In this article advice for new pharmacists is provided by a pharmacist with 15 years of experience and answers are sourced from commentary on Twitter as well.
Composed By: Timothy P. Gauthier, Pharm.D., BCPS, BCIDP
Article Posted 1 May 2023
Recently while attending the American Pharmacist Association’s annual meeting in Phoenix, AZ I walked by a grown man at a breakfast bar wearing a head-to-toe onesie patterned with Dunkin’ Doughnuts (DD) logos. Impressed with his confidence to wear such an amazing outfit, I posted on social media about it. Turns out his name is Shane Jerominski and he goes by the Accidental Pharmacist @AccPharmacist on Twitter. Relevant to this introduction, having worked at a Boston hospital for several years, for me DD and the pharmacy life just go hand-in-hand like chimichurri sauce and flank steak.
Fast forward a month or so and Shane posted on Twitter asking about advice for new pharmacists. It is a great question and it inspired this post.
Here are some pieces of advice for new pharmacists. The first section I composed having not read the responses on Twitter. The second section is from the good folks on Twitter with advice for new pharmacists.
Advice 1: Use your skills to improve patient care
Pharmacists who apply their skills make patient’s lives better. It is essential that junior pharmacists recognize the value they can add and take steps to ensure their skills are applied. This does not have to be ground-breaking work in order to substantially improve patient care.
Ask yourself, if I do not make this improvement to this drug regimen, will someone else do it and will the patient have a worse time without the improvement? Chances are nobody else is going to step in and your engagement will absolutely improve the patient’s life. Examples may include avoiding drug interactions, simplifying drug regimens, reducing the chances for any side effects, reducing costs which enhances patient access, or setting up preventative treatments or screenings. Use your talents. Make the world better because you are here.
Pharmacists bring important skills to the table and it is essential that new pharmacists use theirs to elevate patient care. You are not a robot. You are a pharmacist.
Advice 2: Don’t delay on getting your finance plan in order
Health insurance, taxes, loan payments, and retirement are a few of the high-priority items on this list. As you read this, keep in mind I am not a financial expert, but here are a few things I picked up along the way.
For health insurance talk to people with similar life circumstances to you who have been working for a few years. See if they do not mind sharing which plan they have and what they have learned from it.
For taxes, make sure you know how much you need to pay for your salary and how much is being taken out from your paychecks. If you are set up in such a way that you end up having to pay a large amount in taxes at the end of the year, well that can be a tough time.
For loan payments, consider the interest rate on your loans in comparison to the interest rate on any other expenses you have. The most bang for your buck will be in attacking the highest interest rates you are dealing with first. Many people also pursue public service loan forgiveness, so take that into account as an option too.
For retirement, as a new graduate it is likely paying off loans will be a priority over putting additional money into retirement. At minimum I would ensure you get the full match from your employer. Usually that is from 2% to 4% of your income if your employer has a match program. This is FREE MONEY that your employer will give you so take advantage of it. Also note that you need to be vested to keep the matched funds. Vesting usually takes 3-5 years of service with the company. Staying long enough to get vested incentivizes employees to stay for several years. Once you are vested, you get to keep the money they matched you even if you end your employment with the company.
When it comes to finances, I have found it is easier to put money away into retirement and learn to live with your paycheck rather than try later on down the road to increase your retirement contributions and deal with the reduced cash in your paychecks. One piece of advice I got was to just put 10% of your paycheck into retirement off the bat. If you want to know more about all the finance stuff, check out Your Financial Pharmacist.
Advice 3: Embrace the fact that your career is a marathon that will require strategy to achieve success
Up until graduation there are many obstacles future pharmacists must overcome, most of which require fast and high-level success. The transition from trainee to practicing professional can be abrupt as life is no longer about passing tests. It is a totally different game now.
I highly recommend new pharmacists take the time to do a personal mission statement. Then periodically revisit the activity every few years. Knowing where you want to go is the first step towards figuring out how to get there.
You do not need to be the turtle in The Turtle and The Hair, but you do not always need to be the hair either.
Advice 4: Get to know your fellow pharmacists and be kind to others
There are only a few degrees of separation between each of us in the profession of pharmacy. Networking is a key task for developing new job opportunities and identifying your career options.
We can learn many key lessons from the pharmacists who work side by side with us. Take the time to get to know them and listen to what they have to say, especially when discussing tough cases.
As you do this, take note that most people will remember how you made them feel less so than what you said to them. So be genuinely nice to others as your kindness during the early days of your career can pay dividends in the later years of your career.
Advice 5: Accept that disappointment is part of life and do not take everything too seriously
I know this is not the happiest recommendation, but I feel it is very important. As a student I thought that most people in healthcare would be highly competent professionals practicing evidence based medicine. This is far from reality. As I got further into my career I have encountered less and less competence across many healthcare professions.
Part of the issue is the whole “Do you work to live or do you live to work?” mentality. Ultimately, we have to understand that nobody can know everything and we need to help each other in order to provide the best patient care. This is why I always say “teamwork makes the dream work” and it is also why the first recommendation above is the first item on this list.
