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Why you’re not ‘just a pharmacist’

“I chose pharmacy because I’m enthusiastic about business”

Pharmacy is far broader than the community, industry and hospital sectors, says Chau Nguyen

I’ve had career discussions not just once or twice, but so many times with my peers that I have lost track of all the conversations. They start with the same question: “So, what’s your major?” I answer: “Oh, I’m studying pharmacy.”

After that their reaction changes into surprise – like they’ve heard some exciting news. 

“Oh, you must be so smart,” they respond. I hope so, but there’s more in pharmacy than trying to be smart. In this article I explore my pharmacy career path, my personal journey and my love for pharmacy.

I think our parents play a vital role in shaping who we are. In my case, they ignited my interest in pharmacy. My mother is a pharmacist, and I guess, like many other pharmacists, she wanted her kids to follow in her footsteps.

When I started being curious about “pharmacy”, I did some research. I attended workshops on advances in healthcare, personalised medicines and technology.

I became fascinated by finding out what we can achieve in healthcare. I consider myself lucky that I found something I’m interested in from a very young age that also resonates with my family. I chose pharmacy over pharmacology, medicine or any other healthcare-related path because I’m also enthusiastic about business. For me, pharmacy is the perfect combination of healthcare and business, both in the community and industrial sectors.

During my as a pharmacy student at University College London, I’ve heard about the opportunities open to a pharmacy student at events. All university degrees have a variety of career options to choose from within a scope of expertise, and so does pharmacy. If a career in medicine, healthcare, biology and helping others matches your personality, pharmacy will be a good fit for you.

I remembered one conference I went to was called “I’m not JUST a pharmacist” by the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association (BPSA). Before that, my idea of a pharmacist was quite straightforward and divided into three sectors: community, hospital and industry.

The talks introduced by the conference illustrated much more than the normal pathway of a pharmacist. Being a pharmacist means using your expertise in medicines and healthcare in a variety of settings. These include GP surgeries, community pharmacies, hospitals, industry, prisons, the military, clinical commissioning groups, academia and even working at C+D.

Each of these career paths require pharmacy knowledge with different skills. For me, pharmacy is how I can utilise my knowledge and skills in the field I love to make a positive impact on my patients.

It is funny how people say we should have one passion – one true calling that we should follow. So many of my friends have struggled to find hunger for one career path. I am one of the lucky ones, as I developed an interest based on my mother’s career and found out how to make sense of and develop my skills.

Pharmacy is one of my many interests alongside writing and being able to make a change. What is in it for me, a third-year pharmacy student, is a way to make sense of others.

Chau Nguyen is a student at University College London


R A, Community pharmacist

“I chose pharmacy because I’m enthusiastic about business”

After graduating from my degreee 10 years ago I can say with some certainty that most community pharmacies stopped being a sutainable business a long time ago. At least in UK. Therefore this young lady might find herself extremly disappointed of the harsh reality. 

If you really want to learn about business then do an MBA not MPharm. MPharm is an absolute waste of your time and money. Regretably I also found that it stops you from applying for loans to do a post graduate degree although an MPharm degree is not a full Master it is classified as that during your application for loan. 

Pharmacists USP was extemporaenous dispensing which has disapperead long ago. Dispensing will be automated and a lot of pharmacists will find themselves unemployed. 

Good luck to her!

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

Agreed - been saying it for a while now, pharmacy is going to hell in a handcart.

Alasdair Morrison, Product Development

Slightly off-topic, but this reminds me of a Saturday locum about 15 years ago. A woman comes in to the pharmacy, looking around. I asked if I could help her, and she said "no, it's OK. I was just looking to see if you were a chemist as well as a pharmacy, but you're not."

I tried to explain that there was no difference, but she wasn't having it. "In chemist's shops they've got the bottles of coloured liquid on display and they mix things up, but you're just a pharmacy."

R A, Community pharmacist

Ironically she has identified the achilles heel of the sector by that simple statement "In chemist's shops they've got the bottles of coloured liquid on display and they mix things up, but you're just a pharmacy". We lost our USP and are trying to compete with GP's whose days are outnumbered too with the rise of technology.

Looking at the massive leap in health tech from 2006 to 2020, who knows what will happen by 2030? Potentially we may be able to download powerful diagnostic apps that carries out significant portion of GP duties, where will this leave the Practice Pharmacists? Already the locum GP had a taste of the bitter pill when they were out of work due to COVID-19. Due to the missmanagement of the economy by the government we may have a very diminished healthcare system where the GP used to 80K salary accepting 40K and limited number of jobs available. / 

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

You just can't compete with that level of unintelligence I'm afraid. I bet the lady concerned was one of those well-to-do, never done a day's work types as well.

Benie Locum, Locum pharmacist

Futile debate. 

A Long Serving Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

I definitely feel that being 'just a pharmacist' is a perfectly valid description of me. I've been predominantly in community pharmacy all my long career and that for me, and many others, being just the best community pharmacist I can be is validation in itself. I never aspired to be a great business leader or clinical innovator. I always felt that being available and helpful to the general public was my job description. In every career path there are those with ambition but there are more who just want to provide a good service at an approachable level. 

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

Somewhat jealous of your enthusiasm, Chau. Mine has long gone (three months to leaving the register and counting!) but I hope yours remains. Another thing I am guilty of saying in the past is that I'm 'just a locum'. A locum is just as important a cog in the machine as any other pharmacist so why we put ourselves down so readily is a mystery. I have been manager, locum, superintendent then back to locum. All perfectly valid pharmacy choices (except the superintendent - I must have been brain dead when I took THAT turkey on).

One thing I do disagree on - it virually amounts to child cruelty in my opinion for a parent to want their child to follow in their footsteps. If my daughter said she wanted to follow my path, I would do ANYTHING I could to persuade her not to.

Leon The Apothecary, Student

In my opinion, saying "I'm not just a pharmacist" is also implying that being a just a pharmacist is inherently bad.

Pharm Druggist, Community pharmacist

Think that is what she is getting at Leon, I believe the emphasis is on the word 'Just' which can be implied that being 'A Pharmacist' in itself is somehow inadequate. 

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