Opinion: Why Change Is Like a Hemorrhoidectomy

March 19, 2019

"Our jobs change, our families change, our kids change, and whether we realize it or not, we change."

My Dad was a top welder at a paper mill. He had an amazing work ethic and was one of the many tough guys from America’s greatest generation. He served his country for four years in World War II. In May of 1986, he performed his toughest job, giving his only daughter, my sister Mary, away in marriage. One of his nephews asked him, “How do you feel about this day?” My Dad smiled and said, “It is like a hemorrhoidectomy-uncomfortable at first, but after a while, it will feel so good”

Change is an inevitable part of life. Our jobs change, our families change, our kids change, and whether we realize it or not, we change. Thirty-seven years of working with patients and staff has given me a different outlook. The kids are all successful, the house is paid for, and when we get our paychecks deposited into the bank, the money actually stays there! Some changes are very good.

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Our profession has changed; it didn’t happen all at once, but there are definitely some highlights that have driven the changes I’ve experienced since 1981. The computerization of the pharmacy in the ’80s, electronic claims submissions of the ’90s, Medicare D in 2006, and then the Affordable Care Act. Early in my career the drudgery was filling out triplicate claim forms for insurance companies. One of my old pharmacist colleagues said back in 1990, “Young man, when you let those black boxes [modems] in your pharmacy, you can kiss your profession good-bye.” Could you possibly imagine running a pharmacy without internet access? Insurance companies bring their own challenges, and our profession had to adapt back in the 1990s. We do a whole lot more with a whole lot less.

The biggest change I’ve seen in my career is the almost exponential growth in salaries. In 1981, I started at $12.35 an hour, which was $2 an hour more than my dad. Today, my dad would be making $25 an hour. Do we know any pharmacists making $27 an hour? The “golden handcuffs” have kept many of us in less-than-optimal jobs because the paycheck is fabulous.

Be Open to Opportunity

After 25 years in the same local chain, my wife, Denise, was offered an opportunity to open and manage a retail pharmacy in a health system. There was great comfort in what she had been doing for 25 years; she knew her patients and staff well, but didn’t want to pass on this opportunity. To the amazement of everyone (including her husband) she signed on with the health system and did an excellent job. Four years ago, Denise was asked if she knew a pharmacist who might be interested in a clinical opportunity: a paid position with Center Volunteers in Medicine (CVIM), which takes care of the underserved.

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Denise took that job and now works 18 hours a week with CVIM and one day a week at the health system. She does intense patient counseling at CVIM, where she got life-sustaining drugs for a patient from oversees, started a patient who only spoke Russian on Lantus, and has helped several Hispanic people with minimal English-speaking abilities. She coordinates hospital discharge med lists with drugs she can get free for patients. She makes a huge impact on every patient who walks into that clinic, along with the physicians who volunteer there. She has one of the most rewarding careers of any pharmacist I know. She has taken in stride the changes in this profession much to her benefit. 

Today, everyone worries about market saturation of pharmacists and the availability of jobs. Talking to health system pharmacist managers, I’ve learned there are plenty of pharmacist positions they have trouble filling. 

Remember: Your license hangs on the wall by a nail. Go find a nail that will make you and your license happy. It will be “uncomfortable at first, but after a while, it will feel so good.”

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