Why The Pharmacy Profession Wasn’t What I Expected — And How I Adapted Whenever It Got Boring

by | Jun 26, 2023 | Blog, Career Path, Success Story

I like the profession of pharmacy.  I’m very happy being a pharmacist.  I’m retired. So I’m no longer working as a pharmacist in a pharmacy. Or anywhere else, for that matter. A colleague of mine is also a pharmacist. He, too, is retired. My friend saw no reason to continue paying for his license and didn’t want to bother with the continuing education credits. Thus, he let his license lapse. He’s no longer a pharmacist.

But not me.  Even though I’m not actively practicing, I enjoy being referred to as a pharmacist. I worked very hard to become a pharmacist. I went to college and studied hard. I learned a lot so I could pass the boards. I like having the initials after my name (R.P.). As well as introducing myself as a “pharmacist.” I’m keeping my license and my title.

My father worked for a vocational school.  He started as a teacher. Then, he became a guidance counselor. Eventually, my father was the assistant principal and then the principal.

Students who went to vocational school took high school classes in the morning (math, science, English, etc.). Then the students took “shop” classes of their own choosing as their career path for their afternoon classes. Some of the “shop” classes offered included: auto mechanics, carpentry, plumbing, welding, HVAC, electrical, nursing, and culinary arts. Students graduated with a high school diploma. Their specialized shop classes provided them with a solid background and education so that they could go directly into the workforce.

I wanted to be trained and to get a job when I came out of college. So I majored in pharmacy. I’m glad I did. I admire the profession. I enjoyed attending seminars and learning new things at meetings. I’ve published several articles and presented poster sessions at national conventions. I also began collecting pharmacy stamp first-day covers in 1972 and have an impressive collection.

But to be honest, the pharmacy curriculum that I learned in college wasn’t what I expected. The courses that I took in college really didn’t reflect the job that I got when I graduated. It’s no wonder that many of my colleagues were disillusioned by the time everybody graduated, especially since most of the courses didn’t match up with the jobs on the outside.

Looking Back To College

When I first began attending college, I was excited. I envisioned myself taking courses on a daily basis so that I could become a pharmacist. I pictured it as similar to the vocational school program where I’d take a mixture of basic courses and pharmacy-related ones. I selected a dorm about a mile from the pharmacy building so I’d be close to my classes.

Boy, was I wrong! For the first two years, I took basic classes (chemistry, biology, calculus, English, etc.) at four different campuses. I only took a single one-hour-a-month pharmacy course in my first two years, and it wasn’t even held in the pharmacy building! I didn’t have any regularly scheduled courses in the pharmacy building until my third year.

When I started the pharmacy tract in my third year, I was very disillusioned.  All my life, my exposure to the pharmacy profession has been through the retail pharmacy store.  The pharmacist was the person with the white jacket. He stood in the back of the store, on an elevated platform, filling prescriptions.  That’s what I envisioned that I would be doing.

But the courses weren’t geared toward retail pharmacy or even hospital pharmacy.  In fact, neither of these pharmacy aspects was introduced until my last year in school when we visited both a retail pharmacy and a hospital pharmacy. Furthermore, although the pharmacy labs tried to simulate a retail setting, they stressed compounding, calculations, and consultation.  Three things that were seldom done in the actual workplace environment.

Instead, the courses were industry based.  They focused on preparing me to work for a pharmacy company. I was trained to work in a pharmacy lab with procedures involving new and existing drugs.  Unfortunately, the jobs in the industry market weren’t that plentiful. Plus, it wasn’t what I wanted to do.

At the end of my fourth year, I began my externship. I logged my hours in the same retail pharmacy where I had worked the past two summers— stocking shelves, making deliveries, putting up displays, and manning the cash register. I knew exactly what the pharmacists were doing. Most times, they were busy filling prescriptions and talking on the telephone.  They rarely had time to speak to the customers or perform those detailed counseling sessions that we were taught in school.

I felt bad for some of my fellow students. Here they envisioned that the externship would be in some pharmaceutical company’s lab where they would work with samples, assays, and drug studies. Or they expected to work in a retail pharmacy where they would counsel each and every patient about their medications. Neither of these things happened, of course.

But I wasn’t too disappointed.  As I said, I had worked two previous summers in the retail pharmacy where I was performing my externship. I knew how the pharmacists and the techs scurried around the prescription department. They typed labels, talked to doctors and patients, and focused on the daily number of prescriptions filled. To me, this was pharmacy— not what I learned in college.

