APhA-APPM leaders strategize during the recent Academies Leadership Retreat (from left): Cathy Kuhn, Sarah Ray, and Denise Clayton.
By Sarah Ray, PharmD, BCPS, FAPhA
In my current role as Associate Professor and Residency Program Director at the Concordia University Wisconsin School of Pharmacy, we often speak to our students about discerning their vocation (their “calling”) and how faculty, staff, and our community partners can help them in this process. Attending and graduating from pharmacy school is so much more than about becoming a pharmacist at the end. Yes, that’s important, but embracing the concepts of profession and servant leadership are what will lead to long-term success and satisfaction.
It is easy to get wrapped up in the week-by-week onslaught of exams, quizzes, and projects. My advice is to take advantage of the opportunities that allow you to take a breath and think about the profession in broader terms and what that might mean for you. Along the way, I have picked up some additional tips from trusted mentors and my own experiences.
Figuring out my vocation
I must admit, as a student I wasn’t involved in APhA. I belonged to a local pharmacy organization in Omaha, NE, and I worked as an intern for an independent community pharmacy. But mainly, academics filled my life. I saw passing classes and graduating as the only end goal that I should focus on. Lucky for me, I had an employer and several faculty members who encouraged me to think beyond graduating and more about what kind of pharmacist I wanted to be. Educating patients and building relationships with them over the long term in an ambulatory or community pharmacy setting was what inspired me to become a pharmacist in the first place, and I was encouraged to explore postgraduate opportunities that would give me the appropriate skillset to effectively have an impact on patient care.
I also was very lucky to have a residency program preceptor who took the time to slow down the residency for me. We had monthly discussions about my future, he encouraged my involvement in local and national pharmacy organizations, supported my efforts to get additional training, and forced me to think beyond the next rotation to what my calling would be and what I wanted the profession of pharmacy to be. Even with that guidance, it still took a few years for me to figure out what my vocation was, even though the whole time I was practicing as a pharmacist.
What are you passionate about?
It’s important to think about your strengths and what motivates you. What are you passionate about? What type of activities do you most enjoy while you are on your IPPEs or APPEs, or at your job? Working toward a career where you can spend some/most of your working time on your strengths and the topics you are most passionate about will lead to professional satisfaction. It doesn’t always happen immediately after graduation. Many times, it takes additional training and time to grow within an organization or gain the necessary experiences that lead to that optimal position. Oftentimes, it is saying “yes” to opportunities you weren’t expecting.
Pharmacy organizations like APhA filled a very important role for me as I found my vocation. They offer training and certifications, but even more importantly, they offer the chance to network. For me, the networking was a chance to learn about a variety of areas within pharmacy I had never been exposed to, but I found to be a great intersection of my strengths and my passions. The phrase “You don’t know what you don’t know” is so very true. Being humble enough to know there’s a lot more unknowns than knowns and being brave enough to take a chance can often lead to professional satisfaction as you discern your calling. Pharmacy organizations continue to offer so many benefits to me as I build my career and assist my students and residents in their process of discerning their vocation.
Take advantage of opportunities
As a student pharmacist, you may be struggling to discover your calling and determine your vocational aspirations. You have embraced the wider calling of becoming a pharmacist to help others, to serve others, to make a difference. Now take advantage of the opportunities that will allow you to take a deep breath, reflect on your strengths and passions, and determine what steps to take to fully Embrace Your Calling.