I always get this question. By friends, family, co-workers, interviewers, strangers. Why did I choose pharmacy? How did you know pharmacy was for you?
The truth is, I never really "chose" pharmacy.
I burned myself out in high school. I studied studied studied so much because of how much my parents stressed the importance of a good education. I mean, I get it, they didn’t come to this country to slave away at low paying jobs just for their daughter to grow up and become an IG hoe. But here I am, lol. I’m the firstborn in my family so I was the child they expected to “do everything right” so that my siblings would follow. Unfortunately for them, being the eldest, I had to pave the way and thus, I was also the most rebellious and troublesome. I was still a good student and kept my grades perfect. I wasn’t allowed to bring home anything lower than a 95. 94 was the equivalent of an “F,” while even a score of 99 still received a “Not good enough, where is the one point? Why did you not get it?”
All joking aside, I simply didn't want to go to med school and my parents wouldn't allow me to go to fashion school even though I got in. To them, medicine was the only choice. I honestly had no interest in the field of medicine. I didn’t want to be a doctor. I didn’t want to throw away another 12 years of my life to school, let alone go to school for the rest of my life, which is what being a doctor-doctor is, pretty much. (I say doctor-doctor because technically, I ended up being a doctor anyway. I have a professional doctorate in Pharmacy so yes, I actually can use Dr. in my name, bitches.)
The problem is, in our society, we expect children to know what they want to do by age 18. You’re expected to pick a career and apply for college at the end of high school. But as I learned growing up, you can be in your late 20s and still have no idea what you want to do. When I was a kid, I thought being an adult meant knowing everything and what to do. Then I became an adult and realized there’s no handbook or anything, and you’re basically just winging it. Adults don’t even know how to adult properly half the time.
I picked pharmacy because in my senior year, we had to do a “budget project” for Economics class, which was required in order to graduate. The project consisted of you “budgeting” out your life and seeing if you would be able to afford living on your own and surviving in the real world. Obviously it’s not 100% realistic because it doesn’t attribute for mishaps and shit in life, but it was a guideline as to what you should expect in your life, expenses-wise. We had to pick a career, research it’s median income, and then budget out daily, monthly, yearly expenses. We had to mock up shopping lists, insurance quotes, rent, utilities, etc. We looked up apartments and houses and figured out what we could afford from our salary. Well, the two careers I found that were realistic with decent salaries at the time were a gynecologist and a pharmacist. And well, let’s just say of those two careers, I didn’t want to be looking at vaginas all day. The pharmacist salary looked pretty good and it fit all my needs of my budget project for me to live comfortably. After the budget project, I looked more into it, and saw the job wasn’t so bad. Of all the medicine fields, it was the least invasive, meaning I didn’t have to actually touch people. LOL, don’t laugh at me, it’s a requirement of doctors to examine and touch people and I’m not exactly keen on the sight of blood so that was another thing hindering me from wanting to be a doctor. So when I saw that pharmacy allowed me to work in the field of medicine without actually having to have direct contact with patients, it piqued my interest. And then I saw that a few of the schools I was looking to apply to actually had pharmacy listed as available majors. I figured, this isn’t so bad, and my parents won’t say no, so why not? It’s something I think I can tolerate. (Little did I know that later on in pharmacy school, some little shits would decide to go to Albany to lobby for immunization rights and lo and behold, my loophole of pharmacy being a career in which I didn’t have to touch people would be forever changed. But don’t worry, this story has a happy ending. Spoilers, I changed from retail to hospital and haven’t had to immunize anyone in years. Although, in retrospect, I was actually really good at this and patients would revisit my pharmacy year after year requesting their annual flu shot from me. Some patients would refuse to get it unless I was working and some got mad when I wasn’t on immunization duty for the day and they had to get their vaccines from my partner instead.)
I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, to be honest. I didn’t know anything about pharmacy, nor did I have any type of passion for it. I just applied and figured like everything else forced upon you in high school, you’d learn it and get good at it.
Unfortunately for me, college was a rude awakening. It wasn’t as ‘easy’ as I thought it would be. I slacked off in the beginning, and learned that you can’t pull all-nighters for everything even though I really tried. You do have to actually know your shit, or at least be friends with kids who had access to old exams. Good news, that’s just college. In the real world, pharmacy is not as hard as pharmacy school makes it out to be. You always have colleagues to collaborate with and double check your work, if you’re ever unsure of something. And you don't have to “know” everything. You’re allowed to say “let me check for you and call you right back.” And the other good thing is, you shouldn’t memorize everything anyway from pharmacy school because guidelines and drug recommendations are always changing. Hence you DO always have to look things up to make sure you have the most up to date information. You just have to memorize it in the moment to pass the exam.
Mostly, what pharmacy really should be about is teaching you how and where to find accurate and best up to date information. It’s all about the source. And being able to cross reference and double check sources and journals and other text. A lot of things you can’t learn from a textbook either. You learn it on the job. Like pharmacy school never teaches you how to bill insurances correctly for retail. Which would’ve been a lot more helpful than the boring details of med chem and how rotating a molecule increases how much more active it is by 5%. I was taught how to counsel patients but the only question I’m ever asked IRL is “why is my copay so high?” Let’s be real, a patient is never going to ask me about nicotinic acetylcholine receptors.
