Burnout rates for pharmacists are high in both hospital and community settings. Pharmacists everywhere seem stressed and unhappy with the unrealistic demands and working conditions of their positions.
So what can we do about it? What are the steps in a pharmacy career that we can take? Is a pharmacy dream job even possible?
And if so, what are the aspects of a dream job? What does research tell us about where to go next in a pharmacy career?
What a dream job is not
A dream job is not simply following a passion, because passions change over time.
Think about Steve Jobs, for example. Passionate about Buddhism, he once contemplated becoming a Zen monk. While I think many of us are glad he chose a different path, you can certainly appreciate his love of simplicity in the design of your iPhone.
Passion comes from finding fulfilling work that allows you to simultaneously pursue your interests. Work becomes a joy rather than a chore.
A pharmacy dream job is also not about more and more money. I would argue that because pharmacists demand such a high income, the pay is actually like a pair of ‘golden handcuffs’ that prevent us from pursuing more fulfilling work.
In fact, research has shown that, at a certain point, more income is actually associated with reduced happiness.
I am reminded of a conversation with a fellow pharmacist about a position that she knew she would love except that it paid about $20K less than her current one.
She was so focused on the salary decrease that the misery in her current job wasn’t a factor in her decision. She failed to see where the new job could take her. She failed to realize that a new and interesting career path, with the potential for more pay in the future, was possible.
I’m certainly not saying that those of us in pharmacy must lower our standards for pay in order to find more fulfilling work. But, as pharmacists, is the misery in your current position worth the extra income each year?
Imagine a different scenario. Suppose you earn $70K doing work that you absolutely love. The challenges push you to learn more, drive further, and become more experienced.
The people you serve are happy and enjoy working with you. You regularly see compliments and positive feedback, and you have autonomy over decisions about what you do on a daily basis.
Now imagine that I offer you a job to do something you hate. A job with a terrible schedule that allows no time for family or friends. One with grueling and monotonous tasks and a long commute. But hey! – I’ll pay you an extra $30K to do it! Would you take it?
I hope not.
What a dream job should be
So what makes for a fulfilling pharmacy career? The 80,000 Hours Team, a non-profit company in the UK, looked through all the career research conducted and found some interesting key aspects of a fulfilling job.
It begins with positive psychology which defines a fulfilling life as one involving positive relationships, engagement, meaning, and accomplishments.
These are the very same aspects of any job that are so important to learn before you interview, or even apply for, a new position.
Relationships. One of the main aspects identified by the 80,000 Hours Team as to why people stay or leave a job is coworkers and/or supervisors. A dream job should be full of people who not only support you as you learn the job but also push you to become better.
I believe so many pharmacists struggle when job searching because they are surrounded by negative people who see the worst in every situation. This is absolutely the main reason why I chose to leave my pharmacist position.
You are who you surround yourself with, which makes for a very difficult career if it can’t be changed.
Engagement. A monotonous job is one that ultimately leaves you dead inside after the experience. Every pharmacist, to include those in critical care, infectious disease, and emergency care, faces monotonous work and job burnout.
The constant push of doing the same task over and over again is the main reason pharmacists want something different.
The four main factors of an engaging job are autonomy, clearly defined tasks, variety, and feedback.
- Autonomy. Do you feel you can focus on a patient if you want to? Do you have control over how you do your work? Or do you feel like you are working for an overbearing mother-in-law?
- Clearly defined tasks and variety: A lack of clearly defined tasks doesn’t happen too often in the pharmacy industry because there are policies in place for almost everything. Rather, because everything is so well-regulated, there is no room for creativity or variety.
- Feedback: Ask any future boss how feedback is delivered. Do you have to wait for an annual review to find out how you are doing? What do the current employees think of the job and of management?
Meaning. Does your pharmacy dream job involve helping others? As a career coach, I ask my clients to tell me what problems they want to solve. I’m often saddened when their answers fail to address problems in the pharmacy industry.
Climate change and animal rights are certainly great issues to address, but have you ever heard of a pharmacy career geared toward them?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the change you wanted to create in the world was somehow tied to your career choice? The greatest meaning can be created when your work helps others.
It can, however, be hard to discern the type of work you might find most fulfilling without prior experience. So ask yourself this: When have I been most fulfilled by my job?
Some people prefer working when a direct beneficiary is involved such as with patient care. Others are satisfied knowing the end result of their work even if they don’t experience it personally.
It’s up to you to know what makes you happiest.
Accomplishment. A pharmacy dream job is one that taps into your unique abilities. Everyone has something they are fantastic at even if they haven’t discovered it yet.
If, however, your work doesn’t involve things that you are naturally good at, it becomes a struggle. You are constantly challenged but in the wrong ways. Trying to excel at something when you lack a natural talent for it is like pushing a heavy rock up a hill.
Work that makes use of your unique talents, however, allows you to build expertise. The things that come to you easily can become a valuable asset for any company. It is also a transferable skill that can be taken outside the pharmacy world.
A love of patient education, for example, could translate into a position in academia. Likewise, your unique abilities could lead you to a new job, a side income, or a new business.
A lack of a sense of accomplishment is another key factor of burnout. It can leave you wondering what happened to your career. If you have a goal to fill 300 prescriptions a day and you feel great when you meet it – awesome! Keep it up!
But if not – if filling 300 prescriptions makes you feel more like a hamster running on a wheel – then you are not in a fulfilling position.
A pharmacy dream job is one lacking in negatives
How secure is the job? What is the schedule like? Part-time is an option but are part-timers the first to be laid off? What does career advancement look like? Is there opportunity to excel? How long is the commute?
What about leadership? Who are the leaders and how will their decisions affect me on a daily basis?
Consider any major-chain pharmacy and you’ll find that their leadership is comprised primarily of businessmen, rather than pharmacists.
If they are motivated more by the bottom line than patient care, the majority of your work is likely to be metrics. If they talk about patient care as the most important end result, do their actions match their words?
I want a new career path! How do I get started?
If you want a new career path but don’t know where to start, take a peek at our Ultimate Guide to Pharmacy Career Opportunities. It is the ultimate guide to the many different ways that pharmacists can pursue different careers with their pharmacy degree.
Also, take a look at our MasterClass Career Transitions Course. It is a free one-hour class where I break down the lessons learned from coaching more than 400 pharmacists into digestible, action steps that you can use to find your dream job and transition well into a new career path.
Alex is the Founder of The Happy PharmD. He loves anime, his family, and video games, but not in that order.