I surprisingly get this question a lot. I get emails of people that want to go into the field and asking my opinion or "why I left" and then I'm teaching a pharmacy technician certification course, and they ask me how I knew that pharmacy was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Let's dive into this shall we? Should you be a pharmacist or not and what is the process? That's quite the loaded question.
For most, I think you have to ask yourself are you okay with long hours on your feet? Like sometimes 10-12 hours without sitting down. Are you okay with never taking a bathroom break or a lunch break because have you ever walked into a pharmacy and been told the pharmacist is on lunch? If so, you were probably raging mad you had to wait even one second longer right? Are you going to be okay with people yelling/fussing at you for things that aren't your fault? Can you multitask to the nth degree? Do you enjoy being REALLY busy for hours at a time? Are you okay with getting very little vacation time and having to have that time approved a year in advance? Are you okay with working every other weekend and varying shifts?
Because here's the truth...these are not questions that most people ask themselves before they go into pharmacy school but THIS is the reality that 90% of pharmacists will live in for 30+ years. I know that we can all find flaws in our careers, so I promise that's not what I'm here to do but to genuinely have you THINK it through instead of the romanticized pharmacy that I feel is the misconception going in. If thisis not you, then there are other routes in pharmacy and you need to be proactive from the beginning about going after them because they aren't as easy to obtain.
I also want to say that it was totally my plan to be a retail pharmacist. The path that the Lord had for me was outside of anything I could have ever imagined, but isn't it always? ;) I will say that I was terrified of it, but also excited for it. But my story isn't necessarily what I'm here for today.
Getting into pharmacy school was tough and pharmacy school was even tougher, but that's a small part of your life compared to what you will do in your career, so I think that's the most important thing to consider. There are four routes that people typically go on if they become a pharmacist, and those are
- Retail pharmacy (Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, Walmart, Target, etc)
- Independent pharmacy (local drug store-which is actually what I work)
- Hospital pharmacy (dispensing and what is referred to as "the basement pharmacy")
- Specialized hospital pharmacy (second year residency, working with a clinical team)
Want to know the craziest part of those choices? You probably saw specialized pharmacy and thought "Oh that sounds cool" and it is. It's amazing, and the people that do those jobs have worked their BUTTS off, but for some reason, those will make the least. Sometimes going from retail pharmacy to hospital pharmacy, people will take a 15-30k annual pay cut, and I know people who have done it just to be able to get out of the world of retail. Retail is HARDDDDD and for the strong at heart, and so from what I can gather, you are paid better because you are their work horse. Pay does matter. We all have massive (MASSIVE) loans to pay back.
Quick side note about loans as paying back loans is as much a part of pharmacy as anything. I'm going to be real with the numbers here so that anyone considering can have the full picture. Depending on what state you are in, you may have the option to go to public, but the only public pharmacy school in North Carolina is UNC Chapel Hill which is the #2 pharmacy school in the nation. If you can get in, that's wonderful but I knew that wasn't an option for me. The other two are private schools, and while I love Campbell, there is a price tag of $35K/year. That's 4 years at $35,000 which totals $140,000. This isn't something you can't look up online but I know money is weird to talk about. If you go to a public school then most likely it'll be about half of that so $70,000. You CAN get in after 2 years of undergrad, but that's rare and typically would be if you went to the college you are trying to get into. My husband did, but that's another $30K/year, so $60K plus that $140K=$200K. For me, it took 3 years, but I went to a public undergrad, so therefore it was a little less (I don't remember the figures). I do know that I came out of school owing $220,000 and so did my husband. We owed $400,000 together with a whopping interest rate of 7%!!!!! That means that each year, it will grow about $30,000 combined (they aren't combined). I won't go into any more detail, but I feel this is SO important and it's not talked about enough when making the consideration to go into pharmacy school. Maybe you have parents that can afford your schooling, and that's great but I would say more likely than not, that's not the case (plus I would never want my mom to pay that-that's insane lol). If you are going into hospital, there is a loan forgiveness program which is where they take a percentage of your income and formulate a payment based off of that, and after 10 years it's forgiven. That's what Tanner is doing and it will save us around $100K. Some will pay their loans for the rest of their lives, and it's payments around $1500/month at the minimum.
If you want to go into hospital pharmacy, it is harder to get into but it can pay off and be worth it in the end but just wanting you to know that you should know from the get go that this is what you want to do so that you can pursue it. Not everyone in pharmacy gets a residency and so the spots are limited, therefore you need to kick butt in school and be involved with all the things to get you to those spots. It's tough, but it's possible. Typically people just do a first year general residency but it's getting more common to do a second year residency of specialty as well. It depends on where you live, but it can be VERY hard (sometimes impossible) to get into a hospital pharmacy job without a residency, so you will end up working retail (whether commercial or independent). There ARE some that love retail, and I'm so thankful for those pharmacists. They work SO hard, and here is a blog I wrote about that.
Now, let's talk about getting into school. You have to have all of the prereqs and if you have that, then you do not have to graduate with an undergrad degree to get in. My husband and I both do not have undergrad degrees but we have doctorates. It's interesting. But, it's becoming more and more difficult so of course if you do have an undergrad degree, you have a better chance of getting in. Once you are in, you have 4 years of school with 3 of them being didactic and the last one is a year of rotations where you get to visit different pharmacy sites and decide which you think would be right for you. I really enjoyed that year for the most part.
I will take this time to say that there are a lot of different ways that you can become a pharmacist. It's NOT just the ways that I listed above, but it just needs to be something that you are actively pursuing or you will end up on that route because it's just the natural progression of things. There is long term care pharmacy (nursing homes) which is more chart work behind the scenes not actually working with the patients, or consultant pharmacy which sometimes provides work from home opportunities (score if you have those jobs lol), nuclear pharmacy, industry (big pharma companies-super hard to get in but really high paying great jobs from what I understand), being a professor, and I'm sure SO many other things. For example, my husband works 7-4 Monday through Friday, no weekends, no holidays in an outpatient clinic for chemo patients at our local hospital that is 1 mile from our house. He has worked INCREDIBLY hard to get where he is, and he's very smart, but he has one of those 1% of jobs that everyone would love. He also knows it and talks about it all the time how thankful he is for his job.
I also don't want to sound like this entire blog was negative, but rather realistic and practical because I feel that you NEED to know what you're up against before you start down the path. With all of that being said, since I'm dogging pharmacy today (ha), I'm literally SO thankful that I did it. SO SO THANKFUL! As tough of a career that it is, it's a stable and good career. If you read all the things above and still think this is the career for you but some of the things scare you then that's the perfect opportunity to pursue some of those paths that aren't as common.
I hope this helps those that have asked! ha!