Category Archives: PharmD Careers

Will you enjoy a career in pharmacy?

Do you really want to do this?  Do you really want to be a pharmacist?  If you finish a full PharmD (Doctor of Pharmacy) Professional Degree program – you’re looking at around four years of your entire life.  Even less if you attend an accelerated program, but it is a big investment in time and money regardless.  It would be all for nothing if you decide you dislike being a pharmacist after working for only a short period of time.  If you decide to change careers midway through pharmacy school, or shortly after you graduate, you would have to spend additional time and money searching for a new career that you may or may not enjoy compared to a career in pharmacy.  This is why it is very important to do your research in this industry by doing some reading into this field, talking to current pharmacists and pharmacy students, talking to your trusted family members, advisors, and friends, or even your school’s career counselor, and other available and legitimate resources on the Internet.  Working as in intern in the pharmacy department within a hospital or a retail setting before applying to pharmacy school is a great way to receive some real exposure to the life, and get some hands-on experience.  This is a good method of testing whether the pharmacy world is a good fit for you…and whether you’ll be able to endure the next 30-40 years of it…assuming you work until retirement.  Therefore, a little investment in your time to do some preliminary research will go a long way for the rest of your life.  You’ll spend generally eight hours of your day (a third of a full day) if employed full-time, and so it may be beneficial to find out if this career path will bring happiness or dread.

The following may be some indicators that you’ll be content with the pharmacy field:

  • Enjoy working with people of all personalities
  • Enjoy providing customer service to everyone
  • Enjoy learning new things
  • Independent
  • Thick-skinned
  • Disciplined
  • Patient
  • Intelligent, and the passion to seek knowledge and find answers quickly
  • Enjoy science
  • Enjoy working in a busy environment
  • Teaching and training

If you possess the opposite traits from those listed above, you may want to rethink this career, or at least do some more research and work in a pharmacy before you decide to invest more time and money into it.  Keep in mind that although the majority of pharmacists work in a retail drugstore or a hospital setting, there are other career paths such as academia, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, research, and consulting.  Pharmacists are known to  be valued for their knowledge on medications, insurance, general science, and some various aspects of healthcare, which is why their skills and knowledge may be utilized in various industry sectors.  To learn about atypical careers outside of the hospital or retail pharmacy setting, it may be a good idea to inquire from your pharmacy schools before you apply on the available elective courses and experiential programs they offer.  You could also inquire about the teachers and professors about their backgrounds to see if your career interests have any relation to their employment history.  They may be able to mentor or advise you on certain career paths based on their own experiences.  Therefore, not only is it a good idea to do some research into the work of a pharmacist, it is an equally sound idea to research the schools you are interested in applying to, and whether they offer special elective courses and experiential programs that will assist you in your pursuit of the your ideal job.

 

 

Complaints in Hospital Pharmacy

Have you ever worked in a hospital pharmacy?  It is much different from working in a retail setting, and it is highly recommended to volunteer or spend some time as a technician before you decide to devote your entire career in this setting.  Hospital pharmacies are usually referred to as inpatient pharmacy.  Although hospitals may have an outpatient pharmacy, which is similar to a retail setting, most people generally think of inpatient pharmacies when thinking about a hospital pharmacy setting.  The inpatient pharmacy serves medications generally for patients who have a room and bed.  Therefore, their policies, protocols, and systems are designed to serve in this capacity depending on the type of medical services offered at the hospital, and the size (e.g. number of rooms and patients) that can be admitted to a hospital.  Many hospital pharmacies require new hires to have experience in a residency if they’ve had no prior hospital experience as a pharmacist.  This may be due to the expanding role of a pharmacist to include clinical duties in areas of anticoagulation, infectious diseases, emergency room support, pediatrics, oncology, and many others.  These “clinical” services being offered by clinical pharmacists are becoming appreciated by other healthcare professionals (e.g. doctors, nurses) and patients as they offer educational services about novel medications to staff, provide optimal medication recommendations in regards to effectiveness and safety for complex treatments as medicines become more and more complicated over time, and even ensure the cost-effectiveness of such treatment in some cases.

