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.
Lately I've been doing a lot of reflecting and trying to help people who may be in the beginning of their career, and I want to share some of the mistakes I made during the beginning of my graduate school.
Behind every great hero is a mentor-figure, like Obi-Wan Kenobi or Gandalf. Although I may not be an actual sage, I would love to be a virtual mentor for the next generation and impart some of the hard lessons that I learned. So, for your learning pleasure, here is a list of my 6 pharmacy school regrets:
Regret No. 1: Not reading outside pharmacy material.
During pharmacy school, someone recommended that we read books outside of pharmacy school that could improve our learning—and I laughed at the idea. I didn't even consider it. It wasn't until my last year of pharmacy school that I began to read books outside the world of pharmacy.
The first book I read was How to Win Friends and Influence People. This nonfiction book, alongside The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, changed my life forever. It made me realize that what I believed about life and how I was treating others wasn't matching up. In other words, I was putting myself above others and being a jerk.
I highly encourage you to be constantly reading new material to expand your mind and challenge your perspective and the status quo. A few books that I would recommend include The ONE Thing by Gary Keller; The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey; How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie; and Secrets of Closing the Sale by Zig Ziglar (yes, I highly recommend a book on sales because, guess what, if you're a human being, you're in the sales business).
Regret No. 2: Not finding enough real-world experience.
I remember looking at my curriculum vitae (CV) during my third year of pharmacy school and feeling so disappointed with how little experience I had to report. Not only is this not great for career options, but it also gave me a skewed view of what the actual practice of pharmacy looked like and the possibilities that different niches could hold.
I had a very biased viewpoint that only clinical pharmacy was the right path for me. Unfortunately, now that I'm in the career field, I have a much different perspective on the different niches of pharmacy. I really wish I would have spent time in different fields getting a flavor for what else was out there.
I recommend that all students get real-world experience by watching actual pharmacists practice their craft. I say actual pharmacists because I mean people outside of academia. Let's face it: The academic world paints a very different picture of what pharmacy practice actually looks like. You hear that during your school years, but it doesn't hit you until you actually start working.
Regret No. 3: Focusing so much on grades.
I'll be honest: Grades matter for scholarships and for some residencies. I was distinctively ruled out for a few residencies because of my average performance during pharmacy school. I got anywhere between A-minuses in some of the easier classes to Bs and B-pluses in the harder ones. Look, grades are important for certain things but, in the long run, they really don't matter. If I apply for a new job, they don't care about what I got in pharmacotherapeutics or in pharmacodynamics (thank heavens!).
I wish that grades didn't have such an emphasis, but it's the only way that we're currently measured for our performance in school. Because it's our main measurement, there's so much focus placed on it. Unfortunately, scholarships are heavily weighed on these faulty measurements. I really wish I would've just focused on concepts, trying to learn the basics of things rather than learn, memorize, regurgitate, and forget (which was my pattern throughout the entire program).
Regret No. 4: Waiting until P3 year to fully realize my career path.
When I was a P3, I finally pushed myself to decide whether or not I wanted a residency. Unfortunately, waiting until P3 year meant that I wasn't really serious about learning the practice of pharmacy until my third year. Years one, two, and part of three were spent memorizing material and having fun in between.
I did have two jobs within pharmacy, but they didn't give me a great experience within the field. I didn't really get to see what a pharmacist did on a day-to-day basis. I just focused on doing my job and I went home and thanked them for the check when it came.
I'd encourage all P1 students to make the decision whether or not to do a residency. If you decide earlier on, you can take the right steps to grow a career that is going to be setting yourself up for success to gain a residency. You'll start gaining the experiences required, and you'll be networking with people who could provide you with those opportunities.
Regret No. 5: Not getting enough work experience.
I know I've harped on this already, but it really can't be preached enough. Schools do a good job of giving you opportunities to learn at practice sites, but sometimes, if you're like me, you don’t get the greatest luck of the draw for rotation sites.
I remember only having about 4 months left of my rotations and thinking to myself, "When am I actually going to learn pharmacy?" My rotations weren't very helpful to my career because they weren't really matched up to what my goals were. Please note that just because you have a desire to go to certain rotation doesn't mean you'll actually get those sites.
Instead, make your own opportunities work for you. Apply for pharmacy internships at places that offers pharmacy practices that you're interested in. Better yet, volunteer to help out clinical pharmacists anytime you can during work hours. This experience will not only prepare you and give you the information you need to decide whether or not you would want to pursue that kind of career, but it's also going to connect you with the right people, which is indubitably the most important step in growing a successful pharmacy career.
Regret No. 6: Not conquering procrastination.
As I look back, I realized that I could've easily saved myself 2 hours a day when studying if I had only practiced the right study habits. Instead, I often procrastinated. I would say that I'd be studying for 5 hours but, let's be real—I would occasionally be watching an hour's worth of “The Office” episodes because I "needed a break." I was often distracted and it was, deep down, because I didn't want to study. I wanted to procrastinate. I didn't structure my life in the right way to have the right habits.
I encourage all students to conquer their procrastination habits as soon as possible. Not only will this help you with studying, but it also is going to help you gain a social life. A great book that I would recommend to help you with this is called The Now Habit.