I recently participated in a pharmacy career night at the University of Alberta where I shared some career advice with the pharmacy students. To prepare for this event, I responded to the questions below that were put forward to me by the planners of the event.
What is the day-in-the life of your work? Please paint a picture with words of what you do every day.
My mission everyday is to make sure that medications are used effectively, safely, and appropriately.
I do this by providing care as a clinical pharmacist in an adult intensive care unit (ICU), making suggestions to physicians and nurses about the proper choice, dosing, and overall use of medications. I spend time speaking with patients and their family members to make sure we have the correct list of their home medications prior to their hospitalization. Since I practice at a large teaching hospital, I routinely supervise pharmacy students and residents during their practical training.
The other part of my role as a pharmacist clinical practice leader, is to coach and support about 25 individual pharmacists, to ensure they meet our organizational expectations for high-quality pharmacist patient care. I meet one-on-one with each pharmacist to discuss their current learning interests and practice challenges. Together we come up with a learning plan that is directed at continuous professional improvement. By working with individual pharmacists, I can have a broader impact on patient care.
A small portion of my time is spent collaborating on quality improvement projects, and policy working groups.
Please describe your personal career path which led to your current position.
I have always been a very curious person. As a pharmacy student I wanted to get many different experiences and I was fortunate to land a summer pharmacy student job at the Canadian Pharmacists Association in Ottawa, Ontario.
That summer student position provided me with a completely new outlook on the profession. I was working on a daily basis with pharmacists who tackled policy, and practice issues and interacted with government representatives. In addition, I learned about the opportunities for pharmacists in drug companies, hospital pharmacies, and community pharmacies. I was blessed with some amazing mentors and colleagues who helped me gain a better understanding of my own career options.
I then decided to become a clinical pharmacist so I worked as much as possible in a community pharmacy. I said “yes” to a last minute opportunity working for Shoppers Drug Mart, the summer leading into my last year of pharmacy school.
During my final year of pharmacy school I was accepted into a one-year hospital pharmacy practice residency in Edmonton, Alberta. During that year, I was challenged to learn and push myself to my limits. Again, I was fortunate to have numerous dedicated, intelligent, and passionate pharmacist mentors. After completing my residency, I accepted a casual pharmacist position at a large hospital. I took a small risk by saying “yes” to my preferred hospital, even if I was not guaranteed full-time hours.
Because of my residency experience, I started immediately working as a clinical pharmacist in a float capacity. Within six-months I was in a regular rotation working as the clinical pharmacist on a general medicine unit. Over the span of about 18 months I progressed into a temporary position and then a full-time permanent position.
One day I was asked to meet my pharmacy director in her office. My brain immediately started jumping to negative thoughts. However, it turns out the pharmacy director had an upcoming pharmacist vacancy in the ICU and she wanted me to fill the position. Once again, I reflected on the opportunity, and a few days later said “yes” to working in the ICU. In 2014, a colleague of mine who I had known since university encouraged me to apply for the position of clinical practice leader. I was offered the position and started in my current role in January 2015.
What is the best way to go about finding employment in your field of work? (e.g. networking, volunteering, on-line job postings) What method(s) does your organization use most often to fill vacant positions?
I work for Alberta Health Services (AHS), which is the main health organization in Alberta. Covenant Health is a distinct, but closely related, Catholic health organization that also receives public funding for the delivery of health care in Alberta. It is important that I make this distinction since sometimes people think of them as the same employer. Thus my comments are specific to my experience with AHS.
The best way to find employment is to create a personal account on the AHS careers page. You can sign-up for daily job postings that contain the word “pharmacist”. Also, spend time reading and understanding AHS as an organization.
The next step is to get out and talk to pharmacists and pharmacy managers who work at the hospital you are interested in working at. Every hospital is different: some treat children, some manage transplants, and some specialize in certain patient populations (e.g., mental health).
After applying online for a position with AHS, if successful, you’ll be contacted for an interview.
How important is it for applicants to research the position and organization before applying or before an interview? Can you suggest how a student might do this research besides looking online and the company’s website?
It is essential for every job that you do as much research as possible about the organization, the position, and the department or practice site.
Get to know pharmacists who work at the hospital or program you are interested in. Find out who the manager is-ask other students on rotation or your professors-and find out their current need for pharmacists. Expect to start out in a casual position at first with some variability in hours. At most large sites, there are typically maternity leaves where you can then move into a temporary or permanent position.
I highly recommend that you attend clinical pharmacist conferences. Join the Canadian Society of Hospital Pharmacists to network and participate in CSHP events. If you aren’t sure about working with AHS, take a manager out for coffee, or spend a few days shadowing a clinical pharmacist.
Figure out how you can meet the specific needs of that manager and the pharmacy program.
What advice do you have for students interested in finding employment in your field of work in terms of courses they might take, volunteering, summer and/or part-time work, extra-curricular activities, associations they might join, etc.
Everyone has a different path in terms of activities and employment. The key is to try to identify activities that you enjoy and that will help you grow as an individual and as a professional. Many skills from volunteering or extra-curricular activities are transferable to your professional role as a pharmacist.
What advice do you have for students regarding resumes and cover letters?
Tailor your cover letter and resume to each position. Keep it concise and to the point.
Get an expert consultant to review your resume and cover letter. Some resources to consider include the UofA career center or your current employer’s employee and family assistance program (if available).
Have a trusted friend or family member edit your resume and cover letter. And then, go back again and edit! Make sure your cover letter and resume is impeccable and error-free.
Lastly, remember that your resume and cover letter only serve to get you the interview. The hard work really starts as you prepare for the interview.
What advice do you have for students regarding interviews?
Dress your best, and always wear a suit jacket. If you aren’t sure where to start with your wardrobe or require individualized advice, consider reaching out to an image consultant such as Joanne Blake at Style For Success.
Know that the people on the other side of the table are rooting for you. They aren’t there to criticize or belittle you.
Most members of the interview panel will know nothing about you and may not have even read your resume. When delivering your answers, make no assumptions, and provide detailed, concise examples.
Make sure you engage in conversation. Ask questions about the site, and the program. Find out if the position is a good fit for you.
Talk about yourself, but focus on how you can meet the needs of the organization and the specific hiring manager.
Some interviews have a clinical case question or presentation. It’s important to solidify your assessment process and to be able to articulate this succinctly. Talk about what you know and identify what you don’t know. For any knowledge deficiencies explain how you would bridge this gap as a practicing pharmacist.
Wanting to make a career change into hospital pharmacy? Are you a student looking for advice or coaching on your first job? Contact me today to discuss my career consulting services for pharmacy students and pharmacists.