

My position post-residency—I will be completing a 1-year academic fellowship at the University of Cincinnati (UC); this position is the first of its kind at UC—does not put me on the straight and narrow toward ownership, but I appreciate the value of an opportunity that simply cannot be passed up. 

What you can do
Have no fear, though! There are appropriate methods to use when considering life after residency (personally, I have consider the last method on my list to be fool-proof). 

·       Develop a 10-year plan outlining a pathway to your ideal position.

·       Network with seasoned practitioners in your field of interest.

·       Be open to opportunities.

·       Use technology and social media to seek out and research open positions, and network with possible connections.

·       Consideration of mentors’ advice.

·       Recognize that a career is not a sprint to success, rather a 30 to 40 year marathon (i.e. Sara White’s “M” Curve, which illustrates the idea that careers do not develop in a linear fashion, rather accelerate and decelerate with major life events, age, and experience).

·       Vow to follow your heart.

Career toolbox
My preceptor explained the path of a New Practitioner as journey to collect necessary tools for a toolbox. A residency graduate’s first position post-residency may be their hammer, the second their wrench, the third their drill, etc. A toolbox is not complete without numerous tools. Similarly, a pharmacist is not complete without numerous skills gained from positions obtained during a career full of twists and turns.

A game-changing, bold, and breathtaking Ithaka may be the pearl that all New Practitioners hope to reach, but I challenge you to embrace the non-linear nature of your future career. Every twist and turn of your career path is an opportunity to change a patient’s life, to impact the profession, and to become wealthy with knowledge and experience so you can mentor those young practitioners following in your footsteps.

Best of luck!