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.

Can Pharmacists Ever Be Rich?

Sure, anyone can get rich if they’re born wealthy, or inherit wealth from someone else (e.g. wealthy parents, rich relatives). One can also get rich winning the lottery, discovering oil on their land, getting lucky at the casinos or races, or in the stock market; although one could also end up poor if in the latter two things do not turn out well.   The odds of getting rich are probably very high in the above mentioned examples.  With the exception of luck or being fortunate in life, whether a pharmacist can get rich by just being a pharmacist requires further review.

First of all, it depends on the definition of being “rich” – it is relative.  For example, a million dollars for one living in California with a $5,000 per month mortgage, a wife or husband at home with three kids attending private school, and a debt of $100,000 at 7% interest owed to the bank will probably not be considered enough money considering the salary will further be reduced by taxes, insurance deductions, retirement, and other needs.  The one million dollars will be used up pretty quickly.  Of course, one living far away from urban areas such as rural parts of Iowa with a $900 per month mortgage will fare much better considering more of one’s salary will be saved, and taxes may be much lower than California residents.  Also, someone paying $900 per month on a home may be considered rich in many other countries where a U.S. dollar is worth a lot of money in their own currency.

Let’s focus on a pharmacist in the United States of America to remove any disparities in the definition of wealth between different countries, and exclude any serendipitous circumstances in life that only a fortunate few will encounter. So then, what is the answer?  It depends…meaning yes and no.  Take for example a pharmacist in California who may endure one of the most difficult times becoming a millionaire considering the high taxes and real estate in the area. Using the example from the pharmacist in the previous post, this pharmacist earns $136,100 per year, slightly higher than the $122,230 average pharmacist salary earned in 2016 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.   The pharmacist has a non-working spouse at home, with two children, and also maximizes their retirement contributions.  After all other deductions (e.g. insurance, taxes, etc), the pharmacist’s net earnings are roughly $74,361, or $6,197 per month goes to the bank.  Of course, these are only estimates, and may be higher or lower depending on the amount and type of deductions counted against the income.

Most people in America would say a million dollars is a lot of money, and therefore, those with a million dollars may be perceived as rich by the average working American.  Therefore, we will use one million dollars as our threshold of what is considered rich for now (although this number is probably peanuts from the standpoint of Warren Buffett or Mark Zuckerberg, but we’re looking from the viewpoint of the average American). Simply, one million dollars net worth is when “Assets” minus “Liabilities” equals $1,000,000 or more.  For example, if you have a total combined worth of $1,500,000 of cash, stocks, bonds, properties, etc. but have $500,000 in total left on your mortgage, loans, or other debt, your net worth would be $1,000,000.

A goal of $1,000,000 from a net annual income of $74,361 is feasible; however, it will depend a large part on your spending habits.  Therefore, sticking to a budget will assist with reaching this goal.  The more you spend, the less you will save, making it harder to reach your goal of one million dollars.  Spending less usually equals more savings.  If you’re starting out after graduation with mounting college loans, high-interest credit card debt, and a family that eats out and spends money on high quality fashion and services, saving money will be difficult on one singular income alone.  One way to facilitate saving money would be to avoid eating out frequently at fancy restaurants, staying healthy to avoid expensive hospital bills, living in not-so-posh neighborhoods, avoiding the brand name clothing, sending children to public schools instead of private institutions, or performing a lot of household chores yourself rather than hiring a cleaning service or landscaper.  Looking for discounts, or buying used items could also assist with cutting expenses.  These are personal choices that every family will have to make.  Some consider living in good neighborhoods to attend excellent public schools, attending private schools, sacrificing retirement savings and wealth for the sake of children are worthy investments; however, this post cannot discuss or recommend what one should do with their earnings, but rather assess whether saving a million dollars is possible for a pharmacist.  Another way to speed up the goal to a million dollars is to work more (e.g. another job), earn more (e.g. promotion), or the non-working spouse may be able to enter the workforce and help increase the income that comes into their household.  Doing well in investing your savings could also help reach the goal a lot sooner.  Earning interest on your savings and investments over time by starting early will be valuable to reaching a million dollars.

In another example, a single person with no debt (e.g. college loans, car loans, mortgage), zero savings, a salary of $74,361, and is able to save half  of their paycheck(~$3,100 per month) while earning an average interest of 5% a year will be a millionaire in 2034 (~17 years from this year) according to CNN’s millionaire calculator.  Therefore, a single person starting out at the age of 26 may be able to be a millionaire by age 43!  Although this is highly unlikely considering the unpredictability that life brings such as getting married, having kids, health issues, or going through an expensive divorce.

