Career Pearls for Pharmacy School Grads

April 20, 2015

Recommendations for pharmacy school graduates, and nice reminders for everyone else.

Congratulations to the class of 2015, and the family and friends who helped get you to this point. Nothing of value is ever achieved by individuals, so it’s important to acknowledge those who have helped us along the way.

To be clear, no one has ever asked me to give a speech at a pharmacy school graduation. But, if I ever had the chance, here’s what I’d say:

1. Eat healthy and exercise. Diabetes, heart disease, and high cholesterol are the most common disease states in patients, and prevention is much better than treatment. Consider this:

o Statins' number needed to treat (NNT) is approximately 80, with side effects

o Moving 5 patients from high risk to low risk via exercise saves approximately 1 patient (NNT=5), and without side effects

But, how can we emphasize prevention if we don’t first practice a healthy lifestyle ourselves?

2. Be the Roger Bannister of the pharmacy profession. For 1954 years, no one could run a 4-minute mile. In fact, we never came close and didn’t think it was even possible. Then, in 1954, Roger Bannister did it in 3:59. Since then, the barrier has been broken many times. Today, it’s standard for middle-distance runners, with many strong high school runners able to achieve the feat.

Without any basis for it, Bannister believed when no one else did. But that wasn’t enough, as he didn’t wake up with belief and just run it. It took him years and years to train for that moment.

Pharmacists must seek to gain the certainty of Bannister, so that we have confidence, without basis for having it, that we can change what is to what should be. Then, we must use that certainty to make ourselves able to achieve it, and that’s often taking the hard way. No matter how valuable, unrefined raw materials are wasted potential.

3. Never go to work to “make a living.” I’ve conducted a lot of interviews in academia, and there’s one thing 99% of you say: “I want to be a pharmacist because I want to help people.” Remember this when it's closing time and a patient comes in with a new prescription, when a mother is eyeing you through the drive-through window as you fill an antibiotic for her sick child, when an obvious addict tells you an obviously fake excuse for wanting clean needles, and when you’re between the insurance company and a patient’s medicine. All too often, things get busy, people forget this, and discontent grows. Don't let this be you.

Those who work to “make a living” are not making a living, but dying slowly, like a rock being ground into debris. Each day, we should rise with a restless enthusiasm, and if we don’t, we’ve fallen into the trap of “making a living.”

4. Have confidence in your abilities. You wouldn’t graduate if we didn’t have confidence in you. In fact, we take a vote before graduation.

If you call and ask whether you can change a lisinopril 40 mg tablet to 2 lisinopril 20 mg tablets, or if you say you aren’t filling it early and then you give in and fill it early, your judgment will be questioned—and you’ll start to question it yourself.

5. The secret to success is not “finding your passion”; it’s doing what's needed.

“I don’t like to do just the things I like to do. I like to do things that cause the company to succeed. I don’t spend a lot of time doing my favorite activities.”

-Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Computers

Connect what you’re doing today with where you want to be tomorrow. That should be all the incentive you need.

6. Own your mistakes. When Franklin D. Roosevelt was in office, he said if he were right 75% of the time, he’d reach the highest measure of his expectation. So, what about you and I?

One of the most revealing things about an individual is how he or she acts when things don’t go as planned. We all know how we’ll act under normal circumstances, but we’re often defined based on how we act under extraordinary ones. And you’ll have a lot of extraordinary ones early on. Instead of justifying your mistakes, seek to embrace the lessons that can be learned from them.

7. Be a lifelong learner. When we're little, we soak up everything without caring why it's important. Somewhere along the way, we begin to evaluate information based on this question: Why do I need to know this? If this can't be quickly and sufficiently answered, we tune out. Our brain has no maximum capacity, so choose to be a learner of everything and anything.

8. Protect your reputation. Our reputation is our most valuable currency, and once it’s lost, we can never get back. It must therefore be heavily guarded, especially in an era when everything is public and nothing is forgotten.

9. Don’t compete. It only leads to unhappiness and strawmen.

“You want to graduate so you can get a job, so you can get a car and a house, so you can get a wife or husband…Then what? A bigger car? A bigger house? A bigger wife or husband…?!”

-Unknown

We are better off than most who have ever lived. If you must compete, compete with one individual: yourself from yesterday.