Inevitably while speaking with those interested in pharmacy as a career or those who have already made the leap of faith and into pharmacy school, the question arises, "If you could do it all over again, would you?" Or, "Do you regret your choice to be a pharmacist?" "Is this a fulfilling job?" The question is the same, really, "Do you like your job?"
I always pause because the answer cannot be summed up in one word though sometimes I do just throw a one-word answer out there. If I had known what I know today, I can say that I may not have done it again. You see, pharmacists have this strange backup to the supporting actor role to the main character (the physician). In the past, a pharmacist filled prescriptions and didn't think much about the interaction as part of a greater team, and if they happened to stumble upon a pseudo-team moment, it was gone just as quickly as it was realized. Yes, I caught mistakes in retail pharmacy to prompt a phone call to the physician and save the day in my early days. But, even then, that was not enough. I am a hands-on person and unfortunately, there are not an abundant of opportunities staring me in the face locally for that type of interaction with the patient. Sometimes, there are moments where I see the potential for pharmacists in the future, especially when federal laws are modified to include us as providers, but I'm reminded that the process of changing Medicare and other federal laws is long.
If I knew the future and that it would include provider status, I would probably choose pharmacy again.
As of today, what can you expect?
1. Expect a non-traditional working shift: When choosing a career in pharmacy, make sure you understand that generally speaking the medical field equals a non-traditional shift. You cannot work 9-5 unless you somehow climb a ladder that has been reluctantly vacated by a retiring pharmacist and land in management or you somehow find a niche where possible. Long-term care offered that for a couple of years or so until the company I worked for went out of business, but there were still rotating weekends. How can you make this better? First, if you happen to work for a company with non-traditional shifts, know that not all companies have rotating shifts where work-life balance is important. I have worked for companies with a rotating schedule where I knew 2-3 months in advance what to plan and have worked for those who release a schedule days to one week with no preparation on what is next. The former definitely makes work-life balance better. If I have learned anything in the past several years of working, a strong rotating schedule can make a work team a lot happier. So, yes, the work shift may not be traditional and you may have to work holidays, but knowing far in advance really makes a big difference. Anything short of that may filter the perfect job with a lot of stress and tension with work and outside work activities.
2. Expect to keep learning. One thing that I have learned (the hard way) is that learning did not stop at graduation. FDA discovers that drugs don't work as once thought (and tested), anyone remember Vioxx and Fen-Phen?, and guidelines change (remember every woman in menopause was on Premarin? I had put my brain in neutral back several years ago and really noticed that feeling of impending ignorance arise when a healthcare professional calls on the phone to ask a question that I could not answer. This applies really to all jobs. Continuing education and keeping abreast of the latest and greatest will empower any pharmacist to do a better job.
3. Expect to move if you need to find a new job immediately. The job market is saturated. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employment of pharmacists is projected to grow 14 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Increased demand for prescription medications will lead to more demand for pharmaceutical services. With the increase in pharmacy schools, many new graduates are finding less options for work. As one article is appropriately named, the Pharmacy School Bubble is About to Burst. Also it is expensive.
4. Expect to consider diversifying and/or find a niche. Many pharmacists today are obtaining board certification status and/or obtaining further education (MBA, MPH). Some go into the informatics side of pharmacy. Finding a niche or obtaining more credentials can help differentiate one pharmacist from another when applying for a job.
As far as the job itself, there is potential of pharmacists in the future. I am optimistic about pharmacists having a stronger role in the healthcare team. If that happens, I will give a solid, "I would do it again!"