The Pharmacist’s Day Off

Today, I am writing about days off. The reason I haven’t blogged in so long is because I’ve recently spent the majority of them preparing for the best source of happiness of them all:

          Baby D, two weeks old

Baby D, two weeks old

Maternity leave may look like time off to some, but it’s really like learning a brand new job (and the boss is very demanding!) Still, it’s nice to be able to catch up on a few things when I’m not changing diapers. Today, I want to share a trick that helped me improve my work-life balance: I call it “The Pharmacist’s Day Off.”

Call me crazy, but the Monday through Friday workweek just isn’t for me. To me, the hardest part of work is waking up early and getting there, so longer shifts and weekdays off make me a happier and more productive person. Plus, I never miss a dentist appointment. Exciting, right?

When I first started working, the simultaneous stress and mundaneness of post-college life really got to me, and I’d spend my days off surfing—the Internet and the couch, that is. I needed a full day to recover from two 12-hour back-to-back shifts. But as I got better at taking the pressures of work in stride, my days off became filled with opportunities to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. Lunch outside on a quiet weekday. A stroll around the park on a sunny day. A walk through the local conservatory. These times helped me recharge even better than a long vacation, because they were so much more accessible (and let’s face it, we usually need vacations after our vacations, right?)

                              Gelato al fresco

Gelato al fresco

I even started a photo album on my phone so that during a hectic workday, I could take a moment and remind myself that there is life outside of work. The album itself also challenges me to add to my collection of memories, so that I don’t waste my time off—unless I really want to. 🙂

Bench, Squaw Valley Park

Bench, Squaw Valley Park

Orchid Room, Phipps Conservatory

Orchid Room, Phipps Conservatory

How are you working on your own work-life balance?

“Life is made up of small pleasures. Happiness is made up of those tiny successes. The big ones come too infrequently. And if you don’t collect all these tiny successes, the big ones don’t really mean anything.” – Norman Lear

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To the Patient Who Hugged Me Today

It’s a Thursday evening, and I am in hour 11 of a 14-hour shift.  Lunch was six hours and 200 prescriptions ago.  So far, I’ve been blamed for high copays, long wait times, and doctors who haven’t faxed back– you know, a typical day in the pharmacy.  I  am also 10 weeks pregnant (that is, too early to be showing and garnering sympathy, and utterly exhausted).

You’re here to pick up a prescription for vitamin B-12 injections.  I overhear you telling the cashier that you have a question for the pharmacist; I stifle an exasperated sigh.

You approach the consultation window, smiling– a rare site for today.  I can tell from your dress that you’re a busy professional, like me.  You explain that getting time off to see a doctor is next to impossible, and you work crazy hours, so would it be possible to come to the pharmacy every week for your injection?  Or better yet, could I show you how to inject yourself?

I know that our pharmacy could charge you a $20 administration fee each week to administer your shot, but I honestly feel bad about that, and I admire your chutzpah.  I’m also a little bit selfish and I know that helping you will allow me to sit down, at least for a minute.  A few more calls and prescriptions will pile up, but we head to the waiting area anyway.

I show you how to carefully draw up the medication from the vial, and how to keep yourself safe from an accidental needle stick.  I tell you how to aim “straight and quickly like you’re throwing a dart” for your thigh muscle, and you barely flinch.  You are so excited by your new skill and all the time you’ll save by avoiding multiple trips to the doctor or pharmacy.

“Sweet!” you exclaim.  “This is awesome.  Thank you so much for helping me.  Can I hug you??”  I am taken aback by your gratitude and break into a surprised smile.  These few moments were all it took to turn my day around.  A hug sounds even better than the marked down Halloween candy in aisle 3 right now.

To the patient who hugged me today: keep being infectiously enthusiastic, and keep being grateful.  The world needs more people like you.

Not Happy? Keep Looking / A Personal Work History and What I’ve Learned

 

As I mentioned in my first post, I wasn’t always a Happy Pharmacist. Like many other professionals, it took a lot of trial and error for me to find a career option that fits my life. Of course, priorities change over the years, and more experience will only help to gain a better perspective. Here’s what I learned at each of my jobs:

Job #1: Chain Retail Pharmacy Management

After graduation, I started my career where many pharmacists do: chain retail pharmacy. I was quickly promoted from staff pharmacist to manager when my well-liked partner had to take a medical leave of absence. I had big shoes to fill, but a great rapport with my staff and a supportive boss helped with the transition. The stresses of working retail will always remain the same, but we laughed our way through the chaos.

When my husband matched into his medical residency, I was transferred to a management position in a store outside the city. I still share horror stories from that store, like the time I separated my technician and cashier during a near fistfight. The staff used to take bets on how long their current pharmacy manager would last (they told me this on my first day). My boss told me I couldn’t reprimand them, because if they left or were fired, no one would want to work the store. My request to step down from management and float to different pharmacies was denied. Those who bet I’d last six months won the office pool.

What I Learned: Who you work for/with will be the #1 determiner of your work happiness.