The above all sounds great on paper, but unless you have worked in a hospital pharmacy operation, you may not know what you’re getting yourself into.  There are nuances to understand in hospital pharmacy that you may not have to deal with as often or at all in retail pharmacy.  Here, we compile some of the many complaints that could arise in a hospital pharmacy operation in a full-service, or general hospital.

  1.  The schedule.  Full-service general hospitals don’t usually close…they can be open 24 hours a day.  Therefore, pharmacies are usually staffed around-the-clock which means pharmacists will need to work around-the-clock also in shifts.  Sometimes these shifts are not desirable if you’re stuck with the midnight to morning shift.  Sometimes they are not the most preferred if stuck working on weekends or on holidays when you would rather be with your family or have a social life.
  2. Call-outs.  Similar to above, when other members of the pharmacy call out sick, or go on vacation, maternity leave,  you may have to cover them or be asked to take their shift. This happens often as people will always get sick, and workers will always take vacation.
  3. Lack of communication.  When a prior shift (e.g. a morning pharmacist) is working on something important and complex, but does not communicate what they worked on to the next shift pharmacist (e.g. evening pharmacist) for a job they did not finish before they leave the pharmacy to go home.  You can imagine the results when a doctor or nurse calls about the order being worked on by the morning pharmacist, but the evening shift has no clue what they are talking about.
  4. Staff shortages.  Without proper staffing, a hospital pharmacist will be overwhelmed and perform the job of 2-3 pharmacists and technicians.  This is risky because it could lead to errors and fatigue.
  5. Nurses. Nurses want the medication quickly, and may not always provide enough time for the pharmacist to process and send the medication after the order is sent to the pharmacy.  They may not understand that only a few pharmacists manage and review the medications for proper dosing and safety for the entire hospital.  Also, some medications require further processing, such as mixing in the correct diluent, etc.
  6. Missing medications.  Sometimes, even after medications are sent, nurses cannot find the delivered medications…thus requiring pharmacists to scramble and look for the medications in the pharmacy to see if they were sent up.  This wastes a lot of time, and results in duplicative work.  Many times, those missing medications are later found by the nurses themselves because they may not have looked in the correct locations, or when another nurse takes the delivered medication without telling the other nurses who are looking for the medication (lack of communication).

The above are only some of the scenarios of things that may lead to complaints by hospital pharmacists.  Obviously, it is highly recommended to have some exposure in this setting before embarking on this career path.

What Gives Pharmacists Job Satisfaction?

No one wants to wake up early in the morning everyday for the next thirty years until they retire.  Most pharmacists or other professionals would probably not work for free, and without receiving a paycheck.  We all work mostly because we need to earn money to pay for expenses such as housing, debts, tuition, clothes, car, insurance, credit card bills, etc.  Not many would do this for out of the goodness of their heart unless they already have a pot of gold in their bank accounts, and the freedom to spend their time to volunteer their services without pay.  But for the majority of us who will never win the lottery, or get lucky at the casinos and races, or have inherited wealth passed down from prior generations, we have to work for a very long time to support our needs, our family needs, and to save enough money to retire. Therefore, like it or not, most of us will have to work. However, going to work does not have to be miserable or unsatisfactory.  You don’t necessarily need to dread your life until you retire because there are many things pharmacists like about their job, which provide them a sense of career fulfillment and job satisfaction.  We will highlight some of these here.

