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6 Keys to Starting Your Pharmacy Career on the Right Foot

February 5, 2019

Inside: Congratulations on your first job out of pharmacy school. Here’s how to make the most of it.

It took a lot of work to earn the letters behind your name. You finished pharmacy school, then completed your residency, and now you’ve finally landed a job as a pharmacist. Whether you’re a newly minted PharmD or RPh, launching your career can be as intimidating as it is exciting. Here’s how to set yourself up for lasting professional success as a pharmacist.

1. Never stop learning

You may be done with school, but you’re not done studying. Your state board will require a certain number of continuing education (CE) hours. Staying on top of these requirements will lead to opportunities to learn new facets of the industry that spark your interest. Neglecting them can lead to disciplinary action and put your license in jeopardy.

Some experienced pharmacists recommend NABP’s CPE Monitor program to keep track of your credits. Set a personal goal to do more than the minimum requirement each year and watch your knowledge grow.

Other opportunities to learn will be less formal, but not necessarily less valuable. Develop these habits to become a continuous learner.

When you encounter a medication or disease state you want to know more about, write it down to look up later. Set aside a few minutes each week or each month to go through that notebook and research the terms you flagged.

An experienced pharmacy tech will have a wealth of knowledge about the inner workings of independent retail pharmacy that a new pharmacist just won’t have yet. Pay attention to how they go about their work, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

You’ll undoubtedly encounter situations where you’re not sure what the best course of action is, but you have to know where to look for the answers. Get started with this Pharmacy Times list of free resources, from American Psychiatric Association guidelines to clinical guidelines for women’s health issues.

2. Find a mentor

What’s the best way to handle this tricky situation? How much time should you spend after hours finishing up projects? Which professional organizations are most helpful? Should you consider this specialty or that one?

Even when mentors don’t have perfect solutions for these kinds of questions you’ll face, the wisdom they’ve gleaned from their own experience can you help you make smart choices.

Some pharmacies will have formal mentorship programs that take the guesswork out of selecting someone to guide you in the early stages of your career. More commonly, though, you’ll be left to your own devices. Whether it’s the owner of the independent community pharmacy you’re working at or a trusted contact from pharmacy school or professional organizations, you need a strong relationship with someone who’s invested in your professional success.

Here are some qualities to look for in a potential mentor:


3. Get involved

Professional organizations like the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) and the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) can help you stay up-to-date on the latest developments in the field. They also provide resources, training, and tools. State-level organizations are a great way to meet other professionals in the field and learn from another.

Several organizations—some of them relatively new—exist specifically to help underrepresented populations flourish in pharmacy. If you belong to one of these groups, you may find tailored support from these organizations:


You can also benefit from joining other organizations related to causes you care about, such as the Alzheimer’s Association or Relay for Life, or local young professionals’ groups. These will expose you to more people and ideas that can help you decide where your professional interests lie.

4. Learn the business side

You can dispense medications and care for patients, but do you know how the money works? Working at an independent pharmacy is a perfect opportunity to study how the business operates because you’re likely working closely with the owner.

To feel more comfortable in your new workplace and better understand its business goals, The Honest Apothecary suggests new pharmacists find the answers to these questions:


If you aim to one day manage or own an independent pharmacy, you’ll want to dig even deeper. The industry is rapidly changing and adapting to emerging trends in healthcare. Here are some questions to consider:


You can learn more about the challenges and opportunities facing independent pharmacies by subscribing to the Elements weekly e-newsletter. Other excellent sources of industry news are Pharmacy Times, Pharmacy Today, Hamacher Resource Group’s blog, and Drug Topics.

5. Never say never 

You might have a good idea of where you want your professional life to go. You may even have a 5-year or 10-year plan. It’s great to know what you want and take steps to make that happen, letting your long-term goals inform your choices. But sometimes life has other ideas.

Being open to new paths will help you adapt more easily when things—your career, the industry, the economy—don’t go as planned. From starting a consultancy to switching specialties, many pharmacists take a path they didn’t initially set out on. And they’re happier for it.

6. Remember the why

What were your reasons for entering the pharmacy field? You might have enjoyed and excelled in chemistry. Maybe you’re following in a parent’s footsteps. From good salaries to flexibility to live in nearly any market, there are plenty of reasons to become a pharmacist. The most important is always patients.

Independent pharmacists routinely face long hours, impossible bureaucracy, plenty of phone tag, and the occasional dissatisfied customer. Remembering that you’re here to help patients live healthier, happier lives will stop daily frustrations from getting the best of you.

Making smart moves and forming good habits early in your pharmacy career can set you up for a lifetime of success.

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