Pharmacy students should take the pressure off themselves and think about their next steps, not the rest of their careers.
One of the most common things I hear from students, and that I remember as a student struggling with and having peers struggle with, is deciding what area of pharmacy to pursue after graduation. I have often heard things like 'I’m so torn—I love critical care and oncology' or 'I really love cardiology but I also like ambulatory care.' They spend a long time trying to figure out which path to take, convinced that choosing a path will mean that they will spend the next 30 years working in only that field.
Ahhh…. If only they knew. Those of us that have been out a while know much better than that. There certainly are cases of people that have chosen and been able to stay in 1 area of pharmacy, but I would argue that is the exception more than the norm. For example, I’ve worked in a variety of settings even within community pharmacy, and in my current role managing an outpatient pharmacy I have very different roles and responsibilities than I had working in either chain or grocery pharmacy. I’ve also managed a long term care pharmacy, guest lectured at pharmacy schools (in addition to precepting), and more recently gotten into medical writing. I work with a pharmacist that seems to have worked nearly every pharmacy in town (not because she switches jobs a lot, but because she has always enjoyed having a PRN job on the side).
The point is that no matter how sure you think you are of your career, it will most likely change. Many pharmacists get into other career paths after establishing some experience in a traditional area of pharmacy, even if they did a specialty residency. For example, you might start out as a cardiology pharmacist in a large health system and then a great opportunity comes up in industry and you take a job as a Medical Science Liaison, and then from there end up in a completely different role in that drug company. I remember representatives of a larger retailer coming to talk to us when I was in school, and they said they had a pharmacist that started out staffing and then after moving up a couple notches getting into purchasing for company. Guess what he was doing? Purchasing video games for the entire company! That’s right, he was being paid to choose which video games went on the shelves at all of the national chain's stores.
With so much uncertainty, what should you do if you are in school or are thinking of making a change? First of all, don’t worry about what you’ll be doing the rest of your career, worry about what you’ll be doing next. Second, get exposed to as many types of pharmacy as you can, even pharmacy settings you never thought you would be interested in. That way, if a job opportunity comes up in that setting, you at least have a better idea of what to expect. There might be times when the type of pharmacy is not your first choice, but the job is your first choice for a variety of reasons—hours, pay, location, coworkers or managers, ability to develop skills and be promoted, etc. Be open to it. Third, even if you are currently in a job you are happy with, don’t get so comfortable that you let your skills in other areas lapse. You will be much more competitive for other positions later if you have kept up your skills, and have taken advantage of the opportunities in your current role.
Nobody is forcing you in a certain area of pharmacy, or to be in pharmacy at all. Just like that pharmacist that started purchasing video games for a larger retail chain, you too are free to forge your own path in life. Enjoy the journey—pharmacy is a great profession with lots of opportunity, so take advantage of it!