As you begin to make decisions about where to focus your pharmacy career, this choice needs to be approached with as much thought and planning as your decision to enter pharmacy. Most students I have talked with have entered pharmacy after much deliberation. They worked in a pharmacy in high school, had a family member as a pharmacist, or wanted to join the profession so that they could help others. Whatever the reason was for yourself, you should keep it in mind as you choose the direction for your career path.
One of the best things about pharmacy is the many options you have upon graduation. Some will choose a career in community pharmacy, others in hospital pharmacy, and some students will choose some of the other options, which include managed care, academia, pharmaceutical industry, nuclear pharmacy, and pharmacy associations, to name a few.
I believe that a residency should be pursued no matter what career direction is chosen. The reason for this is that the training that is involved in a residency allows individuals to be better pharmacists in their care for patients, in their decision-making skills, and in the confidence they have in themselves. It will also provide more opportunities in the future as their careers progress. Most individuals think a residency is limited to a career in the hospital, but well-established residencies are available for all sectors of pharmacy.
Beyond the decision to pursue a residency, other issues need to be considered to help focus your pharmacy career:
What do you have a passion for? You should have found a certain area more enjoyable than others. For some individuals, jobs they have held during school provide them with either a career path they want to pursue or avoid. Talking with the pharmacists you work with can help you determine if the same job would be enjoyable to you. Other people answer this question through classes they take or professors they like. Others use their rotations to help direct their career paths. Whatever avenues you use to make your decision, it is important to select it based on the passion you have for that segment of pharmacy.
Will you use all of the knowledge you have gained? You have spent many hours studying and gaining knowledge about the practice of pharmacy. Will the career path you choose allow you to use it? Will the practice site allow you to gain new knowledge or skills? No one wants to have a job that does not use the information you have spent learning or allowing you to grow with the profession in the future. The answers to these questions should help in making a decision for what sector of pharmacy to avoid or to gravitate toward.
If you notice, I did not include things like salary, signing bonus, loan repayment, benefits, or location into this analysis. These are all secondary issues that should not be considered in the type of career path chosen. If a pharmacist is truly passionate about his or her career, things like salary will not be a large issue. They will realize something that many working pharmacists already understand: happiness is found in making a difference every day, not in a paycheck.
Best wishes on selecting the career path for you. This is best found by following your passion and using all of the knowledge you have worked hard to obtain. I look forward to having you as a colleague in the future.
Dr. Eckel is the assistant director of pharmacy at University of North Carolina Hospitals Department.