I often get asked advice by people who are considering pharmacy as a career. What should I tell them? How could they really learn if pharmacy is right for them? To me the answer involves trying out the profession first.
One of the things that always seems to surprise me is when I speak with a pharmacy student who has never worked in a pharmacy. What motivated them to choose pharmacy school after having zero exposure to the profession before entering school? How did they know this is what they wanted to do for a living?
Many people consider pharmacy a good and stable career choice. The healthcare sector has built in demand. People will always get sick and have chronic health problems that need managing. There is an opportunity to make a good living and help people. These are all points that draw people towards the profession in the first place.
But having said that the only real way to evaluate a career choice is to expose yourself to that career. Prospective pharmacy students would do themselves a great disservice by not exposing themselves to the profession before committing to pharmacy school. You have to know what you are getting into. You have to try it out.
Personally, I think becoming a pharmacy technician for a period of time before entering pharmacy school is almost a requirement. You learn valuable lessons working as a pharmacy technician. You see the challenges and rewards of the profession firsthand. And you also get to see pharmacists at work.
I had the good fortune of working for some really good pharmacists while I was a technician and a pharmacy student. They showed me some really good work habits that have stuck with me today. I still double check children’s dosages for suspensions because of a story a pharmacist I worked for told me years ago. The message behind the story stuck with me- be careful!
Learning from others is a great way to better prepare yourself for a career. You also will really get an idea if pharmacy is the career for you by first working as a technician. And the whole learn by doing idea means you will have filled prescriptions and helped patients before ever starting pharmacy school. It makes a huge difference for your future knowing how to handle patients and work with others in a pharmacy.
When you apply to pharmacy schools, you want to have a good idea of what you are committing to before spending years of your life and a lot of hard earned money to study pharmacy. It’s too expensive and time consuming to casually decide to become a pharmacist. And most importantly, you don’t want to graduate and join a profession you don’t know already. Unfamiliarity could lead to a dissatisfied career.
You can usually tell when a pharmacy student on a rotation has previous pharmacy experience versus those that are brand new to being in an actual pharmacy. Experienced students are less overwhelmed and usually more confident to “jump right in” so to speak. They also tend to be more comfortable working directly with patients.
I also think that every pharmacist needs the perspective of being a pharmacy technician so they can relate to the technicians they work beside everyday. I remember how it felt and how difficult the job can be. Those memories help me to relate to the technicians I work with now as a pharmacist. I know their struggles and frustrations because at one point in my life I lived them.
So if any prospective pharmacy student asks me for advice, I will try to answer their inquiry truthfully and with as much insight as I have to offer. But there is one thing you can count on that will be part of what I tell them to do. I will advise them to become a pharmacy technician or at least shadow a few days in a pharmacy.
Trying a profession first is so important. It saves you from surprises later. Surprises are nice on your birthday or some holiday that involves gift giving. But when picking a profession and a career, you don’t want to commit and then find out surprises later. Try it first. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
The Redheaded Pharmacist