Team APhA at the 2018 APhA Institute on Alcoholism and Drug Dependencies.
By Dan Zlott, PharmD, BCOP
After 12 years, I finally had the chance to return to the APhA Institute on Alcoholism and Drug Dependencies, an incredible program that helps student pharmacists learn about the human toll of substance use disorders, and is also a place where student pharmacists and pharmacists can start or continue along the path of recovery.
Thirteen years ago, as a student pharmacist, I arrived at the APhA Institute (then called the Utah School) for the first time, not sure what to expect. It was an amazing experience. I came with many preconceived—and incorrect—notions about people with substance use disorders. Over the course of the week, those notions were completely shattered. I left with a new appreciation of the disease and a lot of new friends. I learned how to truly approach my patients with compassion that week. It is a lesson that has served me very well as I have cared for patients with cancer for the last 10 years of my career. It is a lesson that I am not sure I would have learned had I not said yes to the opportunity to attend the Utah School.
I have been looking for the opportunity to return to the APhA Institute, and finally found my way back in June as a result of a major career change. After 10 years of working at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a researcher and a clinical specialist caring for patients participating in cancer clinical trials, I hung up my white coat and put on a sport coat in January. I had realized a couple of years ago that it was time for a change and had been looking for the right opportunity to present itself. That opportunity came in the form of a new position at APhA as the Vice President of Professional Education Resources. In this role, I am responsible for overseeing APhA’s educational initiatives, from CPE programming, to Annual Meeting content, to our Board Preparation/Recertification products, and beyond. I am very excited about this new role, and the potential impact that APhA can have by providing pharmacists and student pharmacists with the knowledge and tools that they need to care for their patients.
The “in disguise" opportunities
The flight home from the APhA Institute gave me time for reflection on the week, and I started thinking about the path that led me to my new position and back to Utah. Making the change from clinical specialist to association staffer may seem like a drastic change, but in hindsight, the transition has been surprisingly smooth.
Oddly, many of the skills that I developed over the course of my time at NIH have served me well in my new role, and I find myself drawing on them frequently. Many of these skills grew from opportunities or projects that were a little outside of my main role at NIH. I call these opportunities “in disguise.”
For instance, I volunteered to lead an initiative at NIH. Part of the project was to provide education to the nursing and pharmacy staff at NIH. It ended up being a lot of work, and at times, I wondered why I had volunteered to lead the project. In the end, however, I learned about instructional design software and learning management systems from this experience. Another example is when I was asked to serve as the Residency Program Director at NIH. Initially, I was hesitant, but ultimately accepted the role. As a result, I learned about developing an educational curriculum, accreditation standards, teaching learners with different learning styles, and preceptor development. All of these are skills that I find myself using on a daily basis in my new role.
These may seem like random examples, but I suppose that’s the point: you never know when you will draw upon skills that you learned earlier, and hindsight is always 20/20. Had I not been willing to step out and take on some of these projects or responsibilities, I wouldn’t have had the chance to develop the skills that I now find myself relying on.
Go for it!
When you are presented with an opportunity (in disguise or not), grab it. Yes, it may be a lot of work, and while you are in the middle of it, you might question your decision, but the tools and skills that you develop might lead you to places you never expected—and maybe even to places that you have been trying to get back to.