When I qualified as a pharmacist, I thought I had it all figured out. I had made it through university and my foundation year training; I loved clinical pharmacy and saw myself continuing my journey to become a highly specialist, clinical pharmacist.
Fast forward several years and I found myself feeling burnt out, unmotivated and questioning whether pharmacy really was for me. Hospital pharmacy was a challenging yet highly rewarding environment, but I was struggling to balance the demands of a high-pressured job and my personal life. I also started to question whether I wanted to be in the same or similar roles for the rest of my career, but hospital pharmacy was all I knew. What did I know about anything else and wouldn’t it feel like a lot more work to make a change?
My husband encouraged me to apply for a primary care role and, to my surprise, my application was successful. I undertook the new role at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and quickly found myself involved in the roll-out of vaccination clinics and hosting webinars tackling vaccine hesitancy.
I have since held various positions in education and training for the Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education and the General Pharmaceutical Council. I have taken on roles that I had no idea existed while I was at university, I have learnt a lot and my mental health has greatly improved.
Having gone through this process, this is what I would say to anyone finding themselves feeling despondent about their career:
Embrace the squiggle — your career path does not have to be linear
During my preregistration year, I was fortunate to work in a forward-thinking, teaching hospital. I worked with highly specialised pharmacists; they were knowledgeable, confident and well respected by consultants, nurses and pharmacy staff alike. ‘That will be me one day’, I decided. This didn’t pan out like I expected and I struggled with the idea of taking a side step in my career rather than taking on another ‘promotion’. What I actually found was that the change was rewarding both professionally and personally. I developed an oversight into a broader view of pharmacy, worked with some incredibly knowledgeable and inspiring colleagues, and I found something that I enjoyed in each of these roles.
Many pharmacists shy away from putting themselves out there. Particularly, early on in my career, I was hesitant to ask other healthcare professionals for help with career advice. What did I have to offer them in return? Surely, they’re just too busy? However, this is simply not the case — many professionals are happy to give you their time, share more information about their career journeys and offer advice. And, even if they say no, what do you have to lose?
Say ‘yes’ to new opportunities
Experience has taught me that even with the more challenging roles that I have taken on, they have always provided me with a rich insight into another facet to pharmacy, a broader network and a greater number of transferable skills that can benefit me and my service users. I used to think those more niche roles and smaller organisations were meant for someone else, but it turns out the people in these roles were just like me or you, putting themselves out there.
Find a mentor
I have been fortunate to work with amazing line managers over the years, and while these may not be the people you would also like to be your mentor, I found this was often the case. Having someone who is rooting for you to succeed and who can see your full potential, even when you can’t see this for yourself, can be really powerful in developing yourself and pushing forward in your career. This doesn’t have to be someone you work directly with and, if you get the opportunity to receive some career coaching, this can really help align your values and goals to your current work strategy.
Remember, your skills are transferable
Many people struggle with confidence when changing sectors. In truth, whichever sector or role you started out your career in, many of the skills you have acquired will be an asset in another role or sector. Many of these skills will always serve you well: communication, working in a team, problem-solving. The rest you will pick up along the way.
I have always struggled with the classic interview question ‘where do you see yourself in five to ten years?’. But I now feel that I can answer that confidently: I have no idea, but as long as I am seeking out opportunities that allow me to develop myself professionally and personally, I am excited to find out what’s next.
Nisha Surendranathan currently works as a self-employed member of the General Pharmaceutical Council team, working on the registration assessment for trainee pharmacists.