By Daniel Shifrin, R.P., M.S.
I started my career as a pharmacist in 1979. I had my license and had just graduated from pharmacy school.
I had no restrictions as to when I wanted to work. I was available to work days, evenings, and even nights. Weekends and holidays were fine. I didn’t even mind working ten or twelve hour shifts.
I must have gone on about a dozen interviews. Usually I was told…
- “We do have other candidates and hope to make a decision by the end of the week.”
- “We’re very pleased with what we’ve heard and we’ll definitely get back to you.”
- “We bring back the satisfactory candidates for a second and third interview. You should be hearing from us shortly.”
I never heard from anyone.
Where were all the pharmacist jobs that I was told about? Were all the pharmacist positions filled in 1979? Perhaps no one wanted someone fresh out of school with no experience.
I had seen a job for a full-time pharmacist position in a small “mom and pop” retail pharmacy. I decided to apply in person.
After speaking to the owner for about fifteen minutes, he asked when I could start. “I’m available now”, I replied. He took me to the prescription department where he introduced me to another pharmacist and a pharmacy technician. For the next three hours I answered phones, counted tablets and pills, poured medication liquids, and learned to work the cash register. I was a fast learner.
At the end of three hours, he put me on the schedule and told me what the salary was. Yes, I officially started the job before knowing how much I was getting paid! But that didn’t matter. The job details, hours, and even the money were immaterial. I wanted a job as a pharmacist. I was determined to take the first job that I was offered.
Besides it was a very good store and I liked it. It was your average “mom and pop” pharmacy. The owner was the pharmacist-in-charge. His wife was always there helping out. His son ran the card and gift shop.
The salary was good. The hours were decent. It was twenty minutes from my house. The prescription department averaged about 100 prescriptions a day and there were no metrics to worry about. Furthermore, there was always sufficient help in the prescription department (a pharmacist was never alone). The staff was a pleasure to work with. Even the customers were very friendly.
It was a good job choice and I was pleased with my decision.
After five months, I hated the job.
1. Exploring Indispensable Concepts
I’ve recently read Alex Barker’s book, Indispensable. I wish it had been available in 1979. Generally, I’ve been pleased with my career.
Although I’ve practiced some of the concepts detailed in his book, most times I did them without evening knowing I was doing them. Many times I was in the right place at the right time. I got lucky.
Indispensable is a structured and detailed book for those pharmacists who want a more satisfying career. The book is a series of tools and real-life snippets that allow pharmacists to take control of their career. By following Barker’s tools, a pharmacist can become Indispensable.
I’d like to explore some of the concepts that I came across in my career, and how they are part of Alex’s Indispensable game plan.
2. Guaranteeing Personal Accomplishments
I made it through school and became a pharmacist. I went on many interviews and finally got a job. It was a good store, good staff, good hours, and good pay. So why did I hate my job after five months?
In his book, Indispensable, Barker discusses the “lack of personal accomplishment” as follows:
“I felt like I was running full sprints without a finish line.”
“Lack of personal accomplishment feels like your are given tasks that will never be completed. You’re told, “Run”, without there being any indication of when you can stop. You’re on a proverbial hamster wheel of work. Clock in, run the wheel, clock out. Nothing changes. Work feels meaningless, leaving you empty at the end of the day.”
Imagine, it was my first job and I was experiencing the first symptoms of burnout. As stated in Indispensable, “these symptoms will escalate if you do not take action”.
I was very fortunate. A friend called me and wanted to know if I knew of any pharmacist who wanted a job in her hospital. “Yes, me” I said.
At the time, I knew nothing about hospital pharmacy and the hospital my friend worked at. But as stated in Indispensable, I was willing to step outside my comfort zone and interview for this position. I was hired shortly thereafter.
3. Providing Vital Coaching
One day while working in the hospital pharmacy, my boss came up to me and said, “You know what, you should go back to school.”
“You’re crazy,” I replied.
“No, listen,” he said “If you want to be a staff pharmacist for the rest of your life (and there’s nothing wrong with that), you’re fine. But if you ever want to move up, you’ll need an advanced degree.”
I paused. My father had started off as a school teacher, but he too had an advanced degree. He never thought he’d use it until one day when a guidance position opened up. He was the only one with an advanced degree. He got the job. Two years later a principal position opened up. He was the only one with an advanced degree. He got the job.
Who knows, maybe I’d need an advanced degree if I ever wanted to move up. But go back to school? Maybe in a couple years.
“No,” my boss said,” Not that it’s impossible, but it’s harder to go back later in life after you’ve been away from it.” Right now, you don’t have a house, kids, or a wife (although I was engaged). In three years, it will be 1984 whether you do anything or not. However, if you start now, you could have your degree in three years.”
“Where would I have to go?” I asked, reluctantly.
“Well, Rutgers does not have a graduate program. St. John’s and Philadelphia are far. So the only place would be Brooklyn College of Pharmacy (Arnold and Marie Schwartz College of Pharmacy),” he replied.
I cringed. I didn’t know what was worse. The thought of going back to school or the thought of schlepping to Brooklyn two nights a week.
