10 pieces of unsolicited advice for new pharmacy graduates

July 24, 2014

For newly fledged pharmacists, a few solid tips on how to honor your patients, your profession, and yourselves.

Kelly HowardFirst and foremost, congratulations to the Class of 2014, all 14,000 of you. It's an honor to welcome you into the ranks of one of the most highly regarded professions in America.

Second, a disclaimer. I have been licensed for a decade and have practiced in a handful of states, in a variety of practice settings. On that basis, I am sharing what I have learned, but there is much that others have to offer beyond my own experience. So I’m going to open the floor to my more seasoned brethren and invite them to respond below with any advice they would like to pass along to our newest colleagues.

In the meantime, here’s for starters:

1. Respect your license. Do not knowingly participate in activities that put it at risk. Forgetting to complete required annual CE, inappropriate use of social media, or an indiscretion at a Phish concert can quickly annihilate everything you worked so hard for.

2. Remember that you answer to a higher authority. Your employer is a secondary responsibility. Never forget that your primary responsibility is to your patients and the Board of Pharmacy that licenses you to care for them. Do not, under any circumstances, violate your professional code of ethics or willingly break the law because your employer tells you to. Even if to do so is made a condition of your employment. There are few certainties in life, but I can guarantee you that at some point in your career, you will be faced with this dilemma. Make the right choice.

3. Insure it. Get professional liability insurance, even if your employer puts you on its group policy or you’re covered through a professional membership. You need your own policy that covers you at every site where you work and anywhere you may volunteer, as well as to protect you if an acquaintance decides to get litigious over some medical advice you gave her at a party.

4. Be kind to your technicians. Always, every day. Keep your superstars happy and do your best to coach up your low performers.

5. Use your lifelines. There is no shame in calling/texting/smoke signaling another pharmacist if you get stumped at work. There is however, a lot of shame in allowing your pride to interfere with your ability to provide quality patient care.

6. Attitude is everything. You will not always be able to choose the work you’re doing, but you will always be able to choose the attitude you bring to it.

7. Be fiscally responsible. I get it, you’ve been eating canned beans and taking public transportation for the past six years and you suddenly have a paycheck sporting a lot of zeros. You’ve achieved something amazing, and you should reward yourself. Just don’t reward yourself with a yacht. Do not put yourself in a situation that requires you to stay in a job you hate because you have a car/boat/house payment due. Find a financial planner you trust and take the advice you receive seriously.

8. Respect your elders. I don’t care what fancy degrees you hold or how many letters you have behind your name, a 30-year pharmacist has forgotten more than you will ever know.

9. Your first job won’t be your last job. In the meantime, take the job that’s available and give it 110%. Be the first to show up and the last one to leave, and spend your days off searching for your dream job. Know, though, that you cannot put a price on job satisfaction. Often, the jobs that are most fulfilling also happen to pay the least.

10. In case of emergency, break glass. Have an SOS plan in place for surviving your worst days at work, because you will have days where you want to walk out the door, move to Bolivia, and raise alpacas for a living. You need to ensure that you have an escape hatch for managing stress before you experience any stress. My own personal fire-escape plan involves dark chocolate M&M’s and a visit to the NICU or the outpatient oncology center to remind me why I became a pharmacist in the first place.

And finally, the golden rule – less a piece of advice and more the mantra of quality pharmacists everywhere – Put Patients First.

Best wishes on a long and fulfilling career!

Kelly Howard is a blogger and freelance pharmacist in Southeastern North Carolina. She would love to read your unsolicited advice or be your phone-a-friend. Contact her atkelly@gottsman.org or www.thefreelancepharmacist.com.