Do not get it twisted, working to live does not mean accepting ignorance as a way of life and living to work does not mean stressing out over every little thing that happens in the workplace. No matter your priorities, life is about finding balance.
As new pharmacists experience disappointment, take a moment to step back and consider how big of a deal it is. Your reaction to what you experience will directly impact your personal and mental well being. Mitigating stress is a key part of being a pharmacist and dealing with the many unfortunate circumstances you will encounter is part of stress management.
BONUS: Comments From Twitter
Now let’s move onto some of the commentary from Twitter, which I have not reviewed until now moving into composing this next section on advice for new pharmacists. Let us see if we find some common ground!
You can find all of these comments attached to this tweet. I have tried to organize them by theme…
- Dont be afraid of success or taking chances. You are worthy, you are good enough and if you love what you are doing you will find success!
- Be good to your techs. Treat them with respect.
- Don’t ask your techs to do anything you wouldn’t do, help your techs when it’s busy, and most of all, step in for your techs when patients get abusive
- Be sure your open to learning / doing any position and every job, including tech positions anywhere you work. Learn it ALL Don’t be above doing the grunt work. It will get you further, and get you respect from your coworkers.
- Don’t assume something is wrong because you’ve never heard of it. Do a quick check before confronting a prescriber!
- No practitioner worth anything will be upset if you tell them you need to look something up or if you want to double-check your answer when they ask you a question.
- Everyday you will get a question you don’t know the answer to. It’s ok to say you don’t know and look it up.
- Please be kind to nurses over the phone. We’re all just trying to do right by our patients. (Also, no need to show off and speak 500mph. It just causes more likelihood for error and call-backs.)
- Ask questions!! …The majority of the people around you are going to be worried if you don’t.
- Be Humble Respect your Patients Learn from your Co Workers.Teach them But Learn from them Best of Luck to All
- Some Rph think they have to be perfect. You will make mistakes. Especially if you work in a high vol store or hospital. Own those mistakes, learn from them, move on.
- When you make your first mistake, don’t hide it/run from it: learn from it. You will grow so well professionally and personally this way and you will learn how to have humility when it happens in the future.
- Listen to patients. Their experiences will often surprise you and be more relevant to their care than results of a trial done in a far away place and with a heterogenous population.
- You work for your patient. Don’t back down from doing the right thing because someone else (physician, admin etc) tells you to do something different.
- Be an advocate. People need that. Just help when you can by taking that extra step.
- Some of your most difficult patients may become the ones you cherish.
I told my students, interns and residents for literally decades “Be nice to everyone. You don’t know who’s gonna be your neighbor, colleague, future boss, nurse helping with your colonoscopy, or your mom’s doctor. Also, it’s just the right thing to do.”
- You’ll be faced with an unimaginable burden of decisions. Kindness is always the best decision, everything else will flow from that. People remember how you make them feel, not what you say.
- If you have to call a prescriber to change something, make sure you’re ready to provide a suggestion for alternative therapy before you call. Inevitably, they’ll ask what we need to change it to – don’t be caught off guard & make them wait while frantically searching Lexi-comp.
- Be humble. As a new grad 40 years back I was an arrogant jackass. You will learn humility, I did. Be honest , always, even if it hurts you. You will sleep better. Be unquestionably ethical, and stand your ground. Build your brand and don’t ever flinch.
- Financial tip for student loans: Explore options for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) & loan repayment, and check out NIH’s Loan Repayment Program (LRP) offering up to $60k/yr for 2 yrs if pursuing research/fellowship route.
- Think outside of the box early in your career. Pursue multiple income streams with as little debt as possible. Even if they aren’t pharmacy related
- Put at least the company match into your 401k right away, more if possible… Keep your CV current.
- Don’t go out and buy the Benz and boat right away to show the world how successful you are (going to be). Get your debt paid off as fast as possible and live life within your means. Your future self will thank you for your frugality earlier in adulthood.
- Live within your means, save and invest wisely as much as you can so that you hold all the cards.
- Don’t get stuck driving the Lexus to the job you hate, so you can afford the home you’re never at. If you live well within your needs you’ll have more options.
- Work to LIVE. Have hobbies, see your friends/family. Your employer will NEVER be as loyal to you as you are to them. You don’t owe them anything extra.
- You are not your job. The sooner you realize the more at peace you will be. If you become a robot or a slave to corporate demands you will do yourself more harm than good in the long run no matter what you think the reward is.
- Work hard, but also make sure you understand what is the most important to you at the end of the day.
- Take your breaks, leave on time, and find your work life balance. At the end of it all, your sanity matters, not the metrics.
- Leave work related stuff at work, when you clock out spend 5-10 min on what your day was, learn, and move on. There’s always the next day to serve, Congrats.
- Happiness is a choice. The career, as with many others, comes with stress and challenges but your perspective is everything.
- You get to decide! If your pharmacy practice turns out not to be a good fit, you CAN do something else. There’s so many choices and if the first one isn’t right, change to something else.
New pharmacists enter into a fantastic community and profession. We are lucky to have the chance to serve the public and improve the lives of others while being well compensated for our time and effort.
Know that your fellow pharmacists want you to succeed and you can do great things.
We are all rooting for you!!!
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