Professional Development: Continuous Growth as a Pharmacist and a Person

Pharmacy Careers, Pharmacy Careers Spring 2020, Volume 14, Issue 1

One of the more important facets of maintaining and advancing your career trajectory is professional development.

One of the more important facets of maintaining and advancing your career trajectory is professional development. Once considered solely about acquiring continuing education, professional development is now widely understood to be a much broader concept.

Here are 10 recommendations to maximize opportunities that sustain your professional growth:

Hone the “soft” skills. A recent study of nationwide job postings for pharmacist positions found that employers were looking for pharmacists with verbal and written communication skills.1 Another study that collected survey responses from more than 2000 pharmacists confirmed communication skills as qualities valued among colleagues.2 The survey also found that the most desirable traits and behaviors a pharmacist can possess include politeness to patients, courtesy to colleagues, the ability to work independently with focus, active participation, and ingenuity in identifying solutions to problems. Although some of these skills might appear innate, many of them can be learned, practiced, and improved upon throughout your career.

Maintain awareness of scientific literature. Knowledge of drug therapy, including recent innovations, is paramount. Scientific literature also contains studies on management, patient behaviors, and law topics, to name a few. For example, the 2 studies cited in the first recommendation on honing soft skills are found in journals that pharmacists should be reading, at least from time to time. Evidence suggests that knowledge of current peer-reviewed literature is associated with greater leadership ability.3 Further, practitioners who actively engage in discussing literature in journal clubs, or even informal venues, have seen improvements in their clinical practice.4

Keep abreast of news in your field. It is important not only to keep up with peer-reviewed literature but also to regularly read news about the pharmacy industry and other health fields. Issues that can potentially affect your practice and livelihood are being reported on daily. Being active in professional associations certainly helps increase awareness of these issues. Perusing the contents of publications such as Pharmacy Times® and others help to keep you informed. With online platforms and the ubiquity of social media, keeping up with professional news can be easy and fun.5 And evidence suggests that doing so, as part of what has been termed ‘microlearning,’ is beneficial to your professional wisdom and career mobility.6

Reflect, reflect, reflect. Learning from news and the literature and, importantly, from everyday practice (such as your triumphs, mistakes, and situations you could have handled better) happens through reflecting on your experiences or what you read. Without that reflection, deep learning does not take place. One study found that pharmacists improve both their emotional intelligence and their clinical practice after maintaining a reflective diary.7

The benefits of having formal and informal mentors are increasingly recognized. Mentors help you reflect and process what you have experienced. They introduce you to key persons whose knowledge and connections can benefit you later in your career.8 The best mentoring occurs from a “whole life” rather than an individual skills perspective (eg, patient counseling, drug knowledge, or public speaking). Mentoring programs are becoming more prevalent in pharmacy professional associations.9 These programs are a terrific resource, but you do not have to be enrolled in one to find a mentor who can guide you as a colleague and friend.

Know the terms and issues of professional development. When seeking professional development, it helps to know what development and its many components are. Concepts like writing skills, clinical knowledge, and networking are well known as topics of professional development. Less common, perhaps nebulous yet still important, are skills and topics such as critical thinking, problem solving, ethical decision making, emotional intelligence, emotional labor, and strengths-based leadership. Read about these concepts, talk to others in your field, and be on the lookout for continuing education programs on these types of issues.

Network. Nearly every item on this list involves putting yourself out there. Reflecting with others, finding mentors, and identifying individuals who can help you develop your career or change positions all involve rubbing elbows with colleagues. This can happen at formal association meetings or at informal occasions. You do not need to be a social butterfly. There are introverts who are quite adept at networking, and there are many tips for those who do not thrive in large crowds.10

Proffer the big idea. Show others that you are thinking about the big picture and are trying to tackle several pain points at once. This requires doing your homework and carefully considering the idea before offering it to your supervisor, local professional association, or pharmacist peers. This process encourages reflection; it would also be helpful in this situation to have a mentor with whom you can perfect that idea, and it is crucial to be informed by professional and scientific literature. The idea might stick. Even if it doesn’t at first, at least parts of it may be realized in the future as situations change or people have had time to mull it over. Besides, the feedback you receive from proffering the big idea will be a learning experience unto itself.11

Seek constructive feedback. A by-product of offering big ideas, networking, and finding good mentors is the receipt of constructive feedback. But if you are not yet well connected with colleagues and mentors, look for that feedback. Embrace it. Constructive feedback can come from coworkers, but it can also come from close friends, family members, and casual social groups. You should not pelt them with questions on how to develop yourself, but do take the opportunity to follow up with open-ended questions when someone offers a criticism or suggestion. You can learn things from everyone around you that will make you a better person and a better pharmacist. Maintain a “growth mind-set”; that is, do not seek feedback just for the sake of doing so but with the intention to leverage it into something positive.12

Visit the other side. No one can be critical of a desire to stick with an organization (or practice setting) and climb the career ladder. However, through mentorship, reading, and some of the other suggestions listed here, stay attuned to the developments in practice settings other than your own. If you are in community pharmacy, talk with people in health systems pharmacy, and vice versa. In addition to the different experiences you can learn from, you never know what opportunities may arise. Those opportunities might come in a different practice setting, or you might want a change after a while. After all, many of the most successful people in health care and in business find a way to reinvent themselves every few years so they do not burn out and so they can experience new challenges.

You can advance your career in many ways. This article just scratches the surface of one aspect: professional development. Be thirsty for knowledge, experience, and professional adventures to position yourself for a more exciting career and fulfilling life.

SHANE P. DESSELLE, PHD, RPH, FAPHA, is a professor of social and behavioral pharmacy at Touro University California. He is the author of “Chapter 1: The ‘Management’ in Medication Therapy Management” and “Management Functions” in the textbook Pharmacy Management: Essentials for All Practice Settings, 5th edition.

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  • Caproni SN, Osei-Sraha B. The importance of mentoring. Pharmacy Times® website. https://www.pharmacytimes.com/publications/career/2011/ PharmacyCareers_Spring2011/Mentoring. Published March 15, 2011. Accessed January 23, 2020.
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