Therefore, it is entirely possible in one’s lifetime under the right circumstances to get to a million dollars as a pharmacist as long as there is a steady stream of solid income, disciplined spending control, and time for your investments to grow.

 

Your First Paycheck as a Pharmacist

401kcalculator.org

After four long years, and maybe a year or two of residency or fellowship for some graduates, endless hours of studying into the night and early mornings before an exam, mounting college loan debt, you finally land a job. That is great news because it is primarily the reason we suffer through any rigorous schooling.  We aim to get a good job in order to get paid and make the best life for yourself and your loved ones. Some of you need income quickly as you might have kids who need clean diapers and food in their mouths. You’ll need an income to support a nice house for your spouse and children. So what happens when you receive your first paycheck? Some may gift their first paycheck to their parents to thank them. Others may put down a down payment towards a new car. Most will probably save it, and use part of it to pay your mortgage and rent. Regardless what you’ll do with your first check, be prepared that your first direct deposit into your bank account may not be what you thought it was.  This goes without saying in almost any career in America.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data in 2016, the average salary of a pharmacist was $122,230. The state with the most number of pharmacists is California according to their data with an average yearly wage of $136,100. In this post, let’s focus on the paycheck of a California pharmacist, and how much they would take home after deductions to get a better understanding of our hard-earned money.  The take home pay will vary depending on the amount of deductions you have. These deductions may include the level of insurance coverage, insurance type, retirement contributions, and tax exemptions available.  For example, If we begin with an average rate of $136,100/year salary based on California’s average pharmacist wage from 2016, with the assumptions that the pharmacist has a non-working spouse and two kids, the pharmacist maximizes their 401K retirement contributions ($18,000 annually in 2016), has a standard level of health insurance for a family if we use one study as a reference ($5,277 for all family plan types), claims two exemptions (one each for marriage partners), the pharmacist would be taxed at the 28% marginal federal rate, and a 9.3% marginal state rate, plus pay FICA which subsidizes Social Security and Medicare (6.85%), and vision/dental insurance (let’s assume $1500/year for a family of four), and receiving a paycheck every 2 weeks…you can expect your paycheck to be a lot lower. Even more so if you opt to add short-term or long-term disability insurance, life insurance, and other types of optional benefit contributions the employer may offer (e.g. legal insurance).  Using various paycheck calculators available for California income taxes, $136,100 may turn into $81,138 when affected by federal/state income taxes, FICA, with two personal exemptions, and deducting the maximum allowed contribution for a retirement 401k plan in 2016 ($18,000).  When further deducting for health/dental/vision without including other optional insurances such as life and disability insurance, the $81,138 turns into $74,361.  $74,361 split into 26 paychecks per year would be around $2,860 net pay per two weeks for a family of four.  This is drastically different from a gross pay of $5,234 ($136,100 divided by 26 paychecks)… essentially a 45% reduction compared to the gross amount before deductions! Therefore, you should budget wisely as there are college loans, credit card debt, mortgage payments, childcare, sales/property taxes, food, utilities, clothes, internet, cell phones, car fuel and maintenance, and so forth to consider assuming only one person works in the household.  $2,860 is around $74,360 per year after deductions are counted for.  Remember, this example is merely a rough estimate, and may not be the actual amount since taxes and exemptions can be complicated, and insurance options and retirement contributions will vary individually.  However it is probably in the same ballpark to what a typical California pharmacist in a family of four with one working person would receive after deductions.  Every state has their own income tax rates, property tax, and sales tax, health insurance rates that will affect the net pay.  Cost of living will also affect how valuable your income is worth.  Some states have cheaper tax rates, housing, gas and food costs than others.  For example, California is known to have the highest state income tax rates, and expensive real estate, whereas Florida and Texas have no state income tax, and relatively more affordable housing compared to parts of California.  However, states may compensate for the lack of tax receipts from income taxes by raising taxes in other areas such as for sales or property tax rates.  Therefore, before you blow your paycheck on a Mercedes Benz or a big 3500-square foot house, it would be wise to establish a sound budget.

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.

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.

Accelerated PharmD or Traditional PharmD?