I really didn’t want to do this. But my fiancé/wife, Roz, and my boss worked on me and I eventually went. I was very lucky. Roz and my boss became my coach.
In his book Indispensable, Barker defines a coach as follows:
“A coach is someone who provides support and guidance on your situation (not his or hers). A coach is someone who helps your grow past what stops you in unexpected ways that often stick with you beyond the coaching session.”
Indispensable emphasizes the essential need for a coach. Roz and my boss were both excellent coaches. They held me accountable to meet my goals. They were coaches that helped me grow beyond what was possible.
It took me 3 1/2 years but I did it. I got my MS in Hospital Pharmacy Administration. My boss made me his Assistant Director of Pharmacy. I’ve been been in Hospital Pharmacy Management for over 30+ years.
4. Solving Essential Problems
I worked in a career school. I taught students how to become pharmacy technicians. The program was a seven month course, but it did not follow the traditional calendar. Instead, students could enroll in any month, take classes for seven consecutive months, and graduate from the program.
Even though students could take advantage of this random start, most students started in September. Thus the summer months had the smallest class size. As a result, many teachers experience reduced hours in the summer months simply because of a smaller population of students. I could not afford going from full-time to part-time during the summer months.
In his book Indispensable, Barker poses the question “What problems can you solve for someone else?” He continues…
“Every company has problems. You’ll find them mentioned in email newsletter, company meeting, and complaints from your colleagues. Your ability to solve other people’s problems could lead to a promotion or being hired by another company.”
In addition to teaching, I always enjoyed helping the students with their resumes, interview skills, and thank you letters. Thus I decided to approach the Director of Career Services at my school. I asked him the following question…
“What is your wish list?” I said. “In other words, what is something that you always wanted to do as a Director of Career Services, but can’t, because you simply don’t have the staff?”
I felt that this was an excellent question for two reasons: 1) every manager has a wish list, something they would love to do, but doesn’t have the staff to do it, and 2) I wasn’t viewed as a threat by his staff, because I wasn’t taking any job functions away from them.
The Director listed several career services tasks and I worked toward completing them. He was pleased because it solved his problems. I was pleased because it ensured me that I would have a full-time job during the summer months.
At the end of the summer, the Director of Career Services offered me a full-time job as a Career Services Representative. I had enjoyed teaching pharmacy technicians, however, I accepted the full-time career services position.
As Barker states in Indispensable:
“What problems will someone else pay you to solve?”
5. Fulfilling Career Happiness
In his book, Indispensable, Barker discussed a pharmacist’s unique ability and zone of genius as follows:
“Everyone has a unique ability, an inherent strength or skill that influences your ability to do a job well. Developing your ability into an expertise moves it into your “zone of genius”…”
Barker goes on to say…
“Your zone of genius is the place where your work makes you feel alive, like you’re doing the most good in the world. Your unique ability and interests align. Your work feels purposeful and fulfilling.”
One of the things that I really enjoyed was creating and presenting poster sessions. I loved standing in front of a poster, which detailed a program or process implemented in our pharmacy. It was exciting interacting with others as they read and questioned concepts that were presented on my poster.
I remember my first poster session. My state society was hosting a convention. They offered a cash prize for the first, second, and third best posters. I submitted a poster on reducing the amount of floor stock on the nursing units.
I marveled at some of the other posters. Other pharmacies presented these glossy, four-color posters that were professionally printed by an outside company. Many had detailed charts that discussed clinical procedures.
My poster’s format was not very sophisticated . I used a PowerPoint program to illustrate the different headings —objective, methods, results, conclusion. It was very concise. But it was very plain.
My poster came in second. Even though there were more elaborate poster sessions, many pharmacists were pleased with the simplicity of my poster. These pharmacists felt they could easily return to their facility and implement many procedures discussed in my poster.
As I stated, I really enjoyed the poster session process. Throughout my career, I have presented seventeen posters sessions at the national convention of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.
As it states in Indispensable:
“… being in (my) zone of genius elicits inner feelings like, “This is what I was born to do!” It feels great, and those who play in their zone of genius typically become shining examples of happy career people.”
6. Recommending Indispensable Strategies
I was very fortunate. I was able to achieve my career end goal through the use of Indispensable tools that I unknowingly uncovered. But a structured plan is more beneficial in achieving one’s goals. A pharmacist should not depend solely on luck or hope unknown concepts fall into place.
In his book, Indispensable, Barker states that:
“Your career end goal should be clearer by now. You know the destination or at least you have an idea of what kind of work you wish to be doing. So how can you get to the other side. The gap between where your are now and where you want to be may seem impossible to bridge, or it may give you a ton of anxiety, but trust me, we will get you there…”
Indispensable presents a logical progression of tools that when followed “ will share strategies to rid yourself of these limiting beliefs and the other obstacles impeding you from where you want to go.”
I highly recommend Indispensable.
Daniel Shifrin, R.P., M.S. is a recently retired pharmacist who enjoys sharing his insights about hospital pharmacy. He is proud to own one of the largest collections of Pharmacy Stamp First Day Covers.