A look back on one year as a product manager

About a year ago I left the comforts of the pharmacy and struck out into the world of product management. It’s not all that dramatic really. I simply thought I needed a change so I jumped over to the dark side and went to work for a company that builds pharmacy automation and technology. Why not, I love pharmacy technology. The move made perfect sense to me at the time.

So, was the move worth it? Simply put, yes.

I can tell you that my eyes have been opened. My world as a pharmacist was small. My ability to impact change was non existent. As a pharmacist, my thought process was limited by my own lack of experience in the real world. As a pharmacist I thought I’d reached the pinnacle of success. I mean, I had a good job, making good money. I was respected by my peers. I was pretty good at what I did. That’s what we all strive for, right? Like many pharmacists I figured I’d work for 40 years, retire and enjoy some time at home. After all, that’s how it’s done.

I was naïve. I lived a sheltered life as a pharmacist and now that I’m out in the real world things are a bit more interesting. People outside my once sheltered reality are brutal. They don’t really care about the credentials after my name; I’m just another schmuck. The really smart people don’t all work in a hospital (I have a theory about that, but won’t share it for several reasons). As a pharmacist I was allowed to make decisions on my own, now it’s decision by committee.

Overall the past year has been eye opening for me. I’ve been humbled on several occasions and had my ego bruised a few times. On the other hand I’ve had some minor victories and grown a bit in the process. I’ve just now started to learn my boundaries and what I can and can’t do. For the past 15 years I’ve learned how to hold my temper, play well with others, hold my tongue and live off favors. Basically I’ve been learning how to be “a nice guy”. Turns out that this is the equivalent of an anchor around my neck in the world outside of healthcare. I no longer have to be a nice guy. I need to learn to be direct, to the point and straightforward regardless of peoples feelings. Interesting change in philosophy don’t you think? And guess what, as long as you’re getting your job done that’s ok.

Someone once told me I was too old to be an effective Product Manger (I’m in my 40’s), and now I know why. At my age I have certain beliefs that have been cemented in place by years and years of exposure to the world around me. And to put it in simple terms, the world around me has changed. With that said, I don’t think age has anything to do with being a good Product Manger. My mind is still sharp, and I have experiences that the 20 something crowd lack. Getting older, yes. Toothless, no. I can hold my own.

With all that said, it may seem to you that my move was a bad thing. Nothing could be further from the truth. For the first time in many years I’ve been challenged. Challenged to compete with people who are smarter than me. People that work harder than me. And people who have more experience and know more about the job than me. Being a Product Manger is a good job, and I like it.

Thoughts on being a Product Manger. I can’t say whether these are unique to the company I work for or can be applied across the board because, hey, I’ve never been a Product Manager anywhere else.

The Good

The company – Salary and benefits? It’s all about the same, but the company treats me well; very well. From the little things like free snacks and drinks at the corporate office, to letting me run around the country on the corporate dime. It’s all good. Hands down the best company I’ve ever worked for.

The job – Seriously, can you believe people pay me to think up new things to build? I can’t. I love pharmacy automation and technology, and the fact that I get to do this for a living is still hard to believe.

Autonomy – I suppose this goes along with the job, but people pretty much leave me to my work. Pharmacy was never like this.

The people I work with – The people I work with are all intelligent, hardworking people. They have the same goal in mind that I do: build a successful product. I haven’t met anyone yet that I’d like to punch in the face or drive out in the middle of nowhere and leave for dead. I can’t say the same for any of my previous jobs.

The people I visit, i.e. “the customer” – As a Product Manger I spend a fair amount of time talking to “customers”. It just so happens that those people are pharmacists. Seriously, someone pays me to run around the country and talk to other pharmacists. I’ve learned a great many things by speaking with pharmacists from different parts of the country, and the one thing that sticks out the most is that the profession is completely fragmented. Every pharmacy has the same set of problems and they all approach them with a different strategy. Some good. Some bad. They could all learn from one another, but they don’t have the luxury of spending time with each other. Too bad really because there are some really great pharmacies out there. Perhaps I’ll write a book someday on all the different things I’ve seen.

Education – As I said above, I was naïve. I’ve been schooled on more than one occasion. My business knowledge sucks and I’m struggling to understand it now. I’ve learned things that I would have never learned as a pharmacists.

Never bored – I was pretty bored as a pharmacists. I don’t have to worry about that now. I get to do a lot of things that I’ve never done before.

Authority/Power – I’m just now starting to probe the limits of my authority as a Product Manger. Apparently they have a lot of power inside a company. However, I haven’t figured out how to wield it yet. As I said above, I need to learn how to be a more direct and to the point. No fluff needed. 

The travel – This has been a blessing and a curse. I’ve seen places that I would have never seen in my lifetime. I used to fear getting on a plane. Yep, I was scarred of flying. Well, nothing’s changed. I’m still afraid of flying, but now I take it like a man. No more crying during takeoff and landing ;-)

Conferences – I’ve been to more conferences in the past 12 months than the previous 3 years combined. I believe conferences are a necessary part of one’s development as a pharmacists and I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy several this year. What an awesome bonus to being a Product Manager in a company that deals in pharmacy automation and technology.

The Bad

The job – I used to scour the internet looking for pharmacy automation and technology to escape from my real job. Now it is my real job which makes it less appealing. Now I look for ways to escape from it.

I used to love to blog, but some of the luster has been tarnished now that it’s part of “my job”. Not to say that I find things less interesting, I just don’t feel compelled to write them down. I used to look forward to getting off work so I could get home and blog about something interesting. Not anymore. Now I read about something interesting, make a note about it and truck on.

