Don't forget to remember

Career Manager By Erica M. Tolle, PharmD

I have received numerous pieces of advice during my transition from student pharmacist to New Practitioner. Some opinions include the importance of networking, the need to continually develop communication skills, the value of a handwritten thank-you note, and the necessity to remain active in professional organizations. Of course, all of these are valuable practices in your journey to success, but I would be remiss if I didn’t share the following piece of advice for your journey toward success.

My recommendation is simply to practice empathy in all that you do. To be more specific, I recommend that you don’t forget to remember.

The skill of empathy
Take a minute to remember the reason(s) you have become a pharmacist. I will continue to refer to this reason as your “initial reason.” Initial reasons may include an inspirational neighborhood pharmacist, a family member taking 15 medications without proper management, an aptitude test that named pharmacy as the perfect job, or even the potential for a substantial salary. You inevitably comment on this initial reason during interviews and in other formal settings because this serves as the root of your passion for our profession. I can almost guarantee that someone along your career trajectory will ask to explain your initial reason to assess the intangible skill of empathy.

Yes, your initial reason for pursuing the profession is invaluable, but I maintain that there is an even more important reason. I maintain that you should remember the patients that reinforce your passion for being a pharmacist, the patients that return the favor and make a difference in your lives.

Here are a couple of narratives to reinforce my thoughts.

I recently joined my residency preceptor for dinner while at APhA2017 in San Francisco, CA, during which he shared about the recent death of a patient I will call “A.B.” A.B. suffered from metastatic disease, chronic pain, and frequent respiratory distress. Almost certainly due to his disease, A.B. had become a difficult patient to work with by hastily, and frequently, becoming irate with staff. Days before his death, A.B. apologized for his behavior and simply asked that staff “Do not forget to remember” him. Despite frequently treating staff poorly, A.B. reinforced my preceptor’s motive to treat all patients with empathy.

I recently met with a patient for diabetes management who we will call “C.D.” C.D. is a 67-year-old mother and grandmother who has a strong, independent nature. At the beginning of our appointment, I briefly asked C.D. how she had been since our last appointment. She began to weep and explained to me that she was diagnosed with terminal cancer 5 days previously. She continued to explain that she had not shared the news with anyone, but felt comfortable sharing with me. Needless to say, I did not discuss diabetes during that appointment and instead listened to C.D.’s fears and concerns. Before leaving, C.D. thanked me for simply listening.

Both of these encounters highlight the impact that you can make. So don’t forget to remember. Don’t forget to remember those patients who make a difference in your day. Don’t forget to remember those patients who trust your in knowledge and professional opinion. Don’t forget the feeling of taking time out of your busy schedule to provide that personal touch. Don’t forget to show empathy to those who have placed their trust in you.

Continue the practice
You can easily become caught up in the stress related to practice, often forgetting to remember why you initially pursued this beloved profession. You must continue to practice with empathy despite time constraints, pressure from upper management, and frustration with difficult patients. There are countless pieces of advice that I would offer student pharmacists and New Practitioners, but empathy is what enthused most of you to pursue pharmacy and empathy is what will help you endure those frustrating situations.

To best practice empathy, simply don’t forget to remember.