Pharmacy school needs to be more realistic in their simulation labs, honestly. It would help if they actually had a built-in real pharmacy for students to practice in, with real patients but I guess that’s what rotations are for. Which are and aren’t helpful, based on your sites and preceptors, as I learned. Not all sites are created equal. Sometimes, I would end up at a really good site that was chill and lax when it came to grading, but at the same time, I still learned a lot and took away a newfound love for pharmacy, like compounding. In school I hated compounding because the professors we had were terrible and only interested in trick questions. But on rotation, I fell in love with it. I thought it was really amazing that I could virtually take any drug and turn it into a different dosage form based on the client’s desired preference. For example, making gummies for kids and liquid form doses for pets. And then sometimes, I would end up at a site that was a great experience for the student before me, but when I arrived, the residents who were supposed to be my preceptors were on their last month of residency and on their way out so they pretty much stopped caring and didn’t really teach me anything but gave me busy work to do in the library for the whole month. I mean, I got an A still so I couldn’t complain, but it didn’t really help my experience and it gave me a bad impression of hospital pharmacy thinking it was really boring. Hence why it took me so long to make the jump from retail to hospital as well.
I graduated pharmacy school with a secured job at CVS. I was already interning there but you still aren’t guaranteed a job after graduation. You still need to interview and they decide if you’ll be a good fit post-graduation. I, luckily or unluckily, however you want to look at it, was offered a position. They just didn’t tell me at the time that they wanted me to go straight into a store and become the Pharmacist-In-Charge once I was licensed. Had I known that, I probably would’ve worked around it a little differently to not end up as PIC. The company is also manipulative AF at grooming you into positions you don’t want to really accept. And that’s pretty much what happened to me. I got licensed the day I got engaged and before I could even eat my dinner, they were already calling me and pulling me out of my regular store and putting me in a different one to play pharmacist the next day. I say play pharmacist because I still had no idea what I was doing. They never fully finished my training. They just throw you into it and go “GOOD LUCK! DON’T KILL ANYONE.” Fortunately for me, I did learn to swim and I learned to swim real fast. Unfortunately for me, my first 3 years as a pharmacist were entirely miserable. In my first 6 months alone as a licensed pharmacist, I was in a terrible place. I was stressed, scared and overwhelmed. I would start my days at my old store instead of my own, crying to my old pharmacist about how much I hated it and how terrible my store was. It was hard. Here I was, a newly licensed pharmacist, tiny Asian girl, placed in one of the most difficult stores in the district with one of the worst clientele and area full of drug addicts, entitled Medicaid trash and racists. I had to call the police on customers more than a few times in my time there. But I got through it somehow. I stuck through it long enough to get my foot in the door elsewhere and once I was in, I ran away fast. There was a brief moment where I worked 3 months straight with 2-3 days off total in that time period because I was full time at my store and all my days off were spent at my per diem job at the hospital until a full time spot opened up and I kissed retail goodbye. I busted my butt working non stop til it was no longer a dream. And this year will mark my time at the hospital surpassing my time in retail. Time flies.
I’m not going to say the hospital is a walk in the park because it has it’s ups and downs too, but I will say a bad day working at the hospital still beats out an unusually good day in retail. But I’m also not going to say I don’t miss it, because I do. I did enjoy being a retail pharmacist. I learned during my 3 years being a retail pharmacist, despite not picking the profession because I had any type of passion for it, I actually did enjoy the job. I liked interacting with my patients (the nice ones at least) and helping people truly in need. I liked educating them on things that their doctor didn’t have the time to go over with them. I liked counseling young moms on different strategies on how to administer difficult medications to their babies. I enjoyed racing through the queue with my technicians to clear it in record time. I could print, fold, basket, and race through my drug bays in record time. It sounds silly but I felt on top of the world back in the day with my friend Kerri when we could double pull the queues together and print, pull, count, and even put the drugs back in record time so that we could sit and chill after and just talk. Back when CVS didn’t suck so much. I really hope the stars align one day for her and I to finally work together again one day though because I truly miss having her as work colleague. We were such a great team. Have you ever had such an amazing coworker that even the craziest things couldn’t bring you down that day? I had that. I miss that.
Anyways, in short. Why pharmacy?
Despite not actually wanting to go into medicine, I serendipitously ended up liking it in the end. Despite not having a smooth course as I navigated through pharmacy, I met some of my lifelong friends here so I guess you could say I wouldn’t go back and change anything. I had to learn everything the hard way and I did learn from my mistakes that way and grew as both a person and a pharmacist. In school, in retail and in hospital.
Honestly though, I can’t say if I see myself doing this for the rest of my life but for this chapter, I don’t mind being a pharmacist for now. It pays the bills. I see where my parents were right. It’s a very sensible and stable career compared to fashion. Fashion is always changing and it’s unpredictable. It’s not about how talented you are or what you know sometimes, but rather who you know. Although that’s not to say that pharmacy isn’t about who you know either because I learned that pharmacy is a very small world. You stay professional to keep your connections because it is so small that you never know who could potentially be working with or working for or need a reference from. But in pharmacy, it’s easier to land a job and get your foot in the door than fashion, I think. Although with the rise of social media, bloggers and influencers, I do seem to see I missed my chance on that wagon had I decided to stay on the path my parents refused me to travel. But even there, it looks like a lot of work and you never know where you will end up. Being the type of person I am, I do enjoy the security of the health field better. People will always need healthcare. And I like being able to know that my paycheck is constant and will sustain my lifestyle.
I actually find that I am able to feed the needs of my fashion bug through the funding of my pharmacy career. So one hand washes the other, I would say. I still feed into my creativity through my modeling and constant portfolio building. Modeling is strictly a hobby so that I will never grow to hate it. Sometimes when you turn something you love into work, you grow to hate it or resent it. I keep it as a hobby so I can work on it when I like and take a break when I like. And so I can do it on my terms. I control how I want to look and what shoots I agree to partake in. So there’s my work/play balance compromise between what I wanted to do and what I ended up really doing career wise.
Although every student intern that comes through my hospital I still say the same thing when they ask for advice, hahaha: GET OUT NOW WHILE YOU CAN.