Helping patients provide pharmacists provide a high degree of job satisfaction.  Pharmacists are known to be one of the most trusted and objective healthcare professionals from the viewpoint of patients for their vast knowledge of medications and human science, as well as knowledge about cost-saving measures to pay for medications.  Pharmacists may recommend cheap over-the-counter medications to patients for conditions that may only require self-care, and inform patients about coupons or medication rebate eligibilities for those that cannot afford medications or are unaware of such cost-saving tactics.  They will also warn patients about potential drug interactions and side effects that may occur for medications which will protect patients, and help them avoid serious conditions.  When a pharmacist catches an error (such as a contraindicated medication, or a medication that could cause an allergic reaction) before it reaches the patient, thus, saving the patient from suffering, there is a sense of relief knowing that the their work potentially saved someone’s life, or helped reduce serious harm.  They are also valued members of their respective communities as patients and customers come to know the pharmacists over time, and seek their advice, which is generally free, and does not require an appointment or an insurance co-pay as a medical doctor would require.

 

Pharmacists are valued members of the healthcare profession.  Nurses and doctors may seek their advice in the hospital setting for recommendations on appropriate medication selection for patients with unique conditions, proper preparation of medications, management of medication adverse events, and calculation of dosages for complex medications.  Being able to provide recommendations to prescribers which will optimize and affect patient care provide pharmacists with a great sense of satisfaction.  This teamwork also allows pharmacists to network, and meet with other members of the health profession which in turn allows pharmacists to learn from other professionals.

Job stability is another area of job satisfaction.  Pharmacists are paid relatively well compared to the national average salary rates in the United States. It is considered a stable occupation which requires a license in each state for the pharmacist to practice.  Working in a licensed profession in itself usually limits the number of potential workers in a field – meaning not everyone can work as a pharmacist regardless of whether they want to or not.  Each state has different licensure requirements which generally requires having passed a national licensure exam, a state law exam, graduation from an accredited pharmacy school, and paying the required fees.  The stability of having a well paying job which requires a license to practice provides pharmacists a sense of stability, and perhaps less lost sleep at night not having to worry about layoffs compared to many other jobs.

 

What you can do after getting a PharmD

So you finally earned your Doctor of Pharmacy degree after sitting through 3-4 years of mind-numbing lectures on cytochrome p450 enzymes, vancomycin dosing nomograms, and reading through hundreds of adverse effects, contraindications, dosage/administration, and mechanism of action information about drugs.  You also secured a hefty loan from a lender where now the interest on the loan will start adding to the principle.  First of all, congratulations on finishing pharmacy school and getting your degree.  It is no small feat, and the patience, discipline, hard work, and fortitude required to achieve a PharmD will have prepared you to become a professional working contributor to society, which will help facilitate and advance your career.

So now what?  If you haven’t already begun (perhaps six months prior to graduation in seeking a job or a post-graduate position (residency, fellowship, etc) then you should probably begin searching for a job.  Apply to jobs within a state in which you plan living in, and obtain the necessary requirements by referring to the State Board of Pharmacy for each state, which will guide you on what you need to start practicing as a pharmacist.  Usually, this will require a state exam (MPJE for most), and the national pharmacy licensure exam (NAPLEX).  Apply to as many jobs as you are able to, and begin studying for your tests so that you’ll be eligible to start working if you are fortunate enough to be accepted for a position.  Many employers would want to know that you have the required eligibility and license to practice as a pharmacist before they would even consider granting an interview.  Post-graduate programs such as residencies and fellowships may not require this since interviews with those programs may begin long before graduation.

