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From disillusioned to enlightened

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After only one year into her MPharm degree, Sally Sosnicka felt confused about her future in pharmacy. Here she explains how she became disillusioned with the profession, why she no longer has those doubts and why she is now looking forward to life as a pharmacist.

It was the beginning of my A2 year in college and I had to apply for university entrance. It is weird thinking about it now, but I was genuinely lost as to what I wanted to do. I had always had an interest in chemistry but could I really spend a whole 3 years looking at mechanisms? I also wanted to work with people so it was recommended that I go to a careers adviser. Though I was sceptical, I went. After 200 questions and what seemed like an eternity, there it was: “Based on your personality and skills your most suited career is a pharmacist”.

I wasn’t sure what a pharmacist did. To most people pharmacists are essentially shop keepers. I googled the term “pharmacist” countless times, but instead of focussing on the definition and opportunities, I found forums about how the career is doomed and that pharmacists will all be replaced by robots. Nevertheless, I went on a community pharmacy placement organised by my college, to decide for myself. Every Monday I volunteered at a tiny pharmacy in Copmanthorpe, just outside of York. I loved the community feel and how everyone knew each other. By the end of my placement, I thought to myself “I could do this”.

Fast forward to March 2017: I was very close to the end of my first year at university. I was swamped with work and so behind. On top of all the science, I had an empty portfolio that needed to be filled. I hated having to keep up with my studies and show an interest in pharmacy outside of university by attending talks and conferences. I specifically remember writing as part of a reflective essay, “after 20+ hours of lectures every week, the last thing I want to do is travel across the country to attend yet another lecture (conference) on a Saturday”. It’s funny because less than a year later, I organised a conference myself — but I’ll get to that.

With the fear of having nothing to write about in my portfolio, I decided to attend the Alternative Pharmacy Careers (APC) conference. One of the last speakers was RPS president, Ash Soni. If you have ever heard him give a speech you will understand why I was hooked. That same day I messaged a British Pharmaceutical Students Association (BPSA) rep to register to attend the Annual Conference. Up until this point, the BPSA had seemed like a cult of pharmacy nerds but my portfolio was empty and I was desperate.

That week in Durham was absolutely mind blowing. All of a sudden I realised that if I can’t understand certain mechanisms or if I don’t quite understand how pharmacokinetics work — that’s okay, because I am not studying to become a chemist or a physicist. The beauty of a pharmacy degree is it is what you make it to be — whether you want to work with people or solely work in a lab. I also understood that grades are not everything and whilst I want to do well with my MPharm, it is far more important for me to actually enjoy what I am doing.

Attending the annual conference has certainly changed my opinion of the profession and how I contribute to it. Since then I have attended two European Pharmaceutical Students’ Association (EPSA) conferences, the RPS conference, the PDA ‘Safer pharmacy’ charter launch as well as the 76th BPSA Annual Conference in Keele. At the end of 2017, I also went for co-option and joined the BPSA Executive, consisting of a team of 19, as the new eastern area coordinator. As part of my role, I organised a conference at my own university, the University of East Anglia, called ‘Community Pharmacy: Beyond the Dispensing,’ which is crazy considering how I felt about attending conferences in my first year.

I have come a long way since my second year of college. I no longer worry about being replaced by robots and in fact believe that automated dispensing is necessary to allow pharmacists more time with patients. I entered the degree with the misconception that being a pharmacist means working in a small community pharmacy, however now when people ask me what I want to do, I happily admit that I am not sure. But what I am certain of, is that with the MPharm degree, many doors will open for me and I am excited to see what opportunities will be available. I don’t need to worry about what I want to do.  

At the 76th annual conference I was elected as the new European officer, representing BPSA at a European level. This is an absolute honour and I cannot wait to get started.

To anyone who is reading this and is considering pharmacy, don’t be put off by silly articles and forums. If you have a passion for science and care about people, then studying pharmacy may be one of the best decisions you will make.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Dear Sally,

    Your experience of choosing pharmacy as a career at school-age mirrors my own. Aged 17, a school computer careers questionnaire told me that I should become a pharmacist. So I did just that, with very little idea what life as a pharmacist would be like. Now, fifteen years down the line, I can look back with hindsight and make a few observations about my choice.

    The thing is, few 17-year-olds know what they want to be or do. How can they? Many people in their late teens do not even know what sort of person they are yet. I certainly didn't.

    Pharmacy took me into adulthood and taught me who I was. It also taught me a great deal of life lessons. It transformed me from a devil-may-care teenager into a methodical, organised, disciplined worker. I learned how to talk to any person. How to negotiate, to delegate, to adjudicate, to marshall queues, to calm people down, to reassure them, to explain complex concepts using simple sentences. I learned, through the privilege of constant exposure to people's death beds, what the important things are in life. Not money, not prestige: but time spent doing something worthwhile for other people, and time spent doing what you love. Now, in my late thirties, I have finally worked out what it is that I really want to be doing for a living, and I am in the process of making a career change to horticulture. But would I wish the past decade and a half of my life to have been any different? Not in the slightest. My advice to young people trying to decide if pharmacy is a career for them is 'why not?' because it is a wonderful way to make a living whether it turns out to be just the first step you take into the working world, or the only step you'll ever need to make.
    Wishing you the best of luck in your future career, wherever it may lead you.

    Jo

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