It’s been almost a year since I’ve graduated pharmacy school and I’m currently writing this in the library of my alma-mater which makes me feel especially nostalgic.
Knowing what I know now, these are the 7 things I wish I knew before going to pharmacy school.
1. Work at a retail pharmacy
By far, the most regrettable decision I made in undergrad was to not have worked in a retail pharmacy as a technician before entering pharmacy school. I wished someone had told me that I should.
Retail makes up more than half the jobs in pharmacy. It is estimated that between 60-75% of pharmacist jobs are in retail. So, it’s very highly likely that if you are entering a pharmacy career, you will end up in retail.
As a word of caution, I want to say that I knew a lot of people in pharmacy school who swore not to go into retail and had their minds set on a hospital or industry setting.
They were absolutely involved throughout pharmacy school participating and leading organizations, but the truth is about half of those people did not land a residency and ended up working in retail.
So I would caution anyone going into pharmacy school thinking that their path is pharmacy school → residency → hospital job that it may not work out. And if it doesn’t work, you better be okay with the idea of going into retail.
I will also say that having the pharmacy experience definitely helps in putting the things you learn in pharmacy school in perspective and makes the learning easier. I was not able to relate a lot of things I learned in pharmacy school to real life until I started rotations, but I think if I had the early exposure, learning would have been easier.
2. Market saturation
When I entered pharmacy school, there was already talk that the market was saturated, but did I heed that advice? Of course not. However, the truth of the situation is that it’s only getting worse.
I was lucky to be able to land a job during my last year of pharmacy school back in my hometown. However, most of my friends who did not have any retail experience were not so lucky.
Out of 6 close friends of mine that did not have retail experience, only one girl was able to get a position in her desired location after getting her license and it is only a contract job that underpays. Four had to relocate-one of whom relocated all the way from East Coast to West Coast.
One foreign student ended up moving back to her home country outside of U.S. after not being able to land a job to get a work visa. One girl still has not found a job 9 months in after graduation in her desired area and in the states surrounding her. So needless to say, yes, the market is very saturated.
Now the question I get asked the most is if I could go back in time knowing what I know now, would I do it again? That’s a very hard question because the times have definitely changed.
What people often forget is that a lot can change in the 3 or 4 years you spend in pharmacy school. You may be going to pharmacy school during an okay market and come out in a super-saturated market as I did. I will say though that if I were only starting pharmacy school this year, I would not go into it.
3. Pharmacy school is boring
Now, you are reading this will probably thinking, duh! After all, a pharmacy career has a reputation for being boring and the truth is, it was one of the reasons I went into pharmacy. It just felt safe.
However, there is a limit, and trust me, even coming from someone who self-describes herself as boring, if you have NO interest in pharmacy at all, do NOT go into it.
I went to a bigger pharmacy school than average and saw many people either drop out or flunk out because they couldn’t bring themselves to study when the material is so dry and boring.
So if you’re one of those people that are going into pharmacy school because of societal pressure (especially parental pressure) to get the doctorate, don’t do it!
It is NOT worth your time and effort and money to go to pharmacy school only to realize that it’s not the path for you. This also brings me to my next point.
4. Only go to pharmacy school if you are a good student
The world is a cutthroat place. And that’s life. Like I said before I saw many people drop out or fail out of pharmacy school especially in my first year. I would divide those people into two groups.
The first is the group I mentioned in #3, the people that did not have interest in pharmacy and dropped out after either realizing pharmacy is not the right call for them or failed out from lack of study due to no interest.
The second group of people is a group that you’ve likely encountered- that group of people that studies but just could not make the grade. And you can’t exactly point out why that is.
They may be the most knowledgeable person when you talk to them in person. Maybe they’re just not good test takers or they focus on the wrong things when studying, but the results are the same. When it comes to exam time, they just cannot make the grade.
It is heartbreaking to see, but the society we live in is such that knowledge is graded based on written exams and if you know– and usually you WILL know by the time you want to apply to pharmacy– that you’re not a good exam taker or you were never quite a good student then pharmacy school may not be the right option.
As a disclaimer, I am in no way saying if you’re not a straight-A student, don’t go into pharmacy school. I certainly wasn’t. But I will say that the path will be harder.
I remember being envious of the people in pharmacy school who would skip class, go out the night before the exam and still ace the class or feel especially sorry for that person who studied all week long but just couldn’t make the grade.
What I can say with absolution is that it is in no way a true reflection of a person’s intelligence and especially nothing to do with a person’s self-worth but I know some who’ve broken down because they just couldn’t make the grade even with all the efforts.
So I decided to write this, not as a discouragement, but as a word of caution and perhaps to stray some from the heartbreak.
5. Explore other options
Ever since my 10th-grade biology class, I fell in love with biology. Since then, in preparation for college applications, I took internships and volunteering experience only in hospitals.
I went through college without thinking that I could do anything else that wasn’t science related so I majored in biochemistry and took lab jobs as experience.
I did break away and double majored in psychology which I was very much interested in but did not think I had much of a career option in. My view of career options was absolutely narrow. I thought my only option in psychology was to become a psychiatrist which I was not confident in.
In hindsight, I realized how immature my thoughts were and wish I branched out more. So why didn’t I? Well, that’s point #6.