What Being a “Lifelong Learner” Really Means for Pharmacists

“A lady working on her laptop at Five Eyed Fox” by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash

So, you graduated, passed the NAPLEX and MPJE, and secured your first pharmacy job. You breathe a sigh of relief and start to celebrate the fact that all of those long days and nights of studying are over. Not so fast!

The real learning has only just begun.

I know many pharmacists that feel that they no longer need to study once they are out of school and in the workforce. That is a terrible outlook to have and one that is sure to set you up for disappointment later in your career. By now, everyone in the field of pharmacy knows that the market is saturated. One of the best ways to differentiate yourself is by demonstrating that you are able to add more value than the average pharmacist.

The way to add value is to constantly gain knowledge and add to your skillset.

When I was finishing up my last year of pharmacy school and preparing for the board exams, many pharmacists told me that the time right before taking NAPLEX is when I would know the most. They assured me that I would lose more and more knowledge over the years and eventually I wouldn’t remember much. I told myself I would not let that happen.

I chose to go into community (retail) pharmacy immediately after graduation, so my perspective will be different than those who pursued residency/fellowship training or other areas of pharmacy practice. However, I believe that no matter what career path you choose, there will always be more to learn. Healthcare is evolving at an unprecedented pace. Not only are there tons of new drugs coming to market, there are also rapidly changing regulations, an increased focus on value-based care, and a host of “quality measures” to keep track of it all.

If you happen to find yourself working for a retail chain, like the majority of pharmacy graduates, you will quickly learn the importance of performance metrics. In fact, someone should petition to add a class covering key performance indicators to the pharmacy school curriculum. I recently started a series on my blog to explain the business of pharmacy and I have a never-ending list of topics to write about.

Currently, a big focus area for retail pharmacy chains is pharmacist-administered immunizations; possibly due to the high profit margins associated with them. Vaccine schedules and guidelines have changed quite a bit since I graduated in 2013 and I am sure they will continue to do so. Having the ability to vaccinate our communities is a huge win for the profession, but with that comes the responsibility to stay current so that we are recommending the appropriate vaccines.

Since becoming licensed I have yet to stop learning new things.

I actually wish I could spend more time studying. Reviewing old topics is just as important to me as keeping up with new information. I look over old notes often so that I don’t lose or forget too much. I don’t want what those pharmacists told me as a 4th year student to come true. Instead my goal is to do the opposite; to know more tomorrow than I do today.

One of my favorites things about being a pharmacist is the fact that we will never run out of things to learn. I can honestly say that I learn something new every day. Making it a point to know as much as possible has definitely paid dividends so far. I have been selected for various positions and had the opportunity to work on many interesting projects simply because I was able to show that I was knowledgeable about certain topics. As a result, I made more money; but more importantly I have enjoyed increased career satisfaction. I constantly feel that I am growing and being challenged. Unfortunately, many of my pharmacist friends do not feel the same.

So, whether you are about to graduate, or you’ve been out of school for years, please make it a point to never stop learning. Don’t just do the minimum of amount of continuing education to renew your license. Don’t cram it all in right before the deadline. Look for topics that interest you, subscribe to newsletters, and keep up with current events in the industry. I promise it will pay off and your future self will definitely thank you.

Bryan Mayfield, PharmD, BCGP | Bryan@BryanThePharmacist.com

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