How to Find a Pharmacist Job, Adventures, and Other Opportunities in Your Dream Location
Live the life and career you want with these tips.
I graduated in 2010 from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and the entire time I was there I was anxious for adventure, especially as much scuba diving as possible. During one of my summer breaks I went to Roatan, an island that is part of Bay Islands in Honduras, and spent a total of 4 weeks living there and completing a PADI Divemaster internship.
After I returned, I spent 3 weeks living in Beaufort, NC working as a marine biology teaching assistant for the Duke Talent Identification Program before returning for the fall semester (I of course didn’t talk about working for Duke when I was in Chapel Hill!) When I graduated, I got a job for Walgreens in South Carolina but convinced them to let me start on June 1.
In the 3 weeks between graduation and starting as a pharmacist (intern), I went back to Roatan and completed an assistant instructor internship. I practically wore a dive mask to graduation! Between the 2 trips, I got to dive about 70 times in 7 weeks, led dives and cruise ship tours, learned to work in a dive shop, and met lots of people from all over the world.
I spent one year with Walgreens, not because I didn’t like working for them but because I was ready for more adventure. I landed a job working in long-term care pharmacy in Hilo, Hawaii, on the Big Island, and worked there for 3 years. While I was in Hilo, I precepted and taught for University of Hawaii-Hilo, dove a lot, and played jazz piano with a lot of great musicians. Most importantly, I met my wife there. She is from Japan, and as soon as she told me her parents didn’t speak English, I started learning Japanese, and I am (hopefully) going to be able to pass N2 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test this year. Japanese has been a harder challenge, I think, than becoming a pharmacist! She had problems with her visa for a period of time and while we were apart, I practically became a commuter to Japan, visiting nearly every 3 months. It is a beautiful country with incredible food and I would highly encourage you to visit if you get the chance someday.
After 3 years, I took the opportunity to go back to community pharmacy and took a job in Kihei, Hawaii, on the island of Maui, and worked there for 2 years, dove a LOT more (my dive buddy was living out of his truck on the beach!), and then eventually decided, primarily because of the cost of living and housing issues, to move back to the mainland. It was a hard decision, especially considering I had the opportunity to work in Okinawa, Japan and the chance to apply for a job in the Azores, Portugal. I had an amazing 5 years there, and after a period of ‘normal’ (which I can appreciate more after moving a lot), I am planning on being wanderlust again.
Here are my tips and some lessons I have learned along the way to creating opportunities, using your job skills, and living the life you want, as well as resources to finding those jobs:
1. Follow the career path YOU want, not what your faculty in school want. A residency is generally pushed really hard in pharmacy school, and while it is an excellent path and the right path for many graduates, there are a lot of opportunities available without a residency. Even without a residency, I’ve been able to teach, manage, publish in peer-reviewed journals, and obtain a board certification. You have to choose your own path, and for some that might be residency, but for others you might decide it is not right for you — that is OK.
2. Pursue the opportunity and act. This should be obvious, but often people don’t ACT even when presented with an opportunity. I found the internship in Honduras through a Google search. The job with Duke, I found because my younger brother qualified for TIP and my mom gave me the brochure and said ‘I bet they need teachers.’ In the end, reading a book about moving to Hawaii (or doing anything else) won’t get you there. You have to pack everything on the boat and leave. I showed up in Hilo at 9 pm in a rental car and drove to the house, where the landlord told me the backdoor would be unlocked. If it wasn’t, I might have been sleeping in my car that night! I bought a car the next day and started work 3 days after that. It was a hard adjustment and also the best thing I’ve ever done.
3. Be open to many kinds of pharmacy and be sure you have a license.There’s nothing they’ll take less seriously in Hawaii than a pharmacist applying for a job without a license in that state. Get your license BEFORE you apply — if not, you look like a dreamy vacationer who is not actually going to move. Also, if you want to move to a specific location, you might not also get the exact type of pharmacy you think you want; however, I enjoyed LTC pharmacy and I learned a lot by practicing in that area, even though I had never considered it before. Also, realize that you can pursue licensure in another country – it might just be harder. Australia, New Zealand, England, and Bermuda all recognize US pharmacy education. Because Guam and the Virgin Islands are US territories their licensing process is similar to any state.
4. Make cold emails or calls. I’ve been surprised at how many doors this has opened up. If you are polite, state what you are aiming for clearly, and keep it brief (at least initially), you can open a lot of doors this way. I recently wrote a cold email to a global health group that provides medications to the developing world and offered to volunteer. Now I will be able to help them, get more experience in global health, and get to know more people who work in this field.
5. Now the finale — the websites! Here are some places to find your dream job:
a. Indeed.com: This one most people know, but I have to put it there because it is definitely the best. I found my job in Hilo and Kihei on this website, as well as my current job.
b. Government contractors: PPDG and Maxim Healthcare are 2 examples of companies that are government contractors so regularly need pharmacists on US bases across the mainland as well as in far-flung locations, like the Azores or even Kwajalein atoll. I’m sure there are more companies, but these are 2 that I am aware of.
c. US Naval Hospital, Okinawa: Go to their website and click on "employment," and "contract opportunities." You will regularly see pharmacist jobs there.
d. US Naval Hospital, Yokosuka: Not nearly as pretty as Okinawa I’m sure, but they also openly post positions.
e. USA Jobs: Getting a permanent government job is tough and takes way too long (I have friends that have spent over 6 months from applying to start date) but again, lots of opportunities here.
f. Drug companies, management consulting companies, and other non-traditional paths: There are numerous non-traditional paths that can be interesting work as well as provide you many more opportunities for living in an incredible place. Management consulting companies, such as Deloitte and Boston Consulting, hire healthcare professionals and have offices all over the world. These jobs are typically long hours and a lot of travel but also a lot of opportunity — think advising the board of directors for a major drug company, for example.
g. World Health Organization, CDC, NGO’s: I had to include these with my interest in global health. Many of these organizations will hire pharmacists, especially if you have other skills (language, business or public health, etc.).
Roatan, 2009 - Diving on the Odyssey shipwreck