Make your case to learn more at work

Career Manager By Richard Bradley Rzendzian, PharmD, MBA

It is safe to say that as a pharmacist, you have at least some interest in learning. After all, no right-minded person would put themselves through that much schooling if they didn’t. After school, learning comes in all shapes and sizes, but for brevity’s sake, I will focus on only two.

First and foremost, as a pharmacist, it is your duty to stay on top of all the latest and greatest medications, counseling pearls, and guidelines by continually finding the time to learn and sharpen your medication and clinical knowledge.

The second area of learning falls under personal and career development. Simply put, you want to grow. Sharpening your skills and exposing yourself to new ideas not only makes you happier and work harder, but it also allows you to be a better employee, co-worker, manager, and overall professional.

This may sound like a great prescription for success, but undoubtedly the hardest part comes with the execution. Finding time can be tough, especially when you are juggling a full-time job, family responsibilities, and a social life. However, who is to say you can’t have your cake and eat it too?

A simple solution is to ask your supervisor for some time off to learn new things. At first glance, this can seem like a daunting notion, but when broken down and planned out, it will become much less intimidating.

Step 1. Identify what you want to learn and how you will learn it.
Keep it simple. First, identify what you want to learn, making sure that it falls into one of two buckets: clinical/medication knowledge or personal/career development. Next, find out how you are going to learn this information or new skill.

In Action: A former classmate of mine, “Jackie,” wanted to transition into a manger role within the specialty pharmacy division of her company. To do so, she knew she had to strengthen her working knowledge of oral oncolytics as well as develop management skills (the “What”). Jackie identified a major oncology conference occurring in her state and discovered a number of online management programs endorsed by her company (the “How”).

Step 2. Uncover why you want to learn and then reframe.
Whether you want to learn a skill so you can one day run a company or take a class simply to scratch your curiosity itch, learning and career development will always be positive for you. However, keep in mind that even the nicest businesses and/or managers must be concerned with the bottom line and how your time away will affect business. Reframe your pitch so that learning a new skill will not only benefit yourself, but also the business/bottom line.

In Action: Jackie asked her manager for time off and payment to attend the oncology conference. She identified how it would benefit her—CE credit and a better understanding of oncology—and also laid out a plan in which she would take notes and share any and all relevant information with the pharmacists throughout the territory via a short summary e-mail.

Step 3. Prepare a contingency plan.
So by now you have identified the “what” and the “how,” and reframed the pitch to your boss. The next step is to anticipate any possible questions or concerns your manager may have. Make a list of negotiable items including timing, budget, among others. Don’t be afraid to negotiate and always have a response for why your plan is valuable to you and the company.

In Action: Jackie was able to get paid leave to attend a portion of the conference; however, as part of her negotiation, she was also required to attend the conference on the days she was not scheduled to work. Moreover, when negotiating for the online management classes, Jackie was able to get the company to pay, but only after negotiating that she would take them on her own time.

A rising tide …
At the end of the day, there is a plethora of research that showcases how employee development increases productivity, retainment, and engagement within a business. Even by themselves, each of these are a good enough reason for a manger to endorse your development goals. Always remember that a rising tide raises all ships. Your increase in knowledge and skills will positively affect yourself and the business you work for. So go out and talk to your boss so you too can make your case to learn more!

For more reading on this subject, check out the book Pause by Rachael O’Meara. Also strengthen your pitch using statistics from Forbes and the Harvard Business Review, both of which hold ample articles on the benefits of companies investing in employee development.