Over the past few weeks I’ve been excited about the many Facebook updates from my old school’s Class of 2013. Writing the PEBCs (by far the most grueling and scariest exam prep I’ve ever, and probably will ever, do), (much deserved) celebrating the after-PEBCs, convocation and getting ready to move to a new town. I remember how I felt around that time and I’m so happy to see another cohort finally be rewarded for all their hard work.
It also makes me realize that it’s been 2 years since I wrote the PEBCs and moved across the country (we’re talking 4 timezones here!) to start my own career. What an adventure it has been! I’m not sure if it met expectations because I never had expectations, but I certainly learned a lot.
Honestly, moving long distance, by myself (with no parents, no boyfriend, no friends to help with most of the heavy lifting), was cake. Your back hurts from lifting all those heavy boxes and furniture, but the rest, finding a new home, making friends, becoming a member of the community, is easy. Don’t let those afraid-of-change people tell you otherwise!
Starting as a new pharmacist, though, unless you’re very lucky, is tough. Most patients don’t take “I’m a new grad” as an answer. You’ll discover that pill bottles are fantastic projectiles and hurt when they strike your face. You’ll learn many new cuss words. Most coworkers aren’t interested in teaching you the ropes. Many will even take advantage of you and when you come home every evening exhausted, stressed and scared only to have your night plagued by nightmare after nightmare, you think that’s just how a pharmacist’s job is and you’ll get used to it. Doctors will ask you weird questions and you’ll feel as if you set the profession back 20 years when you can’t answer.
Thankfully, you pick up tricks along the way and it gets better.
So, as my 2-year introspection write up, I share the 6 main lessons I learned as a new grad pharmacist.
1- Don’t sign a contract until you’re sure
I don’t regret signing a contract. In fact, unless I work as freelance relief or score a dream job, I’ll probably always do contract work. But I see so many other pharmacists end up with jobs they hate and can’t get out of. Or pharmacists who added to their student debt by breaking contracts they signed in their first year of pharmacy school. I know the money is tempting, but most contracts are about 2 years long after graduation. 2 years is a long time when you’re miserable. So before you sign, ask yourself: “Am I comfortable with this setting (rural vs urban vs suburban)?” “Am I ok with being far from/close to family?” “Am I someone who removes themselves from difficult situations or am I someone who rolls with the punches?”
There’s a reason a company will throw a lot of money at you to go somewhere. If you’re someone who values comfort and doesn’t put up with potentially painful situations, you’ll probably be happier in a less paying but more open-ended setting.
2- Be money smart
After surviving on ramen for years, finally having a decent income is delightful! But be smart about it. The better with money you are, the less hard you have to work later on.
Pay off all your debts first. Then inquire about your company’s pension plan (even if you don’t think you’ll be staying with the company). Once you’re ready, make a list of all your expensive goals, short term and long term. Hand the list over to your financial adviser (your bank will be happy to provide you with one) and work with them to build a proper savings regimen. It’s super easy and the earlier you do it, the more you’ll save.
Learn to do your own taxes too. (I did mine with StudioTax two years in a row and it took like 15 minutes at most.) Your best deductions will be from your RRSPs/Pension Plan so make sure you max them out as much as possible. I got a bit back from charity donations too.
3- Be useful to your community outside of work
This is especially important in small communities. When you only meet people in a work setting, you really don’t see their best side. By volunteering (in a non-work related setting), you get to have no-pressure interactions where you aren’t trying to sell anything or force healthy lifestyles on anyone. You’re also letting others see you as a full person instead of just the white coat who lectures, hands out vials and takes money. And, you know, it’s fun to volunteer.
Even if you’re really busy, you can find organizations that you can volunteer with on a drop-in basis, so you don’t have to make a regular, long term commitment. (I volunteer with our local SPCA – I can pop by whenever I want to walk dogs or play with cats, it gives me my pet fix and I get exercise.)
4- Don’t be a hero
I think my biggest mistake as a new pharmacist was to let myself be taken advantage of. When papers piled up, I worked harder and even came in on my days off to help out. Whenever I panicked under the mountains of pressure, I told myself to toughen up.
What I should have done was put my then-coworker’s supervisor on speed dial and report every incident and every lack of respect that occurred in the store. I should have taken pictures of her messes and sent them to head office. I should have complained over and over and over again.
No one should have to work in an abusive environment. Feeling overwhelmed and burned out is not a normal part of being a new grad. If you need guidance, extra training, human resources interventions, ask. Don’t wait for the company to offer – if you don’t ask, they assume you don’t need. And don’t suck it up. Yes, you can teach yourself eventually, but it isn’t safe, not for you and not for your patients.
And in case you’re wondering, when a new supervisor finally made me realize how bad of a situation I was in and convinced me to stop playing hero by confessing what I going through, stuff started to happen. Good stuff. This isn’t the movies. In the corporate world, it is assertive people who work the chain of command who win, not silent heroes.
5- Make your thought and work processes obvious
Ideally, if you died tomorrow (or less morbidly, won the lottery), a new pharmacist should be able to walk into your store and take up exactly where you left off.
This means documenting everything. This means storing said documentation in a logical location. This means getting rid of anything unnecessary.
Whenever you do or write anything, always ask yourself “If I didn’t know the back-story, would I understand this?“
It makes life easier on your coworkers, on your company and even on your patients. But most importantly, it makes life easier on you as you don’t have to worry about keeping each problem in your short term memory. It saves you from irate (and irritating!) phones calls on your days off. And if there’s a problem later on – say a drug check, or an error, or a homicide investigation (this actually happened to me!) – you can save face by presenting all your data on a moment’s notice.
6- Always work from the premise that others are doing their best
If I were to choose a single piece of advice to give, it would be this one. This is so important, especially in interdisciplinary work.
As a pharmacist, you’ll constantly find yourself a player in a team of nurses, physicians, health care aides, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, dietitians, clergy people, counselors and more! These people will frustrate you, you will frustrate them and they will frustrate each other.
Even on a smaller scale, among a pharmacy staff of pharmacists, technicians, assistants, students and front store staff, interpersonal conflict will creep in at the worst possible times.
The key is to always assume that everyone is doing their best. Never point blame at anyone, always look at mistakes and omissions as the result of circumstance. Focus on changing circumstances, procedures and protocols, not people. Never complain about other members on the team. Avoid comments implying that a team member is lazy or doesn’t care or is incompetent.
Almost every workplace or interdisciplinary conflict I’ve witnessed or experienced in my first 2 years was a result of not understanding the other person’s job or perspective. Almost every rift I smoothed over was patched by assuming everyone involved was giving it their all, by familiarizing myself with everyone’s else task descriptions, by listening, by being transparent about my own role and by finding out where I could make myself useful.
Unless someone is clearly abusive or negligent (see advice #4), taking a respectful and appreciative stance in your communications and problem solving is far more effective and enjoyable than any kind of blaming, complaining or head on confrontation.
Interestingly enough, I even find that when I treat others with the assumption that they are doing their best, they almost always return the favor.
And with that, huge congrats to all the Pharmacy Classes of 2013 out there and best of luck with your careers!