It's a Long Road... but Worth It!

Pharmacy students don't want a sugar-coated sales pitch for the profession, but they also don't want doom and gloom. They want honest and practical advice.

I’ve had the chance to talk with several pharmacy students in my career. Some of them are just starting school. Others are entering their clinical rotations. I even get to talk with people just thinking about pharmacy as a career. It’s interesting to speak with them all.

Pharmacy students seem eager. They are excited and nervous about the future. They often lament about the trials and challenges of getting through professional school and finding employment after graduation. There is a lot going through their minds. But in general, they seem motivated and focused on completing the task of finishing school. That drives them to continue.

I’ve noticed that more and more pharmacy students I see now are nervous about their future. They are worried about the job market that will be waiting for them after school. They worry about the direction of the profession and what it means for their individual futures. How will things look for them and the rest of us in five or ten years?

I try to tell them that I don’t have the answers. I don’t know the direction of the profession of pharmacy. I don’t know what will happen to the local drugstores as healthcare evolves. That uncertainty isn’t very comforting for them. But I’m trying to be honest because uncertainty is the rule right now, not the exception.

Believe me, I can understand their concerns. They want to feel like they’ve made a good career choice. They want to know that their chosen field of study will provide them with opportunities to thrive and make a good living after graduation. They want to know things are going to be okay. It wasn’t that long ago when I was in the same position wondering about my own future and hoping that I had made the right choice for myself.

It does seem like the profession of pharmacy is at a critical crossroads right now. And the winds of change that direct us feels more like a violent tornado lately than a nice cool summer’s breeze. And with more changes coming, who knows what pharmacy will be like in the future? It’s more difficult to predict our future now more than ever.

I thought about what I’ve said to some of those pharmacy students who ask for my advice. Those I’ve spoken with don’t want some sugar coated sales pitch for the profession. But they don’t want to hear a doom and gloom end of the world speech from me either. They want honest and practical advice.

Should I do a residency? What about opening my own store after school? How is the job market? Do you recommend retail? What are the things you like and dislike about your job? The questions I get are endless. And they are all legitimate ones. But I’m afraid I don’t have all the answers those students are often looking for when they ask me questions. I can’t tell them what is best for them.

I simply try to explain what I’ve done in my career and why. I don’t bash residencies just because I didn’t have one personally. I simply tell them my thoughts and go over some positives and negatives related to the decisions they contemplate. But in the end, doing a residency or not is their own decision. Each student is an individual. And that makes the answers to all of the questions I hear different every time.

I try to tell pharmacy students to follow their instincts and find the type of work that is rewarding and interesting to them. Just because I chose the career I did, it doesn’t mean it is right for them. They have to learn to objectively evaluate their options and make an informed decision.

Yes, we have some challenging times ahead for our profession. We have some problems that need to be addressed. But things aren’t as bad as they can seem. If I truly had given up on the profession of pharmacy I’d no longer be working in pharmacy at all. I’d be in law school right now or maybe business school. I would bail out to save myself. Heck, I surly wouldn’t write about the profession on a regular basis.

We’ve got a lot of work to do as a profession. There are challenges that need to be addressed right now. There are threats to our existence like never before. But there are also positives. There are those moments of real difference-making in a world where the good can often been hidden. And those times are worth a lot more than anything you can measure.

I challenge pharmacy students to sit down and really think about what their goals in life will be. Find out what you really want out of the profession of pharmacy and do what it takes to reach those goals. If that means a residency and a clinical hospital job, then great. If it means you want to develop MTM services in a retail setting, that’s great. Find people already doing what you are interested in pursuing and ask them for advice. And don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done no matter how big you dream.

And yes, pharmacy school can be a long and difficult road to travel. But in the end it’s well worth the trip. Because despite all of the shortcomings that can make me so frustrated I want to quit pharmacy, I’m still coming back for more. So hang in there if you are in pharmacy school. It will go by fast. And yes, it really is worth it in the end!