Ok, so now you have earned your state pharmacy license(s) to practice, and you have hopefully found a job.  You’ve made it!  You can now start to apply for health insurance benefits, contribute to your retirement plan, pay off those high interest college loans, help out your family,  and maybe consider replacing that broken-down car of yours.  You may finally get to go out with your friends and eat something nice for once rather than looking for the cheapest item on the menu, or sticking with the cup-o-noodles and peanut butter sandwiches that you feasted on through college.  Hopefully, your bank account statements will look nicer each month as long as you save some of your income, and if you don’t spend more than you earn.  Now what? You’ll notice after a couple years of working as a pharmacist that it’s pretty much the same old same old everyday whether you work in the retail or hospital setting.  As a retail pharmacist, you’ll come to work with dozens of refills to process, and insurance companies to call when the claims are rejected.  You’ll constantly talk to angry customers waiting to pick up prescriptions that are not ready for them, or even misfiled.  You’ll have pharmacy technicians not report to work on time, or call-in sick which will almost certainly lead to a very stressful morning.  You’ll deal with slippery situations when you feel a prescription is forged, or if customers are being prescribed too much narcotics for their pain, but yet are  yelling at you because they want their pain medications immediately while you ponder what to do.  As for hospital pharmacists, you’ll deal constantly with nurses on the phone calling you for missing medications which was supposed to be sent hours ago, and which you may have already sent twice but somehow kept getting lost.  You’ll deal with your coworkers calling in sick requiring you to do another double shift.  These are some examples of situations that await you after pharmacy school.  Generally, the pay appears to be very good at first.  However, you’ll notice the salaries plateauing and not increasing as they may do for other occupations.  Even after many years, you may not earn much more than when you first started your position after graduation.  As your life progresses and you get older, you’ll probably be getting married at some point, have kids, and buy a new home.  You’ll wonder if you’re able to earn more income, and if there other ways to better your position, of if doing the same old same old stagnant job every day is it for you until you retire.  Of course, this applies to pharmacists who are unsatisfied and want more out of their careers.  There are many pharmacists who are okay with the same old same old status quo until they retire, and may not care to do anything else.

There are some options you have that may put you in a better position to excel or move up the ladder.  Opportunities for leadership positions such as a manager or director of the pharmacy, or a different type of industry altogether such as pursuing a career in consulting ,or an atypical pharmacist position are some options for you.  Applying for these positions may require either experience or degrees and certifications, or both.  If moving up the ladder to management positions, a masters in business administration (MBA) or a masters in public health (MPH) may be a good start, or something to put on your resume.  There are many pharmacy schools that offer a dual degree program combined with a PharmD, but since you’ve already graduated, perhaps you could check your benefits department to see if they would subsidize part of your tuition if you decide to obtain another degree.  If you’re interested in pursuing the clinical route, asking your management whether board of pharmacy specialty certifications will earn them more income, or whether the exams and certification fees can be reimbursed by the employer may be appropriate considering the costs required to obtain the certification.  Networking with other similar health professionals by joining an organization, attending or participating in meetings and events (continuing education) is another great way to learn about other opportunities that you would otherwise not know of when using only the internet or job sites.  Networking can be the most formidable tool you have if you are able to establish relationships easily.   Attending classes or joining clubs which focus on helping you network may be beneficial for you such as courses that educate people how to perform presentations (e.g. toastmasters).

These are only some of the options that are available for those that feel stagnant in their careers.  Keep in mind that pursuing another graduate degree, or a board specialty certification could be costly, and may take your time away from your family or social life.  Work/life balance is something that has to be assessed by each pharmacist depending on their life situation and age.

What people say when I asked why they want to be a pharmacist

Throughout your journey to becoming a pharmacist, many people will ask you the same questions over and over again, “Why did you go into pharmacy,” or “Why become a pharmacist.”  They may be friends or family members, your dates and future spouses, teachers, coworkers, etc.  You will more than likely be asked this common question during pharmacy school interviews as they would probably want to know how you think and process things, and if that sort of reasoning and passion fits into the type of student they are looking for, or desire representing their school.  I’ve heard many reasons in their decision, and therefore I’ve compiled a couple popular ones (in no particular order), as well as my perspectives on their reasons, factoring in where I see the pharmacy career is evolving towards in the future.

