I hear about it all the time. It runs rampant in pharmacy, in particular. Why is it though, that after all pharmacists have done—both academically and professionally—to prepare for a career in pharmacy, they feel like a fraud?
It’s your first day on the job. You’ve started practicing in a real pharmacy setting. For years you’ve put blood, sweat, and tears (and tons of money and sleepless nights) into preparing for this day. You’ve completed the training necessary as deemed by multiple boards, associations, and the government. You passed at least two exams, the NAPLEX, the state law exam, and maybe even more examinations. You may have even had practice setting experience following your academic studies.
Yet at the end of the day, you feel like you don’t know anything about pharmacy.
Sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone.
Real-Life Pharmacy Often Feels Drastically Different Than What We Were Taught in Academia.
The typical pharmacist is met with an overwhelming sensation of Wow, there is so much I don’t know...there’s so much more I need to learn. Many feel like a fraud when they begin in pharmacy. Who am I to be dispensing medication? Who am I to choose the dose? Why do they trust me?
Some gain confidence over time, while others continue to feel this low-level, underlying anxiety that plagues them throughout their career, even after the initial jitters wear off. They might even feel like they have tricked people into believing they are capable of the job. They may feel a bit guilty because they don’t know how or why others trust them.
This is what is academically known as imposter syndrome. It’s that feeling that you’re a fraud, despite the evidence that proves the contrary.
Despite All They’ve Done to Prepare, So Many Pharmacists Feel like They Are Not Enough.
There’s an alphabet soup of certifications that pharmacists can receive in order to feel qualified to do a position:
Few of these certifications are truly needed in order to do a job. Still, we find pharmacists seeking certifications to feel qualified to do the job even after being hired.
Don’t get me wrong, I'm not saying certifications are bad. They solidify your knowledge, expand your learning, and, in most cases, make you a better clinician. The problem lies in the fact that the need for certification is fed by a profession-wide problem: the feeling that we are not enough.
I’ve read hundreds of applications for residency programs. Both the applications and mock interviews point to this idea that pharmacy students feel like residency is the single thing they need to practice “at the highest level,” even though our education more than adequately trains us to do the job of a pharmacist.
Given our competitive job market, pharmacists often decide against even applying for a job because they feel like they're underqualified. But if pharmacists don't take any risks, how will they get ahead in this competitive job market?
After speaking with hundreds of pharmacists, it’s clear the majority of people ultimately do not choose to pursue certain opportunities because they think they aren't good enough or they don't have what it takes.
I feel like our profession has this weird “pseudo guilt” that it’s our own fault that we aren’t “practicing at our highest level.” This furthers the narrative that we are not enough. We are frauds. I can’t...I’m not...I don’t know enough...I could be doing more.
Another way to look at imposter syndrome is perfectionism: looking for the perfect deliverable...the perfect system...the perfect “you.” Perfect is never possible though, because we’re humans.
When I first created Career Jumpstart—my flagship course about helping pharmacists create indispensable careers—the first piece of major feedback I got was that there weren’t clear guidelines on how to create this “indispensable career” I spoke of. I gave plenty of action steps, but people wanted step-by-step instructions. There it is again: we’re looking for perfection, which is rarely going to happen in any given career. People are worried about delivering the perfect cover letter, the perfect resume, and the perfect interview, but this will never be the case.
How Impostor Syndrome is Holding Pharmacists Back
It’s heartbreaking when I talk to a pharmacist about starting something new or creating a business and they give excuses as to why they stopped:
- “I’m afraid it won’t be good enough.”
- “I’m afraid people won’t think I’m qualified to do this.”
I spoke with a pharmacist who had had an idea to create a series of content that is focused on debunking major myths within the healthcare profession. He wanted to give a pharmacist’s perspective but have it geared toward the public. I thought it was a brilliant idea. Sadly, he had sat on the idea for over a year. I asked him, “Why haven't you started yet?” He replied, "Honestly, I'm afraid it won't be good enough."
I think imposter syndrome is one reason we don't innovate in pharmacy. We’re all too scared to try something new and crazy and bold. I also think it's one reason we're part of this job crisis. So few pharmacists are willing to start new businesses because we’re scared of failure.
Our drive for perfection leaves us feeling like frauds. We’re certain that what we create and what we do with our careers and jobs will never be perfect. We feel like we can never really deliver on what we want to create or how we want to serve.
My personal situation may have been a bit unique. If anything, I’ve felt overly confident, even though I may have lacked the skills and abilities. Imposter syndrome is not something I struggle with too much, but, admittedly it still had happened.
When I started my entrepreneurial journey in 2012, I wanted to run away from pharmacy. I thought there was no way I was going to create a business within the profession. I didn't want to get into independent pharmacy because of the stigma around running an independent pharmacy business. I also thought I wasn't good enough. I thought, How could I create something for pharmacy when I have so little experience?
The funny thing is, I shifted my entire career because of my lack of ability to believe in myself. I believed that I wouldn't be a good enough academic professor because I didn't have real-world experience. (Now, I still believe that professors should have real-world experience before teaching the next generation. Still, at the time, I didn’t believe that I had enough experience in order to teach pharmacy students.) That's what led me to practicing clinical pharmacy as I began my career.
Ultimately, what I needed was to invest in myself. I realized that the best investment out there was investing in myself. I think it was Warren Buffett who said something like, “Investing in yourself pays the best dividends.” This is ultimately why I created The Happy PharmD. I wanted to create a coaching company that facilitated pharmacists' growth into better careers and, more importantly, to help create new businesses that would hire new pharmacists.
Brittany Hoffman Eubanks is one recent success story. We helped her grow her medical writing business into a six-figure business while she worked full time. In turn, she has been able to hire two other pharmacists just in the year 2020, and she plans to hire many more.
Take Control of Your Pharmacy CareerI hope I am inspiring you to take at least a small step. We’d like to offer you a complimentary session with our expert career consultant. Click this link to schedule a time to chat. We want to help you gain the confidence to step into whatever is on the other side of your imposter syndrome.
Alex is the Founder of The Happy PharmD. He loves anime, his family, and video games, but not in that order.