5 Simple Changes For Every Pharmacist Who Feels Stuck

MARCH 11, 2018
Stuck implies that you’re pinned. Immovable. That there’s no way out.

It could certainly describe a pharmacist who has invested large amounts of time and money into a career, only to feel unfulfilled and unhappy. I know, because I’ve been there.

I also know, though, that you’re never truly stuck. I know from my own experience, and from the stories of others like me, that there is hope. I know that changing your career outlook is possible, and I know how to help you begin.

Sound impossible? Keep reading. The most important changes you will make originate with you.

1.  Stop believing everything you tell yourself.
You haven’t cornered the market on self-doubt. Everyone wrestles with it from time to time.

In the case of pharmacists seeking to transition into non-traditional positions, the problem isn’t a lack of jobs or a lack of opportunity. The problem is what’s between your ears. Your own negative thoughts are likely the number one reason you haven’t transitioned out of the job you’re in now.
 
Begin by writing down the negative thoughts that plague you. Once you’ve written them out, you can identify whether they are actually true. (In most cases, they aren’t.)
When I was writing the first draft of my book, I caught myself thinking about what people might hate about my book, and the fear stopped me from writing. Eventually, though, I put all those negative thoughts into writing and I determined that most of them weren’t true.

When you find yourself thinking, “Why can’t you just be happy earning 6 figures?” write down the question and then answer it. Perhaps the answer is that you aren’t happy in your work, so you should write that down. Or perhaps the answer is that your big paycheck has left you feeling trapped. Whatever the answer, write down the truth of the situation.  

By listening to the negative voices, you are halting your own progress to a happy transition.

2. Create your ideal career.
Most pharmacists I’ve talked to have a career goal in mind, but they aren’t sure how to get there. They fail to establish small steps that will move them toward their ideal career.
You must create a profile of the job you’d like to have so you can create small steps that will get you there. Defining the things you want in a job also puts you back in the driver’s seat and will help you take positive steps to get where you want to be.

Failure to identify what you’d like from your career will leave you among the thousands of pharmacists complaining about unfulfilling careers. It turns you into a victim instead of helping you make change.

Contrary to popular belief, the world is not your oyster. Job opportunities won’t likely be handed to you. You’ll have to search for them.

Begin by checking out The Happy PharmD Career Conference to hear stories of pharmacists who transitioned out of retail and hospital pharmacy jobs into other non-traditional positions. Sign up for our next event and hear from people who are happy in their pharmacy career, and find out how they got there. I have helped pharmacists transition from full-time to part-time, and the other way around. I’ve helped them change to different areas of pharmacy, even when they didn’t have experience. I can do the same for you, but you must take control.

3. Discover your ikigai.
The Japanese term 'ikigai' means 'reason for being.' It’s the culmination of what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for. Wherever 2 of these concepts overlap, there is good to be had. In the rare instance when the 4 categories come together, you find ikigia.

Many pharmacists, for example, choose pharmacy because it’s a skill the world needs and a job the world pays handsomely for. They aren’t passionate about it, though, and if it ever had meaning, that meaning is missing now. The result is a vocation rather than a fulfilling career.

Pharmacy is a great profession, but your goal is to find the job that represents the culmination of all 4 categories. It is possible to find a career that satisfies your ikigai, and it is possible to transition out of the job you’re in now to get there.

As you consider your transition, contemplate these questions:
  • Are you willing to accept that you might be happier if you weren’t a pharmacist?
  • Are you willing to accept the idea of making less money than you make now?
  • Are you willing to accept that there’s a pharmacy job that would make you happy?
If you answer 'no' to any of these questions, I would argue that you’re limiting yourself. Ikigai is usually the result of a lengthy self-evaluation and finding it depends on your willingness to be honest about your career.

4. Surround yourself with the right people.
Think about your 5 closest friends. Are they happy in their careers? Have they found their ikigai? Are you surrounded by people who challenge you to be better? Are your friends more excited about their days off than their workdays? Are they miserable in their work and convinced there’s nothing better out there?

For the last 5 years, I’ve been part of a mastermind group that has challenged me to grow as a person and an entrepreneur. Without them, I might not have found my place here, helping pharmacists change what they are doing.

Surrounding yourself with people who have joy in their careers will help you find the same for yourself.  When you join hands with a community of people headed in the same direction as you, that magic rubs off on you. You learn the tricks of the trade and you learn what people are doing to get ahead. They share their wins and losses.

There’s a great quote that says 'A rising tide raises all ships.'  Surround yourself with people that will raise you up.

5. Escape your comfort zone.
The human brain is programmed to find the easiest way to accomplish things. Shortcuts keep our brains from burning out. Likewise, habits help us streamline our lives, and they eventually become comfort zones.

For burned-out pharmacists, your comfort zone is that job you’re currently in. It’s safe. It’s a known entity. It’s the easy answer.

If you find yourself considering career transition, you’re likely experiencing pain in your comfort zone. The job you once thought could make you happy isn’t fulfilling anymore, and you’re ready for change. Unfortunately, change is difficult. It’s much easier to stay put and cage yourself in.

Magic only happens outside your comfort zone. When we make ourselves uncomfortable and we do the things that others are unwilling to do, magic happens. You must accept fear, accept discomfort, and risk failure to get new rewards.

I challenged a student I know to send a video introduction to a manager, and though he was unsure, he did it. The video landed him an interview for a job he wasn’t even qualified for.


It truly is possible to leave a stagnant career and grow a fulfilling one. It requires introspection, encouragement, fortitude, and work. The alternative is to keep doing a job you tolerate and stay stuck.

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.
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