Reason 1 :  “I want to help people”

This is the selfless answer.  But it is also the most cliche and boring response you can provide to any interviewer.  It lacks originality, is boring, and too commonplace.  You can give this answer in any healthcare professional program interview, and are almost sure to make the interviewer snooze or daydream during the interview.  This answer will definitely not make you stand out from the crowd of pharmacy candidates unless you have an original way of conveying how you can help people.  There isn’t much direct patient interaction in the majority of pharmacy careers, and compared to other healthcare professions such as nursing, medicine, or physical therapy, a career in pharmacy doesn’t really compare to these other health professions to actually help people “hands-on.”  Most of the help pharmacists provide are behind-the-scenes since many pharmacists work behind a retail (drug store) counter or secluded in the hospital setting.  In the drugstore setting, the extent of “helping people” involves processing a coupon for cheaper medications or calling the insurance provider to verify the claim can go through, and the drug can be covered assuming there are problems with coverage.  This is similar to an accountant helping people with their finances and taxes.  Also, every now and then, the pharmacist may provide the customer with patient counseling points and valuable drug information such as how to take the medicine (with food or not) and what other drugs to avoid while taking the drug at the same time, or recommendations on over-the-counter products they can use for their cough without the need for a prescription.  This type of interaction is very brief and limited, as the majority of the day involves processing and preparing prescriptions for pick-up, replenishing inventory, and processing insurance claims.  In the hospital setting, most pharmacists will be working in the basement or some other area where they are not seen, and either looking at a computer screen to check prescriptions that are sent electronically for accuracy, compound medications, or check the drugs prepared by the pharmacy technicians before being delivered.  They also spend a lot of time on the phone with nurses and sometimes doctors to answer questions such as the accounting of lost medications, drug dosage recommendations…but mostly nurses trying to find where the medications were sent or if they have even been processed.  Very little time is spent interacting with people outside of the pharmacy, unless there is an outpatient pharmacy (similar to the retail setting), or during rounds if the hospital offers a clinical pharmacy practice.  However, a clinical pharmacist position is very limiting in terms of “helping people” also because pharmacists cannot  prescribe or treat patients independently without a medical doctor’s supervision, and are pharmacists are probably limited to stating information to the medical team that can easily be found in an online drug information website.  Every now and then, they may get an interesting question, and some states may even allow limited prescribing similar to a physician assistant under the direct supervision of a licensed prescriber/doctor, but if you want to help people “hands-on”, it may be a better option to pursue a degree as a  medical doctor or a nurse if direct patient care and “helping people” hands-on are your number one reasons.

Reason 2:  “I want to have a good career”

The more self-centered answer, but one that may reveal blunt honesty.  Also a response that not many people will provide during an interview because it gives interviewers an image of what you want from the school (self-centered), rather than what you can do for the school, the community, and others (selfless).  Selfless is always more appreciated than self-centered by most.  However, this isn’t a post about interview strategy, but more on analyzing the validity of the reasons.  Pharmacy is a solid career if you can land a job, and has a lot of benefits such as a good salary, job stability, work/life balance, respect, and opportunities to learn and understand things.  I give the nod to pharmacy over medicine in terms of work/life balance at a younger age since you can immediately have a lot of time devote to having a life outside of your job, and immediately after graduation as opposed to a career as a doctor.  Medical doctors have to endure years of training in school;  after graduating, they may have to earn enough money to pay back mounting loans with compounding interest unless they have wealthy parents or supporters who will pay for the cost of tuition.  After graduation, other life events will need to be considered such as buying a house, having a family, and other expenses.  Certain medical specialities offer a rewarding salary after training is complete, and may allow one to pay off those higher loans a lot quickly in comparison to general medicine.  This may come in your mid to late thirties, or forties…whereas a pharmacist can enjoy a good salary, perhaps not as high as a medical doctor, in their mid twenties.  Pharmacists have respect from the community, but maybe not as much compared to medical doctors in the healthcare setting because medical doctors oversee the treatment of patients.  With the growing number of pharmacy schools being accredited in the past ten years, as well as the growing class sizes for existing schools, the job opportunities may not appear to be as plentiful as they once were more than a decade ago.  Signing bonuses and school loan reimbursement benefits are harder to find, and graduates are having a more difficult time in certain urban areas finding a position because of the higher competition compared to years prior.  If you are able to find and keep a full-time job as a pharmacist, I believe it can lead to a long and rewarding career.