“There was a very interesting Catch 22 situation that unfolded in fourth year pharmacy. They taught us a subject called Integrated Dispensing, where we were severely punished for overlooking the pettiest of details. As the funny saying taught to me by my first ever pharmacist manager went: “crooked sticker –crooked pharmacist”.
So here’s a scenario. Let’s pretend it’s Saturday morning and a young lady walks into the chemist, and asks you, the pharmacist, for the morning-after pill. How would you respond? What would you ask? Knowing the full consequences of a poorly made decision, what will be your final decision? And with the most up to date knowledge of the risks and benefits, what sort of drug and lifestyle counselling should you provide?
If you do a great job, then you get E for excellent.
But what if you forget to screen for other medical conditions? What if you overlook another piece of crucial information? What if this leads to patient harm or even death? My friend, now you could be easily facing an automatic U for unsatisfactory. So joke aside, it’s not petty. It’s important to ask the right questions to come to the most informed decision.
Maybe that’s why the marking was so harsh.
What happens when you finish pharmacy school?
When you finish your four years of undergraduate pharmacy school, you are required to work alongside experienced pharmacists for a year before you are eligible for full national registration. Apart from experience, the only other major difference between you and a real pharmacist is that you are not allowed to do the final check of a dispensed prescription medicine.
The above rule is based on the traditional pharmacist supply role of checking that a medicine the doctor ordered is safe before a patient is allowed to take it home. There is a serious side to the dispensing process because it has been shown to keep patients safe and to save lives.
Funnily enough, this significant piece of history gives you the freedom to work under the guidance of registered pharmacists while engaging quite independently (but very collaboratively of course) in every single other clinical activity under the sun! This includes extended drug and therapeutic counselling sessions e.g. family planning.
Negotiating for your future
So you would think that all that disciplining in pharmacy school taught us a thing or two when it came to contract negotiations!
Today the pharmacist’s role continues to evolve from a basic safety check to one that is very much focused on working as part of a combined team effort with doctors and many others, helping to ensure the effective use of treatments in healthcare.
Yet I can still recall how the chairman of a boutique pharmacy chain contemplated on the significance of the internship year, and how it set the tone for the rest of a pharmacist’s career.
Maybe that’s why all the big chains like to fight for the best interns.
Oh, and what else did he say? That you would be lucky just to get a job these days with the current oversupply of pharmacists. One thing I wish some of my friends and I realised at the time is that it is so competitive to get a good job in any field today, not just in pharmacy…
I watched on with horror as some of the brightest and most intelligent people I knew signed up for internship contracts as round-the-clock dispensing robots. They knew the work was going to be mind-numbing and soul-splitting. So why on earth did they agree to it?
Oh yes, please forgive me for forgetting that they wanted the security of a job. They wanted to sign a contract with no negotiation for allegedly the most important year of their career.
Questions prospective pharmacy interns must ask when job-hunting:
• Does this role embrace all aspects of my personality? Know your sweet-spots, both clinical and non-clinical.
• Is this retail pharmacy or hospital department a strong learning organisation?
• Is the manager willing and able to allocate time for me to work on an independent project? Prepare a pitch.
• Will I be taken seriously here as an intern or am I just cheap labour?
• Will this place offer me variety and the flexibility to try new things?
• Will there be meaningful interactions with both patients and other professionals?
It’s important to remember that just because something is compulsory, it doesn’t mean you completely disregard your career goals and personal preferences. While no workplace is perfect, I was lucky enough to land myself in one loaded clinical internship program that did indeed satisfactorily answer the above questions.
Pharmacy after all, just like every other healthcare profession, is a work in progress. It’s a trial and error business when it comes to helping others and reaching out to them. That’s why healthcare professionals care about research and development. And this needs lots of skill and will from everyone, interns included.
To summarise in a nutshell, your internship will set the precedent for the rest of your career. So in order to make an informed decision, please be prepared to ask questions. And be prepared to negotiate. A good job is something definitely worth fighting for!!
Acknowledgements: A special thank you to Sara White and Neil Johnston for generously giving from their time to review this article and provide valuable guidance.”
Rita is a pharmacist who undertook her graduate clinical year in 2013 at Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney. Some were surprised at why someone with an entrepreneurial streak like hers would even consider working in a major teaching hospital. But as soon as she saw their clinical program, there was no turning back!
More articles on My Health Career:
- Tips for getting started in a career in industrial pharmacy
- Overworked and underpaid pharmacy interns – PPA says it’s time to fix the system
- 4 different career paths from recent pharmacy graduates
Image: Mike Mozart – flickr