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Tuesday, February 21, 2023

A Heartfelt Letter to New Pharmacy Grads: What I Wish I Knew When I Graduated

I am writing this letter to you, dear new pharmacist, not just because you’re a new graduate but mainly because I was just like you a couple of years ago, and there are things I wish someone had told me before I jumped into the society. Such a significant update is what I am bringing to you in this article.

Letter to new pharmacy graduates in Nigeria
Cover model - Pharm Marvelene Ekott.

If someone had even as much given me a clue on some things, like how to negotiate for better pay or friendlier work hours, I probably wouldn’t have had some of the problems I had in the past. Hence, I will itemize some of the things you need to know and guide you on possible ways to navigate your early days in the profession. So, sit back, relax and enjoy this ride.

1. Do the compulsory internship as soon as possible

The goal for any fresh pharmacist immediately after induction is to get an internship. Don’t make the mistake of waiting months or years for a dream internship in a federal establishment. Do yours as soon as possible and move on with your life.

While it is good to be optimistic and resilient, it is also important not to waste your time. An internship is no full-time employment; it is a one-year compulsory program, and you can get training in several sectors. Waiting around for a teaching hospital is not a good idea, especially when you don’t have the links to enter.

Sadly, many things are not moving well in the country, but you must look past these things and fight for yourself. 

Try the private sector, e.g., community pharmacies, industries or private hospitals. Indeed, most private employers don’t pay interns well, and some don’t even treat interns well, but there may be a few exceptions.

Alpha Pharmacy pays their interns considerably well, and they offer accommodation too. Similarly, Reals Pharmaceutical (marketers of Reludrine and Reals Night Aid) absorb interns. They pay well and have flexible working hours, and can be a good place to start a career as a medical rep. Again, Pharma solutions Limited is also an excellent place to consider training as an intern.

These establishments are located mainly in Lagos, Nigeria, but there could be other places around the country you can check out. Go through the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria website to check out the list of accredited internship centers and ask questions about the closest and more convenient ones.

As a rule of thumb, please only consider internship offers from community pharmacies with a good rating. Once there are complaints about the premises, there’s a high chance you will have similar issues if you enter.

Join pharmacy groups on Telegram and WhatsApp, e.g., Young Pharmacists groups. You will consciously and even unconsciously learn from such groups. Don’t fail to ask questions; you can save yourself a lot of stress just by doing so.

2. When to do locum in a community pharmacy

Do a locum in a community pharmacy if you intend to pursue a career in community pharmacy. You will need all the experiences you can get. Starting immediately after school and even before induction is highly encouraged.

pharmacist and patient in a retail pharmacy
Pharmacist attending to a patient in a community pharmacy

By all means, engage in locum if you need a little cash to help you kick-start your desired career. You can also engage in a locum in a community pharmacy before your internship to save a little cash, get new clothes and get a little cash for your internship waka.

For other reasons peculiar to you, you can engage in a locum job before, during your internship, or even after. But always remember to devise an exit plan because, in most cases, your salary is static, and there is generally no career growth in being a locum, except in very few cases with some retail chain pharmacies.

3. When not to do locum

I have a mental picture of new pharmacy school graduates who should wait before jumping into locum in a community pharmacy immediately after graduation. Again, this is just my own opinion.

The people in this class are mainly those from comfortable homes and those with special skills or lucrative businesses they are already running or incubating.

The danger of locum to this set of people is that it restricts them to a ‘comfort zone’ that will be hard to break out from and affect their other dreams and aspirations aside from pharmacy.

As you’ve known from your pharmacy school days, pharmacy is a jealous lover and often demands all your time and energy. If you abandon your little dreams now, thinking you may come to them later, pharmacy may not let you. Your best bet? Get it right with your passions now and then merge it with pharmacy practice subsequently.

You can take a couple of months (say 2-3 months) to enroll for an extra/advanced lesson in those chosen areas of interest while you await a pharmacy internship.

4. Start thinking of an extra source of income

Hear this loud and clear, everyone especially new pharmacy school graduates, salary will not be enough for you; it never was enough for the people before you, and I am afraid it will not be for you too. If you have never considered having a lucrative and legitimate means of getting an extra income, then now is an excellent time to start considering it.

Our very own Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, in his book Wired to lead (which I highly recommend to new pharmacy school graduates), talked about the importance of having an extra source of income. He wrote...

But for the average Nigerian who wants just to achieve a minimum decent quality of life – a roof over the head (owned or rented, with regular rental payment), two square meals a day for family, ability to pay school fees for four children in public schools and enough savings for healthcare needs and modest contribution to community development and God’s work- there is a way, which is to have multiple streams of income.

5. Only work where your sanity is a priority.

As will be the case, most new pharmacists will work in a community pharmacy or related place at one point in their life. Wherever you see yourself applying to work, ensure the place is conducive. If at any point your start seeing hostility and your mental health becomes upset, kindly resign and maintain your sanity.

Of the many things that can drive you crazy, an inadequate work environment comes top on the list. Workplace abuse and generally unhealthy workplace setting is not something you should start dealing with as a fresh graduate.

READ ALSO - 5 Simple Strategies of Coping With Grief and Finding Meaning; A personal Story

The likeliest place to meet a hostile and unfriendly environment is at the community pharmacy level. Don’t hesitate to voice your concerns if this ever becomes your case. Do not keep quiet and hope it gets better; the truth is that, most times, it never gets better.

When your mental health is at risk, kindly write a resignation letter and have peace of mind. People often tend to stick to a displeasing job because of the fear of the unknown, either of which can be being without a job or not getting a better-paying job. But you will only know once you try. I promise there are better options for everyone; dare to try.

6. Plan well before you relocate to a new state.

Plan well before you relocate to a new state like Lagos, Abuja, or even abroad in search of greener pastures. There are immense financial and psychological implications of relocating that people (remarkably fresh graduates) often don’t consider before they pack their bags.

Firstly, be financially prepared before leaving your residence for greener pastures. Like they will casually say online, “curtains are now costly.” If you intend to move to Lagos or Abuja for an internship or NYSC, ensure you have at least good friends or family that are willing to accommodate you before you find your feet. It can be a rocky start if you do it alone without good financial backing.

READ ALSO - 10 Therapeutic Songs to Lift You from a Depressed Mood

Moreover, be psychologically ready for what may come with relocating. There are moments you will feel very lonely and depressed. There are also times that you will miss home and your friends so much that all you probably want will be to go and be with them, but you can’t. It would be best to prepare for these times before you even consider relocating.

7. Weigh your immigration chances early enough and make a decision

Migrating abroad looks like the most fashionable thing to do now, especially with the internet filled with pictures of people in the snow and all the other aesthetic stuff. However, that may only tell part of the story. Behind those smiles in pictures can be pain and other untold difficulties.

immigrating abroad - letter to new pharmacy graduates
Picture of lady immigrating abroad.

People regardless migrate abroad for so many reasons ranging from accessibility to better infrastructure or the establishment of a better platform for their children. Whatever your reason, be sure your mind is made up on time and that you’re not just following trends.

Once again, congratulations on successfully finishing pharmacy school without breaking. See you on the other side of victory.

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