The Career Game Changers of Pharmacy

OCTOBER 06, 2015
Erin Albert, PharmD, JD, MBA
As a pharmacy educator and adviser to budding pharmacists, I am often asked about the different facets of a pharmacy career—what are all the options and which one is right for a particular individual?

The good news is that the profession has gained a lot of variety in the past 50 years. The challenge lies in understanding the very wide standard deviation of opportunities and how to properly match up an opportunity to an ideal candidate via strengths and values.

Some pharmacists have the luck of finding their ideal jobs right out of residencies, fellowships, or pharmacy school. Many of us do not. In other cases, our work environment, needs, goals, and values change over time. Career variety can be a wonderful way to learn even more about pharmacy, make a pharmacist invaluable to employers, and change the game of the profession itself, as professionals shape the profession over time and bring different skill sets to the table to make pharmacy more empirical and holistic.

In this article, we look at 3 professionals who made choices that were game changers in their careers. Each dared to try different areas of pharmacy and health care practice. We’ll also show that change can happen at any time within one’s pharmacy career journey—early, middle, and even late career. We discuss the career paths of a pharmacist early in her career (<5 years in practice), a mid-career pharmacist (>20 years in practice), and a pharmacist/physician who has failed at retirement twice and is still working full time (>40 years).

Risk: Changing the Game Early in Your Career
Blair Thielemier, PharmD, attended the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, Arkansas, and earned her doctorate of pharmacy in May 2011. Although she has been in practice only 4 years, her career in pharmacy is already full of variety.

“I have gone from full-time independent retail to full-time clinical hospital pharmacy, and now to relief services and medication therapy management (MTM) consulting,” Dr. Thielemier said.

Currently, she is a clinical pharmacist at BT Consulting in northeast Arkansas and southeast Missouri. She first started out, however, with a job at an independent retail community pharmacy after completing an internship there.

“I was comfortable and had a strong background in retail, so I knew I could provide excellent service to our patients,” she said. “I stayed on there for about a year before leaving to pursue an opportunity in a local hospital as a clinical pharmacist.”

Dr. Thielemier loved serving patients, but she wanted to challenge herself. She also felt the pull of possible burnout, stress-filled days, and physical pain in working long hours in community practice. With an interest in entrepreneurship and in possibly owning her own community pharmacy one day, however, it was not an easy decision to leave.

Her next career move in pharmacy stemmed from her advanced pharmacy practice experience rotation. The director of pharmacy for a small, rural hospital called Dr. Thielemier and said he received the budget to hire another full-time pharmacist.

“I was hesitant because I had little background in hospital and [was] not confident in my clinical skills, but I knew he would help me make the transition to clinical hospital pharmacist,” Dr. Thielemier said.

She took on the challenge and became a full-time clinical hospital pharmacist for 2 years, until budget cuts forced her to take on pro re nata status. Although the cutbacks were due to budget tightening, Dr. Thielemier loved the experience.

“We set up protocols for dosing warfarin, renal antibiotics, formulary management during drug shortages, titrations of IV medications for ICU patients, and helped with post-op orthopedic surgery patients,” she said.

Since mid-2014, Dr. Thielemier has set up shop independently as an entrepreneur. On top of relief work for a few pharmacies in her local area, she has also started a small business helping local pharmacies build clinical services for their patients.

“I am consulting for community pharmacies to help them implement MTM and immunization clinics,” she said. “Through MTM consulting and coaching, I can provide a cost-effective solution to delivering clinical and MTM services in busy community pharmacies. In turn, the pharmacies will see improved Medicare star ratings, greater patient satisfaction, less adverse drug events, and increased medication adherence (via higher refill rates). This increases revenue.”

Dr. Thielemier said the board game her career most resembles is Risk.

“I’m rolling the dice, not knowing what the future will hold, but aiming for world domination,” she said.

Although Dr. Thielemier does take risks, each risk is educated. Taking risks can broaden skill sets and learning on the job, which will enable careers to take off even faster.