Job #2: Clinical Pharmacy “Desk Job”

When I inevitably crashed and burned, a job offer from a major insurance company seemed like it would be my salvation. I would spend my days calling patients with diabetes and other chronic diseases, offering compliance tips and suggesting additional therapies. Eight-hour shifts! Four weeks vacation! Thirty-minute lunch break!! I decorated my shiny new cubicle with adorable accessories from the Container Store. I was the go-to person for organizing office baby showers and employee appreciation bagel breakfasts. At first, it was heaven.

But six months later, the cracks began to show. It’s easy to evaluate a pharmacist’s performance in retail pharmacy. How many prescriptions did you fill? What were your sales? In clinical pharmacy, it’s a little trickier. Soon, I felt pressured by management to suggest additional therapies, even when they weren’t clinically appropriate. But the real reason I left was the ridiculous vacation policy. It once took me six months to get a one-week vacation approved. I was even denied a few hours off to have stitches removed after a medical procedure. Our senior management was located over 2000 miles away, so we had no way to advocate for our right to use an earned benefit, other than emails that were ignored or very curtly responded to. I felt like a colonist: no vacation, no representation!

What I Learned: When you work for a company that does not value your time as a professional, you will not be happy.

Job #3: The Big Box Store That Shall Not Be Named

I took a huge pay cut to work my cushy desk job, and it wasn’t even cushy! Frustrated, I decided to return to retail. I never disliked retail as an entity, but instead was pushed out by an unruly staff and the pressures of management. So, I put in an application to float to different pharmacies located within The Big Box Store That Shall Not Be Named.

Halfway through the (ridiculously long) interview process, the higher-ups informed me that they thought I’d be PERFECT to manage one of their locations in a popular Pittsburgh shopping area. “Little ol’ me?!” I thought. “They must have a lot of confidence in me!” Flattered, I tried to convince myself that this time would be different. Of course, I had no idea what I was in for.

The culture at this company was extremely passive aggressive. They expected you to conform, and those were not super bubbly, social and equally passive aggressive were considered a “problem.” I was shunned by my (non-pharmacist) supervisor when I did not attend hour-long “executive” meetings… ON A MONDAY AFTERNOON. Most Mondays, I’m lucky if I can even eat lunch! I was told that I was “too closed off” since I spent most of my time filling prescriptions, and not interacting with other employees (I only had one technician who did not work the entire ten-hour shift). Pretty soon, my staff could smell blood in the water and would oh-so-passive-aggressively tell my supervisor that the stress was affecting my attitude. Still, as this was my third job since graduation, I hung on for dear life… until the day I was accused of lying over something completely trivial (I hadn’t) and told I could not be trusted.

What I Learned: Company culture is extremely important/know when it’s time to leave.

That afternoon, I sat on my couch in tears, wondering how I would pay my bills. I gave myself exactly three hours to wallow, after which I contacted every pharmacist I knew to see who was hiring (and of course, had some wine). Luckily for me, quite a few of my colleagues/now current coworkers were also exiles from The Big Box Store That Shall Not Be Named. And wouldn’t you know it? One week later, I was hired to work as a floating pharmacist for the same company where I started my career. Ironically, I ended up doing exactly what I wanted to do in the first place: retail pharmacy, but without the stresses of management or the potential for staff drama.

Sometimes, I wonder what would have happened if I could have floated from the start, or after I requested it after my breakdown at Job #1. However, I’m incredibly grateful for all my work experiences, mostly because of awesome coworkers I still keep in touch with, and because I learned the most important lesson of them all:

Listen to the little voice inside of you that’s telling you what to do. That voice is usually right.

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Welcome! / Why Am I The Happy Pharmacist?

 

Welcome to my blog!

First, a little about me.  I’m a retail pharmacist working for a major corporation in the greater Pittsburgh area.  I’ll never say who I work for, and the views I express here are entirely my own.  I’ve dabbled in hospital and even clinical pharmacy, but have been in retail for over half of my career.

I’ve thought about starting a pharmacy blog for quite some time now.  Why?  Because over the years, I’ve learned some lessons they definitely don’t teach you in pharmacy school.  If something I’ve learned can help even one young (or old!) pharmacist, I’ll consider this small venture a great success.  I also plan to write about current issues facing the profession, how I balance life as a professional woman, and how I’ve managed to find happiness in an otherwise demanding and stressful career.

So why am I The Happy Pharmacist?  My blog title is definitely not meant to be the antithesis of popular blogs like The Angry Pharmacist or DrugMonkey, who gave us this absolute piece of genius.  No, in fact I love these websites and regularly get a good laugh when I read them.  But my years as a pharmacist, and a very patient spouse, have taught me that venting doesn’t actually make me feel any better; instead, it sends me down a bitterness spiral that usually ends in me Googling ways to pay off my massive student loan debt so I can become a salvage diver in Mexico.

So yes, I’ve been an angry pharmacist, a burned-out pharmacist, a crying-in-the-bathroom-at-work pharmacist.  It was only after I started listening to my own needs, and working on happiness (nearly) every day, that I became a Happy Pharmacist.  Thanks for reading!

I-have-chosen-to-be-happy-because-it-is-good-for-my-health-Voltaire-picture-quote