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How much do you identify with your work? Does your role as a pharmacist determine your sense of self? Be careful what you tell yourself. Maybe think again.
Mike LahrThe question of “who we are” in relation to “what we do” has always been at the forefront of the minds of working people. It is no less an issue that confronts all of us who make our living in pharmacy.
We spend the better part of a decade academically preparing for our career. We expend great effort and expense before we ever set foot in a pharmacy. Once we finish school, we spend countless additional hours attending seminars, reading journals, completing CE, obtaining certification, earning advanced degrees, and much more, to keep our knowledge current and our skills sharp. Some of us will spend five decades in practice. With all we have invested, it is very difficult not to take a large part of our identity from pharmacy.
There is no shortage of exhortations throughout both our educational and professional lives to apply ourselves diligently to our craft. I can honestly say that most of us give it our heart, mind, and soul. Though this is admirable, the same questions always linger; how much is enough, how much is too much?
There is a well-known story that is often cited when questions like these arise. A highly condensed version goes like this: At life’s end, no one ever says, “I should have worked more.”
And of course, we all know the injunction to “Keep your work and home life balanced.” On the surface, truisms like these may sound good, yet they offer little practical help in determining the best use of our time.
There is an underlying idea that is more subtle and ultimately more essential to our discussion. It is this: How much should we expect of our identity as pharmacists? How much should we expect from the identity of our profession? How much of our sense of self is wrapped up in that identity?
Sorting out those answers turns out to be very complex and difficult. Hard as it is to believe, your career can be taken from you in an instant. What are you then? Who are you then?
Recently I had a chance to experience this in a way that was all too real.
The director of pharmacy at the organization where I worked called me one day and asked me to meet with him. I went. In his office, I was accused of stealing controlled medications. Then I was accused of consuming alcohol while on duty.
In that moment, I knew everything had changed forever. The world as I knew it had just ended.
No matter what happened next, my career was over. The mere breathing of those words changed my status in the eyes of everyone I had interacted with during my 40 years in pharmacy. Those words went nationwide almost instantly. They could never, ever be called back. Their impact could not be reversed or undone. Even though completely innocent, I was suddenly on the outside of the profession to which I had given my life.
I wish I could tell you I took it in stride. I didn’t. It really threw me. I was hurt, I was confused, I was disillusioned. My days since then have been harder than I have words to describe.
Are you immune?
I do not reveal this to shock you or elicit sympathy. I tell you in the hope that you will give this concept some thought. Discuss it with your colleagues. Talk about it with your friends. I tell you in the hope that you will fare better than I, if something similar should befall you.
Before you dismiss me and tell yourself that this will never be an issue that concerns you, let me tell you one more story.
The argument could be made that even if our profession were somehow taken away, we would still be the same person and have the same value.
I was speaking to my personal physician about this idea a few years ago. Her response was, “Being a physician is what I am, not what I do.” Shortly after that conversation, she suffered a stroke and went from being a prominent internist to being a person who was both physically and mentally incapacitated. Is she still an MD?
I do not know the answer to that question, but its implications give us much to consider.
Mike Lahris a freelance writer in Corvallis, Oregon. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.