What’s the Difference Between a Pharmacy Job and a Career?

When you and I first started our journey as pharmacists, we were taught by academics about our prospects in the pharmacy industry. We were told that we would have clinical patient care jobs and that we would need to know things about medications to prevent poor outcomes.

We were given opportunities to present our knowledge to patients and help them one-on-one. I think most every pharmacist can remember the first time that they made their first difference in someone’s life—maybe you answered your first question about a medication or one of your relatives reached out to you about the 17 medications they were taking.

Whenever I talk to students about joining the pharmacy profession, I hear similar answers when I ask them why they chose this profession. It’s usually something to the effect of, “I went into a pharmacy and loved what I saw,” or something like, “I really want to make a difference in patients’ lives.”

I totally get that.

But what happens when these idealistic students get out into the workforce is dramatically different. In fact, an article from 2013 stated that a majority of pharmacists in the community setting want to quit their jobs.

New practitioners either get a residency or go straight into the workforce. Whatever path they choose, they usually come into their new job with all sorts of new ideas, passion and excitement about getting their career started.

Then, they experience what I like to call “career fatigue.” Because they are surrounded by patients, coworkers and bosses who tamp down their excitement and passion, they begin to become “adjusted” to how things “really are” in the workforce.

When they are surrounded by all that negativity, it’s understandable that new pharmacists would lose their excitement very quickly and experience burnout within just a few years of starting their practice.

Do you have a J-O-B?

When we started as students, we chose pharmacy as a career—not a job. Here are some of the qualities of a pharmacy job:

· You can’t wait until you shift ends—every single day.

· You can’t stand talking with co-workers and bosses anymore.

· You get frustrated easily when talking with upset patients.

· You’re so ready to quit, but you have no idea how you would transition into another pharmacy job that would provide you with the freedom you seek.

· You say to your friends outside of pharmacy that their job sounds super interesting and warn them against ever becoming a pharmacist.

· When you speak with interns who come to your store, you are pessimistic. You talk about how saturated the market is and how difficult it will be for them to payback their loans.

· You don’t do any extracurricular activities that are related to pharmacy because thinking about pharmacy more than you have to is painful.

· You haven’t updated your CV in more than five years, and it isn’t because you haven’t applied to a job—you just haven’t accomplished anything significant.

· You apply to more jobs that you can count and receive no response.

A job is something that causes stress, provides little fulfillment and isn’t indispensable to a company. The problem with so many pharmacy “jobs” is that you are dispensable. One great thing about our industry is that we have such a high starting salary; on the downside, the majority of pharmacists are replaceable.

It is a lot easier replace one pharmacist at a Walgreens in downtown Seattle than it is to replace someone like an architect.

Yes, both jobs have learning curves. And yes, both jobs require a period of adjustment. But overall, a pharmacist who has worked at any retail chain can figure out the system at any other retail chain with ease.

Because pharmacists often aren’t specialized in their own niche and don’t provide themselves with a career that makes them unique to a company, it’s relatively easy for companies to overlook us when we are applying to new jobs.

Having a job that is sucking the life out of you is difficult. It makes it hard to manage everything else in life, simply because you’re miserable. You spend the majority of your time thinking about what you’re going to do outside of your day job, and you spend your time away from your day job dreading your return to your day job. What an awful way to live!

To relieve the stress of how much your job sucks out of you, you begin to focus on things that bring you a little sense of relief and pleasure. I get lost in video games when I’m not fulfilled by my work. Other people turn to hobbies or more dangerous pursuits, like illicit drugs and alcohol.

If you hate your job, the idea of trying to improve yourself and your career situation by volunteering for an association—or even volunteering to stay late or take on an extra project at your work—probably sounds absurd. That seems like a path to more misery.

Your ability to tolerate your job is so low, that to even think about doing extra is painful. However, the pathway to a career involves a little bit of grunt work and sacrifice for a bigger payout.

What a career looks like

A career is work that gets you excited. When you are commuting to your day job, you think about all the fun things you get to do that day.

A career makes you feel satisfied. At the end of the day, you go home happy knowing that you accomplished something valuable.

A career has room for advancement, allowing you to see a clear path to where you want to go. It may not be managerial advancement that you want, but rather advancement in the kind of projects you are working on and influence you have in your workplace.

When you have a career, headhunters and companies are actively try to get you to work for them.

A career in pharmacy is possible. I’ve already hinted at how to get started in building your career, but it takes work. It’s not going to happen overnight.

It took me three years of hustling on the side to be approached by companies to consult for them.

In addition to building my own career, I’ve helped many other pharmacists find their paths to fulfillment by helping them to create the careers they want.

I know from experience that it is possible to do something you love while still pursuing a career in pharmacy, even if it is a non-traditional career. If you want to ditch your J-O-B and create a career that has you feeling excited to go to work every day, check out our non-traditional career summit. It’s free to register. Sign up now and take your first steps toward learning about an array of career options for pharmacists and making the transition to a career you love.

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Alex is the Founder of The Happy PharmD. He loves anime, his family, and video games, but not in that order.

What’s the Difference Between a Pharmacy Job and a Career?