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.

 

Show Me The Money!

Most people love money. This isn’t usually debatable. It is why people all over the world will gamble even though the odds are against them, and casinos who eventually almost always win.  People also want a quick unearned bonus from playing the lottery, although the probability of winning is nearly impossible.  You’re better off giving that money to the poor, or to charity…at least it will do some good rather than making the casinos richer.  There will always be the question as to whether money will buy or bring happiness.  Some people who meditate on this may say that it does not buy happiness, while those who are brash and realistic about life say money does.  Considering we hear timeless stories and articles about many rich and famous people in Hollywood with loads of money who also do drugs,  or get divorced, are depressed alcoholics…money doesn’t always correlate to happiness.  Some wonder why they partake in such activities given they have all the money in the world to do anything they want, yet they pursue activities that will leave them miserable, or even broke in some cases (e.g. divorces).  It is true, money may put you in a better position to have a better life and be happy.  Therefore, indirectly, it may bring happiness…or at least comfort and contentment so that you don’t have to worry about not having the things in your life that will bring some joy such as a nice house, car, education for your kids, and so on.  Although the definition of happiness differs from one person to the next, most of us will agree that having money will make life a lot easier.

For those of us who are pursuing a profession in pharmacy simply for the rewards it may bring (e.g. money), you should probably think it over.  Although a pharmacists’ salary isn’t relatively bad in the United States, it isn’t like you won the lottery, or will get rich.  This assumes you can even get a job after graduation, and can hold onto it.  This also assumes you will save more than you spend, and you keep your expenses and debt low.  With good money management, a pharmacists’ salary can provide a good living while providing the most essential things in life such as supporting a family.  It may not provide you with the spending capital required to buy a yacht, or the freedom to travel on first-class to exotic locations, and staying in fancy hotels many times a year without going broke.  However, there are things a pharmacist, or anyone with a decent paying job can do to stretch out those extra dollars.  For example, using a cost of living calculator comparison tool such as the one here, you’ll notice your buying power in one city may be a lot different when living in another city in the United States.  For example, let’s say you earn $100,000 per year in St. Louis, Missouri.  According to this calculator, you’ll need to earn around $187,648 in San Francisco, California to have the same buying power.  This is because home prices, gas, taxes, insurance, and many other products and services will cost a lot more in San Francisco.  If you decide to move from St. Louis to San Francisco and do not get an offer of much more than $100,000, you’ll probably lose money compared to living in St. Louis because you’ll need more capital to live the same way.  Lets look at another example.  Say you want to move from Dallas, Texas to New York City, New York.  If you make $100,000 in Dallas, you would need around $234,232 in New York City (Manhattan) to have the same lifestyle.  Therefore, where you live and how much you earn in those cities may indicate the amount of cash you can save. Cities and states in the United States will have different levels of expenses such as the various tax rates (income, business, property, sales, etc), insurance costs, interest rates, mortgage/rent pricing, etc.  Obviously, living in a low cost of living area will allow you to save more money for the same products and services, thereby “showing you the money” a lot quicker.  Of course if you spend more than you save, you’ll have no money regardless of where you live.  Therefore, although a pharmacists’ salary after taxes and other deductions may not make you rich…saving money over a long period of time could make you well-off, or at least comfortable enough to not worry about bills as much.  Living in a cheap area will quicken the savings…although some people prefer to live in the expensive big cities due to the fact that it may have more to offer than a less populated small town.  They may not correlate money with happiness, but more happiness from life experiences instead.

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 to do if you are not accepted into pharmacy school

So you opened your small light envelope containing a single piece of paper that informs you of the the worst possible news you could imagine:  “Thank you for your interest…Unfortunately, due to the high volume of applicants, we are unable to grant you acceptance at this time.  However…”  You feel crushed.  Your hopes and dreams of working behind a pharmacy counter, starting your career making decent income fades into the wind.  At first, you are in shock, and maybe in denial.  But sooner or later, the hurt begins to set in.  You start panicking, unsure of what your next steps are.  You feel ashamed to tell your family or friends about the news, and maybe you even come up with plans or excuses to tell them.  You may feel all of those hours spent studying for the PCATs, or hours in the library studying to get A’s in organic chemistry or biology feel wasted.  What do you do?

Well, first of all you should gather yourself and your thoughts and take a little time off to put everything in perspective.  You’ve worked hard, and deserve a little rest and relaxation whether you were accepted or denied into a pharmacy program.  Spend time with your loved ones..family and friends.  Or even take a little mini-vacation to the beach, or a trip somewhere to get your mind off of things, and decompress.  Tomorrow is a new day, and there are plenty of options and strategies you can employ.

When you return from your little time off, ask yourself whether pharmacy is for you.  Meaning…do you love the pharmacy industry, or are you doing it for the money and job stability.  If it’s purely for the job stability, you may or may not be disappointed.  Pharmacy isn’t the easiest job profession.  It is stressful.  The work schedule may not suit your lifestyle, and you may have to work with difficult colleagues and customers/patients.  Eventually, it may wear you down if you don’t enjoy the work or what you’re doing every day.  Think about it.  You have to wake up early in the day to get to work for the next 30-40 years or so depending on when you want to retire.  If you don’t enjoy the work, sooner or later, it will become more difficult to get up to work every day as you get older.  Make sure you actually enjoy the pharmacy profession before you decide to fully pursue it.  Otherwise, there are many other professions that provide decent income and good job stability.  Try to find one that you actually enjoy doing, and are a little passionate about.

So, you do enjoy this profession – what now?  If you’re grades or PCAT scores aren’t high enough compared to other applicants, it may be very difficult to get accepted.  However it depends on the school, and you may be able to check with each pharmacy program to see what their minimum requirements are, and if your grades and PCAT scores meet the criteria.  You may even contact the pharmacy program on whether an academic counselor is available to discuss your situation.  They may advise whether you should repeat classes that were under-performed, or re-take the PCATs if your score is below the average.   If you’re academic record is good enough to get into pharmacy programs, then perhaps you should apply again.  Maybe you didn’t apply to as many schools previously, and hoped that you could make it into your dream college, or go to a school in your dream city.  Well, life can be very brutal, and we can’t always have what we want.  Perhaps you should expand your options.  You may consider applying to more pharmacy schools to increase your chances.  The number of pharmacy schools have increased significantly in the past decade, so there are many seats available…meaning there are more openings which is a plus for potential students.  Remember, the PharmD program is temporary and flies by quickly; it will last at 4-6 years or less (depending on whether you apply to an accelerated program).  Since everyone’s situation is different, in the end it will be up to you to see whether you feel your grades and scores are good enough if you apply to more programs, or whether being a pharmacist is even worth it in the long run compared to pursuing another profession.

One last note, you may consider working or volunteering in a pharmacy setting if you haven’t already done so.  At the very least, you’ll have a better understanding of what a pharmacist does every day, and whether it’s what you want to do for the rest of your life.  Good luck.

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.