I recently took a job as the Director of Pharmacy for a medium sized – just over 400 beds – acute care hospital a couple of hours away from my home in Fresno. I never wanted to be a director. I always told myself that if I ended up working in a pharmacy, it was because I failed to use my degree to do something else. I knew after being a pharmacist for only a few years that I simply couldn’t spend my entire career doing it. But I’ve spent the last few years working in a hospital, and my clinical acumen has waned. It was either get out, i.e., find something else to do with my pharmacy degree or take an “administrative role.” I tried the former several times but could never make it stick. That left the latter. So here we are. At this point it’s highly unlikely I’ll do anything else.
Reflecting on my career, I’ve had many jobs. It’s hard to think back on all of them, but it must be more than a dozen. I have worked as a staff pharmacist in multiple hospitals, obviously. I worked retail pharmacy a couple of times. Awful, simply awful. I worked in a compounding pharmacy. I worked for a few years as an IT pharmacist. I worked as both a Pharmacy Supervisor and Operations Manager. I worked for a pharmacy technology company as a product manager. I worked for a couple of years a s project manager. I’ve done some consulting work for a few companies. I spent some time doing presentations. I technically had my own company twice. Both times went down in flames. I joined a couple of start-ups. Cool, interesting, and engaging, but ultimately didn’t pay the bills. Crud, I even did a little writing.
While most of my jobs have been forgettable, three stand out as my favorites. Why? Hard to say. Each had something unique to offer that I have been unable to replicate elsewhere. In no particular order, here they are:
Compounding pharmacy: During my third year of pharmacy school, I went to work for a small compounding pharmacy in San Jose, strangely called Santa Clara Drug. I continued to work there for a couple of years after graduating pharmacy school and getting my license.
The pharmacy was owned by a couple of older pharmacists that had been practicing community pharmacy for most of their careers, possible for the entirety of their careers. One pharmacist would be what I consider a silent partner. The other, Lionel was a great pharmacist and a great man. I learned a lot from him. His knowledge of non-sterile – previously extemporaneous – compounding was immense. His demeaner was that of a thoughtful parent. He knew his patients and treated them all with great dignity and kindness.
The pharmacy specialized in preparing many different compounds for human patients such as capsules, troches, suspensions, elixirs, creams, ointments, gels, and suppositories in any number of combinations, flavors, colors, etc. Not to mention the hundreds of formulations for our non-human patients. I made concoctions for cats, dogs, birds, rats, snakes, and many other animals.
Two things I loved about Santa Clara drug was working side by side with Lionel and working closely with veterinarians. Veterinarians, unlike human physicians, value a pharmacist’s input and advice. I cannot tell you how many times a veterinarian called the pharmacy and said something like “Hey Jerry, how can we get itraconazole into a rat?.” A conversation would ensue, and we would work together to come up with a solution.
Product Manager: Around 2010, after working as an IT pharmacist for a few years, I had an opportunity to go to work for Talyst, a pharmacy technology company which is now part of Swisslog. I knew quite a bit about pharmacy but nothing about the inner workings of a company. I was so naïve. It was one of the most transformative times in my career. The work was invigorating. The people were driven and smart. It gave me the opportunity to grow my thinking in ways that would have never been possible if I had continued working as a pharmacist. Even today, I look around and see how constrained healthcare is by lack of thought and inability to deconstruct a problem into something more manageable.
The other thing I liked about my time as a project manager was the travel. For reasons unknown to me, some people within the company thought I hated travel. Maybe it was because I had such terrible luck while traveling. Who knows. For me, it was an opportunity to go places I had never been. Until my visit to the company headquarters in Bellevue, WA in 2010 – besides some trips to Vegas – I had only been out of California a couple of times. One of those times was when I enlisted in the Army and was sent to Fort Jackson in South Carolina for basic training. Other than that, my travel had been extremely limited until joining the company.
I grew so much personally from my time working at Talyst. From the people to the travel, I am profoundly grateful for my time there.
Project Manager: Sometime in 2017, while I was working as a per diem staff pharmacist following another failed attempt to start a consulting business, I got a call from someone at Sutter Health in Northern California. The person on the phone said they had a great project that could use my expertise. My expertise? What expertise were we talking about? Well, it turns out that it was the culmination of years of learning about pharmacy and my involvement with sterile compounding.
On paper, the project was simple enough: help manage the construction and licensing of several new IV rooms for Sutter Health. System wide, the overall number was something like 23 new construction projects. I had only eight. My job was to oversee everything from construction and equipment, to helping with policy design and meeting with inspectors and licensing agencies.
The project itself may be the single largest one of its kind. I don’t know of any other organization that has taken on something so large and intricate. The learning curve was incredible. My limits were tested, but the knowledge I gained was invaluable. I used everything in my knowledgebase and then some. I learned things about HVAC systems, regulatory compliance, and finance that I would have never picked up anywhere else.
As with the other two favorites, I am grateful for having had the opportunity to work with Sutter Health in this capacity.
And there it is, the three best jobs I’ve had during my long and winding 25-year career. All of them great in their own respect. All of them I wish I still had.