How To Get The Most Out Of Pharmacy School


If you could do it all over again…what would you do?

When asked this question, there is one recommendation many seasoned pharmacists agree on: to participate in more extracurricular activities such as clubs and organizations. Networking, socializing, making friends is important, and joining clubs, organizations, and participating in activities may be the easiest and preferred way to accomplish this.  This will be very important for the rest of your life, and perhaps in your career. In the real world, it is much more difficult to make the time to go out and socialize and make new friends, build new relationships after you are immersed in the cycle of life which includes getting married, finding a job, learning the new job, starting a family, and raising your children, etc. Having the time to hang out with your friends, or go out and make new ones will be difficult as you start getting older, and worrying about how to find a babysitter, what to cook, or who will pick up the kids from daycare. By the time your daily routine is over after managing your children, shopping for groceries, cooking and cleaning, you may be too tired to do anything else but to lay on your couch, and watch your television shows…and falling asleep. Your few years in pharmacy may seem overwhelming in the beginning, but it will fly by really quickly, and compared to all of the unexpected stresses you’ll encounter after pharmacy school, it will be a piece of cake. You may never see most of your classmates again, and despite the long hours studying for those tough exams, you’ll probably never have it as easy life compared to when you’re still in school. Therefore, aside from focusing solely on your studies, try to make an effort to smile and make new friends by participating in activities, clubs, organizations, and attending other social events. There will be many opportunities in pharmacy school, and taking advantage of it will be to your benefit, especially since you’re paying a lot of tuition for it.

There are many organizations and activities available for pharmacy students such joining an organization focused on the student pharmacist, a state pharmacist, national hospital pharmacist, health professional, professional pharmacy fraternity/sorority, religion-based pharmacy, community service associations or organizations, pharmacy school government, special pharmacy school committees, and so on. Pharmacy schools may offer various social events such as dance nights, charity auctions, volunteering opportunities, social events with other health professional schools (medical, nursing, dental), events to a baseball game, or even a college sporting event. In fact, this is something you could inquire about during your visit to the pharmacy school(s) from senior pharmacy students, to know what programs or organizations are offered at the school, and which clubs they recommend joining. Networking through these events and organizations is also another great way to get job referrals, and meet new employers, and learn about the trade. Remember, you’ll never be this young again to enjoy the student life, so it is a good idea to make the most out of your short time in school. People skills and the understanding of how to socialize and network will probably be one of the most important assets you possess as you move up the career ladder. Who knows…you may even find your future wife or husband this way, and it is probably a lot easier to meet a potential new spouse in school compared to dating websites and apps, or in life beyond school where your time outside of work is limited. Therefore, make the most of your pharmacy school experience. Study hard…but make sure you also build new relationships.

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.