Jason Poquette is the director for outpatient pharmacy services at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Mass., and an APPE preceptor for the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. Contact him at Jason.firstname.lastname@example.org.
What one pharmacist says he wishes he’d prioritized sooner.
For some of us, pharmacy school was a long time ago. The painfully long nights studying, the grueling exams, the incomprehensible kinetic lectures have mostly faded into misty memories. That is probably a good thing. My school did a great job preparing me to become a pharmacist, and I’m grateful now for what felt like torture at the time.
However, after being a pharmacist for many years, there are definitely some things I know now that I didn’t know back then. To be fair, it wasn’t really the job of my university to prepare me for everything in life. As Julius Caesar put it, “Experience is the teacher of all things.” I needed to work, make mistakes, face fear and frustration, try new things and struggle a bit to learn these important lessons.
For the most part, that is how you are going to learn them too. But maybe I can share a few things I’ve come to see as a pharmacist that I didn’t know, or fully appreciate, when I graduated from school. And maybe you will learn these things sooner than I did.
First, I have learned that your character is more important than your GPA. I’m not saying that grades and academics are unimportant. They are. Study hard and do your best on every assignment. But when you graduate into the “real world” you will be judged a lot more frequently on the type of person you are.
Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher, said “character is destiny.” So I would challenge my fellow pharmacists to think seriously about the type of person you want to be. What do you want said about you when you reach the end of your career? Be that person today. This is how you develop character, leadership and success. No one carves their GPA on their tombstone.
Second, I have learned that you are going to make mistakes. Much of your training in pharmacy school and on rotations is about how to prevent mistakes, and rightly so. No one wakes up wanting to make an error that day. But sometimes we spend so much time talking about error prevention that we forget to think about managing our failures.
I’m not just talking about dispensing errors. I mean all of our blunders, which include careless comments, poor business choices, unintentional rudeness, sloppy work, and things we just forgot to do. I wish I had taken better notes and determined to learn from my mistakes earlier in my career. Someone once said, “your best teacher is your last mistake.” Think about that for a while.
Third, I would say one of the things I wish I knew in school was the importance of focusing more on what I’m good at than what I’m not. School in general, and exams and rotations in particular, are very good at exposing our weaknesses. We notice what we got wrong. As a result, we naturally tend to focus our attention on the things we struggle with and believe it is our job to improve in those areas. To some extent that is true.
However, the problem with that is that most of us will only ever move our “weaknesses” from “below average” to “mediocre” at best. But our strengths are another story. Focus on what you’re good at. Push yourself in that thing that you already do better than most. For me it was pharmacy management, leadership, team building, and business. I loved those things and was naturally pretty good at them. But for a long time I felt guilty about not loving the clinical side of our profession. I got over it. And now I love my pharmacy career.
I don’t regret that it took me a while to learn some of these important career lessons. But I would regret not sharing them with others, with hopes and prayers that you learn them sooner than I did.