Definition – No one can really tell me what a Product Manager does. I’ve had multiple people, from top to bottom, give me different opinions on what I’m supposed to be doing. So, what’s a Product Manger do? Crud, I don’t know.

The travel – A blessing and a curse., remember? I feel like I travel quite a bit, but I’ve been told that it’s not really that bad. I’m away from home about two, sometimes three weeks a month. Not bad I suppose, but compare that to my previous 15 years on the job; gone zero. For the first time ever as a dad I’ve missed both my girls birthdays (the actual date, not the celebration),  I’ve missed sporting events and school functions. Fortunately my girls are 14 and 17, and they not only understand, but are so busy that I’m not sure they even notice when I’m not in the house. I couldn’t have done this job 10 years ago.

On wearing a suit and tie – Not my style.

The people – I work with some pretty strong personalities. I haven’t really learned how to deal with that part of the job yet, but I’m working on it. Some people think they’re always right. Sometimes it feels like I’m working with physicians again. 

Opinions – I just can’t get used to having people tell me my opinion is wrong. Yep, my opinion. Someone will ask me my opinion and then spend a half hour lecturing me on why opinion is wrong. I took that at face value for a while, but not anymore. My opinion is my opinion, and they aren’t wrong. You want to know why? Because they’re my opinion, nimrod. If you don’t want my opinion, don’t ask. And just for the record, who’s to say your opinion isn’t wrong and mine right? Chew on that.

More opinions – The other nasty thing I’ve run into on several occasions is someone telling me I don’t know what pharmacists want. Really? Last time I checked I was a pharmacist long before I was a Product Manger. I’d argue that I still know pharmacy a heck of a lot better than I know being a Product Manger. I’m not saying I’m always right, but I find that some “business” people don’t have a clue how a pharmacy operates.

Paperwork – These people like their documentation: battle card, ROI, business case, concept document, MRD, technical specs, spec sheets, etc. One could get lost in the mountain of paperwork. “Did you write up an MRD?” “Did you fill out a battle card?” “What’s the business case?” “I didn’t see a spec sheet on that?” Half my time is spent creating some type of documentation. And I thought healthcare was full of red tape and an over abundance of documentation.

The Ugly

It’s a business, bro – Ah, the heart of the matter. Never forget, this is a business. It doesn’t matter how great the idea, if you can’t prove it will make money then you can forget about it. This is a frustrating concept for me because I personally believe there are some ideas that can’t be proven before they’re done. How can you prove something will make money if it’s never been done? It’s a problem to be sure. Nature of the beast boys and girls.

Some ideas that I thought were quite brilliant were conceived years ago by the company I work for, but shelved because they were perceived as low profit potential. Every once in a while I’ll trot out something I think is totally awesome only to have one of my colleagues show me documentation on the same idea they had four years earlier.

Final Thoughts

I’m enjoying my time as a product manager. In fact I don’t see myself going back to being a practicing pharmacist any time soon. Pharmacy as a profession is a dead end, and I’m just not ready to sit in the proverbial professional rocking chair.

I’m still a rookie as a product manager, and I have a lot to learn, but that’s okay. I’m looking forward to the challenge. For now I’m just along for the ride.

6 thoughts on “A look back on one year as a product manager”

  1. it was an eye opening article, thanks for sharing. As a pharmacist I always think about cross professional things like informatics, technology and I fee lost where to start since I’m a retail pharmacist. The day to day work is so exhausting to think some good stuff. Your post give me hope and that is much appreciated.

  2. I left pharmacy for 7 years to work in healthcare sales and your article says exactly the same things I felt during that time. I gained a great deal of respect for other non-healthcare professionals for their intelligence and work ethic. However, there were many times when I felt my background as a pharmacist made me more aware of ethical considerations while doing business. Of course, some may argue that may be a weakness. :)

  3. Hi Jerry,

    I just stumbled on to this blog. I’m curious, do you think all of this pharmacy automation will eventually kill the demand for pharmacists? I’ve read in another blog that a big name retail store is gearing up to completely automate their pharmacies. One of the execs supposedly said in private that he thinks the profession is a bleak one.

    I’m coming from an engineering background, and I’ve worked with lots of very smart people in Silicon Valley. Some of them were insanely bright–for example, I’ve worked with a Putnam Fellow before. I’ve been in that industry for over 12 years and to be frank, I’m pretty tired of it. Working with really bright, hardworking folks burnt me out. So, I am thinking about going back to school for either nursing or pharmacy. Grass is greener, I suppose. However, now, I’m not so sure about pharmacy. In your opinion, would you advise people not to go into the profession?


  4. Hi David,

    I’m probably the wrong person to ask. I see things much differently than many other people. I don’t believe pharmacy will fade away, but I do think the profession is in trouble. I think we have about 20 years left before the end of the current system. The only thing keeping us in the retail sector is the law. We’re expensive and not needed in that environment for the most part. I also believe that automation will eventually kill the need for pharmacists in the physical pharmacy in hospitals as well ( for the most part). It’s important that the profession evolve to ensure its survival, and we clearly haven’t done that.

    For me it’s a double-edged sword. I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for pharmacy, but if I had to go back and do it again I wouldn’t chose it as a profession. I’ve discouraged my daughters from pursuing it as a career and wouldn’t openly recommend it. If you have a special niche that falls outside the typical box, then go for it. If not, I’d say reconsider.


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