ATTN Pharmacy Students: Here’s How You Can Keep up with Our Shifting Industry

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In my previous post, I explained how the pharmacy industry has changed with the advent of the drive-thru pharmacy.

Pharmacists-to-be: First, let’s address the burdens you carry. You’re racking up student loans that would make your parents blush. Your professors test you so often it’s like they’re trying to make you fail. Between working a job, studying for classes, and managing a meager social life, you feel like you’re barely functioning (or not at full capacity anyway).

My advice may appear as if I’m trying to add on more to your full plate. While you could take this advice to the extreme, I’m simply adding a new lens for you to look through at your career.

First, let’s use a simple analogy. Imagine your career as an investment. You may have heard of 401K, Roth IRAs, NASDAX (blah blah). Each one is a tool you can use to help you retire. The idea is simple: regularly input money into an investment, and over time the compound effect creates a larger investment worth much more than what you put in.

Your career is similar to a 401K investment. Your currency is relationships and experience. The more currency you have, the more job opportunities open to you. The less currency, the lower amount of jobs opportunities.

You can change the amount of currency you put into your career (investment) by taking simple steps outlined below. Each small step you take in your career will build up over time. Much like a 401K investment, small weekly actions (or deposits) will pay out big time.

Your Relationships Are Your Most Valuable Pharmacy Career Asset

Your network is your net worth. Your network is how you’ll find new opportunities, job openings, and learn new career skills.

Every job I ever had was because of who I knew. That’s why it’s imperative that you don’t ignore pharmacists. Yes, get to know your professors. Not just on a professional level. Get to know more about them. Treat them as you would a friend.

If there’s one mistake I wish I could take back in pharmacy school was ignoring my fellow pharmacy students. I stayed in my social circle. My drive to meet new people was at 0% at the time.

Even for the competitive world of residency, this rule holds true. You will be higher ranked for residencies if the residency director trusts you. That’s what relationships are all about. Trust. Half the time a candidate isn’t chosen because she had the best skills. More often, it’s because the manager trusted the candidate could do the job. The more people who trust you, the more opportunities will come your way.

Right now in pharmacy school, this may not seem true. You’re in a stage of your career where you are bombarded with opportunities without you even trying. When you graduate, that all ends. People won’t go out of their way to help you as professors will. No one trusts you unless you have a relationship.

Make it your objective to meet one new person a week. May sound hard, but introducing yourself to one person in your school would take you five minutes. If you don’t have five minutes to do this, then you shouldn’t be reading this blog.

Your Pharmacy Experience Determines What Jobs You Can Apply To

If I changed the subtitle, it would be: Your pharmacy experience determines what jobs you can successfully apply to. You don’t need experience do to every pharmacy job. I’ve seen this over and over with coaching clients and hearsay stories.

However, experience predicts whether or not a pharmacist candidate will receive a job offer. Once you begin looking for job openings, you’ll see under job requirements listed “past experience required”—and in recent times, you’ll find “residency required.”

I don’t implore all students to get a residency. You don’t need one to have a happy pharmacy career. Experience determines where you can go with your career. The PharmD is just the ticket to entry. You’ll need career currency (or experience) to pay to play. The more currency you have, the more rides (or jobs) you can play on.

Your college career is the foundation for all following job opportunities. Now is your time to create currency. That way, when it’s time for you to look for a job, you can easily spend your currency in areas you enjoy, and not pick for the bottom of the barrel.

Figure Out Your Career Path ASAP

You have four years (or three in a few cases) to learn pharmacy. One thing many schools do poorly is helping students pick a career path based on your unique ability, a topic I cover greatly in my (upcoming) book. You must figure out what you’re great at and how it can fit in the world of Pharmacy.

Of the two situations below, which do you think a manager would choose for a compounding pharmacy job:

Four years of compounding pharmacy experience during pharmacy school

6 months of compounding pharmacy experience during pharmacy school

Obvious answer. And yet, so few students quickly pick a pharmacy field.

Set a deadline for when you will choose a path. Don’t wait. Your future career depends on it.

Avoid Inner City Companies for Easier Competition

Yes, our market is saturated. You’re not to blame for this. The place where competition is highest happens to be the inner city.

I hear too many stories from pharmacists who take inner city jobs with much less than the average salary (around $116,000 at the time of this publication). The best candidates receive the following information to persuade them to take the low offer:

If you don’t take this job, then there are 35 others who will say yes.

The corporations know that some pharmacists will take jobs for lower salary because it’s where they want to live. On the other side, if you wish to stay in the city, be willing to do more than your competition. The only way you’ll stand out above your competition is by being a rockstar. Success isn’t guaranteed.

Avoid Companies That Betray Their Staff

There are pharmacies that offer jobs to new pharmacists, stating the job will be full time with benefits, but after they start the job, the company rescinds the offer and makes their job part-time, thus losing benefits.

Other companies offer part-time jobs and say, “Eventually a full-time position will open.” But they don’t tell you that 10 other part-time pharmacists are waiting for the same job, and they have seniority over you.

Obviously, these are horrendous business practices. Companies betray our trust and should be reprimanded. But you and I can’t change the system. That’s why you need to ask around. Rumors of this sort spread fast. Your best info source will be upperclassmen or recent alumni. Ask them about job offers, and if they know of great companies or ones to avoid. Even some of our industry’s top companies use the aforementioned poor practices.

Become a Professor’s Best Helper

No, don’t be a brown-noser. Be a professor’s colleague.

Imagine yourself a partner with a professor whose role is to train you to be an excellent pharmacist. Your role is to learn as much as you can in an active capacity. An active capacity means you find ways to practice your unique ability, thus gaining experience.

Professors are excellent resources for your network. They can help you find opportunities to build experience. Professors know many other pharmacists. Most are willing to share their networks and provide introductions.

Lastly, Don’t Be Overwhelmed

Everything I shared can feel overwhelming. Realize that your career doesn’t happen overnight. It’s built one day at a time.

Set aside time once a week, even if it’s only 15 minutes. Use this time to build your career. Update your resume. Beautify your LinkedIn page (or create one). Email an old friend. Research associations or volunteer opportunities. Invite a pharmacist to coffee.

Each small step you take in your career will build up over time. Much like a 401K investment, small weekly actions (deposits) will pay out big time.

Dr. Alex Baker is a pharmacist and the founder of TheHappyPharmD.com, which helps pharmacists create fulfilling careers. He loves anime, his family, and video games (not in that order).

A version of this article originally appeared on The Happy PharmD blog.

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