In pharmacy school, you’ll learn about many, many different drugs, drug interactions, dosages, and loads of science. However, there are some (practical) things most pharmacy schools simply don’t cover.
Here are 10 things I didn’t learn in pharmacy school that would’ve better prepared me for my job as a pharmacist:
1. Customer Service Skills
When I went to pharmacy school, there was nary a mention of customer service skills. Most pharmacists I know either picked up these skills from a part-time job (like a school library worker, pharmacy intern, or barista at Starbucks) or did their best to muddle through after they got their first “real” job.
Being a pharmacist requires you to keep a lot of balls in the air at once, so to speak. Unfortunately, there’s not much discussion about multitasking in school, and the students who can’t figure out how to juggle often end up dropping out—or struggling mightily throughout their time at school and in their first job.
Many educational programs fail to prepare students for the reality that many of their future patients will be sick, scared, worried, confused, in a hurry, or all of the above—and they may act less-than-courteous under the circumstances. Learning how to respond with empathy most often takes place in actual work settings and requires lots of practice.
4. Communication Skills
Many come out of school lacking basic written and verbal communications skills—and I’m talking about skills like not sending e-mails riddled with misspellings, speaking loudly and clearly so others can hear you, and being concise when talking to patients.
5. Leadership Skills
Managing a team is an art, and pharmacists are often required to manage several direct reports in their first job. To manage well right off the bat, students need to have leadership tools and training. Furthermore, students should learn not only how to supervise others, but also how to manage laterally (their coworkers) and their boss, too.
Eighty percent of communication involves listening. Many patient problems could be avoided if pharmacists had basic training in how to actively listen. Pharmacy students should be taught to repeat what patients are saying in their own words to ensure understanding, demonstrate a “listening posture” (eye contact, nonverbal cues like nodding) and give their undivided attention.
7. Hiring Good Staff
The individuals you hire can make or break you. Learning how to interview effectively and hire quality individuals is a skill that will benefit pharmacists throughout their careers. A simple explanation and a few anecdotes from a seasoned pharmacist about positive qualities and red flags would add value to any pharmacy school curriculum.
Things tend to be pretty black and white in pharmacy school; there’s usually a clear right answer and a clear wrong one. In the real-world pharmacy, there’s lots of gray and sometimes no clear correct answer. Pharmacy students should be encouraged to be creative, adjust to changing circumstances, and look for new approaches to patient problems.
9. Managing Debt and Personal Finances
Almost every pharmacy student has school loans and will go on to have a mortgage, car loan, or credit card. Although managing personal finances doesn’t exactly fall into the realm of a traditional pharmacy education, the number of students carrying significant debt upon graduation would be sufficient justification.
10. Interview Skills
Although there may be some opportunity for pharmacy students to practice interviewing during the residency process—and many schools offer optional career counseling—formal, required training on job interview skills would be helpful. With the job market becoming more and more challenging for pharmacists, industry-specific training would be a welcome addition to any curriculum.
If you’re a pharmacy student, it’s not too late to educate yourself on these topics in advance of graduation. If you’re already out in the “real world,” chances are you’ve learned many of these things on your own—and perhaps the hard way. In any case, pharmacy schools would do well to incorporate training in these areas to ensure that they’re turning out marketable, employable graduates.
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.