One of the most common question I receive from future pharmacy school students from all over the world is where they can earn an accelerated PharmD degree.  This is generally a more rigorous type of PharmD program because students have to condense material from what normally takes 4 years into a 3 year period.  You can imagine less breaks between semesters in order to cover more classes in less time.   In the traditional model, students can be eligible to apply to pharmacy schools at least two years after high school when completing pre-requisites before even obtaining a bachelor’s degree.  They may also apply to pharmacy schools if they already have a bachelor’s degree, but will have to complete the PharmD program in four years.  Therefore,  the traditional program can be as little as from six (at least 2 years of pre-requisite plus 4 years of pharmacy school), to as long as eight years (4 year bachelor’s degree plus 4 years of pharmacy school) of time spent after high school depending on whether you choose to apply before after meeting pre-requisites (at least 2 years) or after obtaining a bachelor’s degree (at least 4 years).  If you graduate within six years after high school, the average person may start practicing as a licensed pharmacist at the age of 24, and at the age of 26 if entering pharmacy school directly after obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Both 24 and 26 are relatively very young in the grand scheme of things and in life.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median pay of a pharmacist is $121,500 in the United States.  That is not bad but most new pharmacists out of school could learn less due to lack of experience.  The BLS reported the lowest 10% earned approximately $86,790.  However, how much you earn also depends on what type of pharmacy career you’re entering.  Inexperienced retail pharmacist can start at a pay more than other types of pharmacy careers such as hospital in case money is very important to you.  For a graduate in their mid-twenties, this salary can provide a very good quality of life depending on where you live.  For example, earning $86,790 may allow you to buy a decent car or home , and pay of your school loans in St. Louis, Missouri or Raleigh, North Carolina…but it may be difficult to save any of it if you live in San Francisco or New York City where the prices for goods, services, and homes are considerably higher, and your dollar may not take you much further (more about your paycheck will be talked about later on).  Whatever you have after paying taxes and benefits (insurance, 401 deductions) is what you have leftover to pay for all of your expenses that include rent, mortgage, electricity bills, car, gas, auto insurance, groceries, traveling, eating out, car repairs, gifts, clothes, movies, etc.  Not much huh?

Having said that, let’s get back to the discussion between the accelerated and traditional programs.  Most of our emails are concerning what schools offer accelerated programs.  You can check our list here.  We update the list based on our awareness of such a program from notifications or feedback from the public; if you find one that isn’t listed  or should be removed from our list, please let us know at:  info@pharmdprograms.org or contact us.  From the inquiries we receive, it seems logical to think that most people want to graduate in a year or so less than the traditional programs.  One can only assume, but I think the top  reason one may consider this is as follows along with my Pros and Cons for the reason:

  1.  They want to get on with life quicker which requires an income and earning a good living.  They want to hurry up and enjoy their lives with their earnings by traveling, buying a house or car, or even helping themselves or family out of a financial problem (loans, mortgage, etc).

Pros:  I think this may be the top reason why people want to finish early.  This is similar to students who want to finish a bachelor’s degree in less than three years.  Money is important, and people need money.  I think if you’re in need of money quick so that you can pay off a loan or help a family member out, a year less in pharmacy school will get you started early.  The extra year in pharmacy school may not save you too much money (or at all) in tuition costs, but it will save you on the interest on a school loan so that you can start paying it back sooner, and will save you the costs of living (room and board).  If you have a spouse and kids, you’ll obviously benefit from graduating a year earlier and earning a paycheck so you can start putting bread on the table.

Cons:  Outside of the need to graduate earlier for financial issues or helping out others, If you’re looking to start your life a year early for the sake of enjoying your life and traveling and spending, it may not be worth it in the long run because you’ll most likely never have that pharmacy school experience again where you can learn, network with other pharmacy colleagues and professors, and enjoy being a student without the struggles and stresses that come with life. Life outside of school is considerably harder and more stressful than being a student because of bills, family obligations, mortgages, finding babysitters for your kids, going to work every day for eight hours with maybe two weeks of vacation a year…and this for until you retire in your 60s (unless you win the lottery or receive a generous inheritance).  The current retirement age is 67 according to the social security administration in order to receive full social security if you were born on 1960 or later.  Assuming you begin work as a pharmacist at the age of 26, you would work for at least 41 years!  What is an extra year of school compared to the next 41 years of labor? Is there really a difference between the ages of 26 or 27? Plus those years in an accelerated PharmD program may not be as easy and enjoyable considering your vacations may be shortened, the classes proceed quickly, and most of your time will be dedicated to studies.  Unless you have financial issues, and you need to start working sooner to earn an income, I would recommend staying in a traditional pharmacy school program because being a student is a lot more fun, easier, and enjoyable than being a working pharmacist for the next 40+ years.  Being a pharmacist isn’t easy…and 40+ years of it can be tough over time.  More on what a pharmacist goes though day to day will be talked about in a later post.  It also takes more effort to make friends outside of school compared to being in school. Because you work all day and everyday, your free time to build a network of friends  becomes increasingly difficult, especially after you start a family due to the lack of time and energy.  In school, you are surrounded by so many people all the time and almost every day, and you’re opportunity to make friends and network with others is a lot easier in a school environment.  There are also other intangible benefits you may receive while staying in school longer such as participating in pharmacy organizations and other events which will equip you with information, education, and other opportunities.