Working At My First Job

I received my pharmacist license and got a job as a pharmacist in a mom-and-pop pharmacy.  A mom-and-pop pharmacy is a privately owned retail pharmacy. The prescription department in most retail pharmacies is not money makers, even in the big supermarkets and chains. They are usually loss leaders where the customers drop off a prescription. Then they spend their time shopping while waiting for their prescription to be filled. Thus most mom-and-pop pharmacies have gifts, over-the-counter medications, or other seasonal items as their money-makers.

I thought all retail pharmacies were the same.  They weren’t.  Throughout my career, I’ve noticed that it’s the person on top who sets the tone in the work environment. This mom-and-pop pharmacy was more strict than where I interned because of the boss.

In this pharmacy, the pharmacists and techs never left the prescription counter. When customers came to drop off or pick up their prescriptions, my boss or his wife (she worked in the store) would always wait on them. They would be the ones who gathered the necessary information to fill the prescription (address, allergies, date of birth). They would also chat with the patrons and therefore get to know them. Thus, the other pharmacists and the techs never developed a rapport with any of our customers.

We were confined to the pharmacy. There were no perks, food items, or morale boosters like the previous retail pharmacy that I worked in. It was work, work, work. I was disappointed with the pharmacy again.  I had only been there for five months, but I was ready to resign.

Grabbing An Opportunity

One evening I was working in the mom and pop pharmacy when I received a call from a woman who I graduated pharmacy school with. She stated that there was a day-shift pharmacist position available in the hospital where she was working. She wanted to know if I knew of anybody who might be interested in the position. I didn’t hesitate.

“Yes,” I said, “me!” I’ll admit that she was taken aback by my response. She didn’t expect it. My friend gave me all the details. Nothing mattered. Anything to get out of the horrible mom-and-pop pharmacy. She arranged for an interview. I got the job.

Practicing Pharmacy In A Hospital

For two years, I worked as a pharmacist in the hospital. The pharmacy wasn’t computerized yet. In fact, computers and technology were just coming into being in most facilities in the 1980s. Thus, everything was done on paper.

I received medication orders in one of two ways: 1) The messengers brought down medication orders that were written on the yellow sheet from a three-part NCR page, and 2) Medication orders were faxed to the pharmacy.

It was my job to transcribe the medications on patient-specific cards that were maintained and kept in the pharmacy.  I filled the medications with the appropriate product. Then I typed a label using a typewriter. The medications were sent to the proper nursing unit, where they were administered to the patient by the nurse.

Frankly, I was bored again. When I was in college, I studied, took tests, and practiced presentations. I learned about the pharmacology of medications and the laws of pharmacy and took several lab classes. I worked really hard in school.

And for what? I mean, this is what I went to school for? To stand in the pharmacy, receive medication orders, type labels, and put medications into small containers? This was pharmacy? I was disappointed again.

Taking Another Opportunity

Several years later, the director who hired me retired. A new boss was hired. My boss was looking to hire an assistant director of pharmacy.  He also wanted to mentor someone.  I wasn’t my boss’ first choice.  Instead my boss first asked the most senior pharmacist if he wanted to take on additional managerial tasks (ordering, making a schedule, preparing a budget, etc.). My boss would teach the pharmacist how to perform these tasks.  Then they would be his (the pharmacist’s) responsibility.

My boss made it clear that he couldn’t promise him any position or pay him any extra money.  But if the pharmacist accepted this offer— well, who knows what might happen in the future.

The pharmacist declined.  He felt that if he wasn’t going to be paid, then why should he do these extra things?

Then, my boss asked me.  I didn’t have to think about it.  I immediately said, “Yes”.  Anything to stop the tedious work I was performing. Thus, for the next several months, my boss taught me all about pharmacy management.  I became responsible for these extra tasks in addition to my regular work.

Looking Back At The Profession

Looking back, the profession of pharmacy was nothing like I expected it to be when I first started. As I see it, the motto of the profession of pharmacy should be “You want Pharmacy to do what?”. But then again, that’s the same with every job. I constantly found myself, as well as my pharmacy staff, being forced to take on additional tasks and responsibilities, usually with an inadequate amount of workers and resources.

But I always achieved what needed to be done. Although I may have been disillusioned or unhappy with the circumstances at that time, I stuck with it, and for the most part, I made the best of it.

I’m glad I was able to make it work. Because I enjoy being a pharmacist. I’m also very happy with the profession of pharmacy.

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Creating Happy Pharmacists

If you really want to build the career and life that you’ve dreamed of, one where you are helping people and working in a field that you love, you need to do something different than what you’ve been doing.

Through coaching you can re-discover why you became a pharmacist and find your passion again.