Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pharmaceutical influence

This is National Hospital and Health-Systems Pharmacy Week, or as we like to refer to it Pharmacy Week. We're having a potluck at work tomorrow (which reminds me, I still need to hit the store for my contributions) and the techs at work all have t-shirts that they've gotten the approval of administration to wear through the week. I don't know if retail pharmacies are celebrating this week, but we are.

I've said it before that if I had it all to do over again, I wouldn't change a thing (cue Kylie.) And it's true, I wouldn't. I can't imagine doing anything other than what I'm doing right now. Being a pharmacist is so much a part of who I am that doing any other job is just an alien concept to me. There are days that being a pharmacist makes me crazy, but I imagine that it's no different than any other profession - you have your good days and your bad days. But the simple fact of the matter is that I am well suited to this profession both because I am smart enough to do it competently and because it fits in with my personality quite nicely.

If you can believe it, there was a time that being a pharmacist wasn't even on my radar. For most of my high school career, I was interested in going to medical school. I was always pretty bright and I was interested in science so I figured why not dream big? That started to change in August before my senior year of high school started when I got a call from a local pharmacist offering me a job. He owned a small pharmacy that was attached to a medical clinic in the town I grew up in. Each year, he hired a high school senior to work in his pharmacy doing deliveries, waiting on customers, restocking. What it amounted to on the surface was performing rather menial tasks but it was also an opportunity for him to give back to the community as a local business owner. Unfortunately, I had already signed up for community college classes that were in the evening, so I turned him down. However, my folks encouraged me to call him back and see what it was all about. I did, and after a very informal interview, he hired me on the spot for $3.60 an hour. This man's name is Don Jones.

It's fairly safe to say that I wouldn't be a pharmacist today if it hadn't been for Don Jones. The more time I spent in his pharmacy, watching him do the job he did, the more I realized that this type of health care profession was really much more my speed than any other I could get into. I was fascinated by drugs and how they worked and learning what they treated. I remember taking package inserts off the bottles and putting them in a file folder at home so that I could learn more about the drugs I was stocking every day. Don nudged me along the road to choosing pharmacy as a career very subtly. When I finally spilled the beans and said I had changed my mind, I think he was a little bit surprised. After I graduated from high school, Don hired me back every summer and Christmas vacation (and some spring breaks) until 1995 when I finally graduated with my B.S. in Pharmacy and he sold his pharmacy and subsequently retired. It was his influence and quiet role as my first pharmacy mentor that really set me on the path that ended up with me becoming a pharmacist rather than a very unhappy M.D. It's quite possible I would have seen the light along the way, but because of him, I didn't have to do it that way.

If Don Jones is responsible for me becoming a pharmacist, then John Hamiel is the reason I'm the type of pharmacist that I am. John was my boss in my first "real job." Looking back, he was my boss, my colleague and my friend - a situation that required him to wear a lot of hats. He was also, oddly enough, one of my students when I T.A.'d the P4 parenterals lab at the U of Iowa College of Pharmacy when I was doing graduate work. This just goes to show you that you should be nice to everyone you meet along the way because you never know when they might become your co-worker or even your boss. This is doubly true in the small world of pharmacy.

Anyway, the notable thing about John is that he really took a chance on me when he hired me. Here I was, applying for a hospital job with zero hospital experience. My only real pharmacy experience was retail, which included the years I'd worked for Don Jones and my part-time job at Drug Town in Iowa City that I used to help pay the bills while I was getting my Pharm.D. But for some reason, I didn't want to do work at Hy-Vee my whole life and on the encouragement of my friend Dr. Lynette Iles, I applied for the hospital job where John was the soon-to-be director and Lynette was on the medical staff. Despite my lack of experience, I got the job.

I am fond of saying that retail pharmacists and hospital pharmacists may both be pharmacists, but they speak in totally different languages. The learning curve I experienced my first year in a hospital setting was a steep one, indeed. There were times that I didn't think I could do it. When you work in a hospital, there's a whole subset of drugs that you never see in community pharmacy. The patients are (naturally) sicker than they are in an outpatient setting, so learning that sometimes we can do everything right and still not save the patient was hard for me. It's still hard for me. I think if it isn't hard for you, you need to check and make sure you still have a pulse. But John was always supportive and helped me learn lessons not just about hospital pharmacy but in the politics of working that everyone needs to get at least a little bit good at. Both sets of lessons ended up being invaluable.

My practice style has been so influenced by John that sometimes I find myself saying things that he said, even saying them like he said them. In a lot of ways, he was kind of "future me" although I didn't realize it at the time. We got along well and shared a lot of the same geeky humor and interests that define some of the strongest friendships I have. It was hard to leave when it came time for our family to change our scenery and move to Ames. But I owe him a debt of gratitude. Because he took a chance on a 27 year-old newbie, I've learned more about pharmacy than I ever thought I would and have more knowledge in my periphery than I thought humanly possible.

So during this Pharmacy Week, I want to take this time to say thank you to both of these men who were friends and mentors to me. Their influence is palpable in my life and career.

And because we don't want to be too serious and because I still have a 12 year old boy in me somewhere, here's the Top 11 Reasons to Date a Pharmacist:
1. Pharmacists do it twice 3 times daily
2. You can see your pharmacist the night before the morning after.
3. Pharmacists have a long duration of action.
4. Pharmacists are Rx rated.
5. Pharmacists find new routes of administration.
6. Pharmacists do it over-the-counter.
7. Pharmacists are patient lovers.
8. Pharmacists accept 3rd parties.
9. Pharmacists have a quick reconstitution time.
10. Pharmacists do it without breaks.
11. You will want no substitution

Happy Pharmacy Week to all my pharmacist friends and colleagues!

(Hug your pharmacist today. Especially if that pharmacist is me.)


xolondon said...

I learned a lot here! It's so funny how little we know about each other in terms of our day to day work. We all have grown up jobs and then we come home and cackle like teens. ;)

Dan said...

And the minute we stop doing that is the minute you have to question what in the world the point is! ;)

Thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

Well Dan, as your successor at the Carroll Pharmacy, I too have fond memories there. I remember walking there after school through alleys filled with the smell of lilac bushes & stopping by at another Walgreens-type store on the way there to look at the comic books. It was more than just a nice calm job my senior year (working with sane people - as opposed to retail or fast food), it exposed me to science in the real world. Even though I didn't choose a career in pharmacy, what everyone did there was not lost on me. I was fascinated by being surrounded by chemistry & it really appealed to my analytical side. Don was such a nice guy - inviting me over for either Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner after I had only worked there a few months. And Gerry was a great guy to work with. I also remember there was a customer where the number 8 kept popping up in everything relating to him: his name, his customer number, his birthday, etc. Sadly he passed away when I was working there, but my freshman year of college Gerry prank called me in my dorm at ISU claiming to be him (I think he called on Sept. 8th), but I had forgotten the name, didn't make the connection & didn't realize it was Gerry who called me until a few days later. By that time my family had moved to Arizona & I had no transportation to get back to Carroll so I never saw them again. So if you ever see anyone from the pharmacy let them know how much I enjoyed my time there, not just as a job but as a life experience.
-Tony Zeka