Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker is the founder of The Happy PharmD, which helps pharmacists create an inspiring career, break free from the mundane “pill-flipping” life. He is a Full-time Pharmacist, Media Company founder, franchise owner, Business Coach, Speaker, and Author. He's also the Founder of Pharmacy School HQ, which helps students get into pharmacy school and become residents.

5 Life Lessons That Every Pharmacist Needs to Hear

AUGUST 15, 2017

Jerry Seinfeld doesn’t need to work.


His TV show, Seinfeld, generated $10 million per episode in the 1990s. Prior to the 10th season, he was offered $5 million per episode, but he turned it down because he wanted to end on a high note like the Beatles did. The show has produced 100 million streams online, and the most recent syndication cycle will bring $400 million.


Not bad for a 28-year-old show about nothing.


In 2012, Seinfeld ventured outside standup comedy and launched a digital web series called Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee that was born out of a longing for the way talk shows used to be.


The series featured Seinfeld picking up a guest comedian in a specially selected vintage car, followed by a drive to a café or restaurant where the two would sit down for coffee. No one would have anything to promote. The two would just talk.


Leaders at Yahoo and Facebook told him that the format would never work because the 12-minute episodes were too long for the Internet, but he forged ahead. Five years later, Netflix has picked up the series for its 10th season, after a launch that included no press.


Along the way, the comedian learned some things about work and life that transcend his industry: principles that apply to our work as pharmacists, whether you’re brand new to the industry or you’ve been in it for a while.


1. “You have to relate to people on a very personal level. You must master the attention span dynamic.”


You interact with patients every day. You likely spend more time with a patient than her health care provider did during the appointment. You worked hard to acquire knowledge about medications and interactions and protocols, and you are the subject matter expert on helping patients best manage their own care.


Patients do not hear what you have to say. This is the Internet generation, ready to move on to something different when the current offering stops being interesting. Some patients are emotional, argumentative, and sometimes difficult, perhaps because of years of chronic illness. Others are embarrassed or don’t want to bother anyone.


Studies show, however, that patients who interact with their pharmacists through face-to-face counseling demonstrate greater medication adherence, likely improving clinical outcomes. There is also evidence that pharmacists can significantly reduce hospital readmissions by collaborating to make sure that patients understand their medications.


Practice the ethos, pathos, and logos we learned in school. Build credibility (ethos) by learning about your patient. Appeal to your patient’s emotion (pathos) by acknowledging the feelings they have about treatment. Very often, the logical part (logos) is less important because the patient already knows he needs to quit smoking or lose weight.


Connect with your patients in a way no one else does.


2. “Learn from your audience. The audience teaches you (what’s funny).”


How do you get patients to listen? You listen first.


It sounds impossible with your demanding job. You’re already balancing an impossibly large workload and there don’t seem to be enough hours in the day.


Your patients will tell you what’s working and what isn’t if you’re willing to listen.


Leana Wen, MD, shared in a 2017 keynote address at the APhA Annual Meeting & Exposition that 80% of the time, a patient’s story will determine her diagnosis. Wen said that hearing the patient’s story means doing more than asking yes or no questions. It means truly listening to what she is saying.


The same is true of people outside the pharmacy as well. Find creative ways to reach the people in your circles and leave a lasting impact: your coworkers, your patients, your friends, and even your family. Invest your effort in the people around you and get to know their stories.


3. “I fell in love with the work and the work was joyful and difficult and interesting and that was my focus. “


Interestingly, Seinfeld calls his life tortured. The work is hard. It’s brutal.


There are days you don’t want to get out of bed to go to the gym, but 30 minutes into your workout, you’re fine.


“Your blessing in life is when you find the torture you’re comfortable with. Marriage. Kids. Work. Exercise. Not eating the food you want to eat. That’s life. Find the torture you’re comfortable with and you’ll do well,” he said.


Find a way to fall in love with the work you’ve chosen to do, even when it’s tough. Rediscover your love for helping people and applying the hard-earned knowledge you’ve accumulated. Though it’s difficult, discover the good in the people around you and find joy in the work you do. Invest in your coworkers and your patients and remind yourself why you entered this field in the first place.


If you aren’t able to truly find joy at work, start a side hustle that brings you joy; one that might even move you toward a better financial situation. Better yet, begin the search for a new job while you’re still working at this one.


“The right way is the hard way,” according to Seinfeld.


4. “'What I am really sick of’ is where innovations starts.”


Seinfeld’s new show, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, was born out of his distaste for modern talk shows: music plays, a guest walks out to a desk, greets a host, makes small talk, and then starts selling a product.


“I kinda missed the funny talking of casually hanging out,” he said. “There’s no casual hanging out. Real estate is too valuable. People wanna push their product.”


So he innovated. That was 5 years, 59 episodes and 3 Emmy nominations ago.


“It’ a nice feeling to invent something where there was no template before you to figure it out.”


Do your own thing. Do something different. Find the thing that needs improving and figure out how to make it better.


Health care startup Phil tackled the annoyance of waiting in line at the pharmacy with a system that delivers medication right to the patient’s door. Working with local pharmacies, physicians, and insurance companies, the company has simplified prescriptions and helped small businesses in the surrounding communities.


Find the thing you are sick of and figure out how to improve it. Do your thing your way.


5. “I think the answer is we all need a little help, and coffee’s a little help with everything…”


Seinfeld told National Public Radio that the beauty of coffee is that it’s a “wonderful, compact, accessible, and portable social interaction.”

 

It’s not expensive, it’s legal, and it makes for a more productive society. Perhaps most importantly, though, it gets people talking.


Seinfeld believed that removing the formal structure, and then caffeinating people, would lead to a different kind of discussion.


“I wanted to get the dialogue when you're standing on the sidewalk and you're kicking the curb and you're with a friend and neither of you really wants to go home and you're just standing there talking,” he said.


Rebecca Hernandez, PharmD, and Nimish Patel, MD, had the same thought in mind when they opened My Pharmacy. Located in Hillview, Ky., customers can sip a cup of organic coffee while they wait for their prescriptions.


Hernandez said that integrating the environment of a coffee shop with pharmacy services allows the pharmacist to provide a more personal experience. The relaxed atmosphere puts patients at ease and makes them more likely to retain the advice they are given, which can lead to life-altering results.


“[Independent] pharmacy owners are in a good position to be inventive and really personalize their pharmacy beyond the typical drug store,” Hernandez said. “Plus everyone loves a good cup of coffee.”


It’s like all 5 pieces of advice rolled into one pharmacy.





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