I have just begun my 41st year as a pharmacy educator, and I can truthfully admit that I enjoy what I do as much as or more today than at any other time during my professional career.
During remarks I recently made to pharmacy students and residents participating in the Walmart Scholars Program at the 2018 American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) Annual Meeting, I referred to myself as a “seasoned” pharmacy educator, which is perhaps a kinder and gentler way of saying “old”! I have just begun my 41st year as a pharmacy educator, and I can truthfully admit that I enjoy what I do as much as or more today than at any other time during my professional career.
When I was approaching graduation from a bachelor of science degree program in pharmacy, my vision for potential career options was limited, primarily to independent community pharmacy, chain community pharmacy, conventional roles in a hospital pharmacy, or perhaps sales in the pharmaceutical industry. Had it not been for the encouragement of 3 key faculty mentors to enter the new PharmD program at Purdue University and pursue a career as a pharmacy educator, I can honestly say that I do not know what I would be doing today. My mentors provided outstanding guidance that have opened doors for me during my career.
About 5200 students have sat in my classrooms throughout my years in pharmacy education, during which I have had many one-on-one conversations with a subset of these students about postgraduation plans and goals. One thing I can say for sure is that the options for pharmacy graduates have expanded exponentially, with new opportunities presenting themselves on an annual basis, especially in ambulatory care and in a wide variety of areas in the pharmaceutical industry. These opportunities are in part the result of the expansive clinically focused didactic and experiential education students now receive compared with the “state of the art” education I experienced in the 1970s. In addition to expanded career options in pharmacy, graduates are now presented with many job opportunities outside the walls of pharmacies in the greater health care environment. AACP, in conjunction with several of our professional organization partners, will soon be launching a national awareness campaign focusing on the expanded roles that pharmacists hold. This campaign is directed at the general public, with a companion campaign focusing on middle and high school students considering a career in health care.
Although the days of multiple job offers and sign-on bonuses following graduation are long gone, today’s graduates will still have many options if they have the right qualifications and the flexibility to relocate to where opportunities exist. Employers today are often looking for not only a diploma but also a wide range of skills that are acquired outside the classroom. That said, my advice to students today is to get involved in clubs and organizations that will allow them to enhance their communication, leadership, relationship, and networking skills, as well as to take the opportunity to network with alumni and guest speakers who are invited to campus. A simple introduction can often lead to a connection and an opportunity in the future.
While serving as AACP president this past year, I was truly “in my element.” Celebrated educator Sir Kenneth Robinson refers to this as “the place where the things you love to do and the things that you are good at come together.” As students, seek the career option that will allow you to feel as though you are in your element on a daily basis. No career option is without its occasional drawbacks and shortcomings, but when you find the right one, as I have, filled with good people and opportunities for growth, you will get up every morning looking forward to the day ahead.
Based on my own experiences and on those of the students I have had the privilege to teach, I ultimately encourage all pharmacy students to research and explore multiple career options as you progress through your academic program, to network with faculty and practitioners in different fields of pharmacy who may be able to open doors for you following graduation, and to maximize your rotations with a rich variety of challenging experiences that will help you to identify the environment in which you feel as though you are truly in your element.
Steven A. Scott, PharmD, RPh, is an associate professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice at the Purdue University College of Pharmacy and the immediate past president of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy.