Career Column

Pharmacy School Didn’t Prepare Me for This
Tackling Problems Unique to Starting Your Career During a Pandemic
Mackenzie Henderson
Daiichi Sankyo, Inc.

efore becoming pharmacists, we accumulate practical experiences in school applicable to our post-graduation careers. However, one thing we couldn’t learn from first-hand experience was how our profession would need to adapt in response to a pandemic. COVID-19 has caused unprecedented change in the workplace for many pharmacists, which can be overwhelming for those just starting their careers.

In this article, seven pharmacists who are still early in their own careers provide advice for new graduates seeking to start their careers during this unique time. Many agree that the pandemic has caused professional challenges but also provided some unexpected opportunities.

Applying for Post-Graduate Opportunities

Applying for post-graduate opportunities is different this year. Conferences have moved to a virtual format; as a result, post-graduate programs recruiting at these conferences will also be virtual and may not include in-person interviews.

One thing remains the same: Do your research before your interview. To this end, the virtual shift can be advantageous for candidates. In the past, preliminary interviews were held in-person during a hectic few days, which gave candidates little time to regroup between interviews. This year, many preliminary interviews will be offered over a longer time period, which gives candidates more time to prepare between each interview. Take advantage of this time to read about the position and the company, and prepare to articulate why you are interested in the position and would be a good fit for the company.

But many other things will be different. Many virtual conferences are free for students to attend, which has its own implications. The economic burden of attending conferences and applying to post-graduate opportunities is minimal, so applying for these positions has never been easier; actively search for positions that fit with your goals and take advantage of the simplified application process. On the other hand, this reduced cost also means that more candidates may apply to these positions. You may be competing with a larger pool of candidates just as qualified as you, so applying to several positions will increase your chances of finding a position and company that are a good fit.

Virtual recruitment means less in-person interaction, including formal interviews and less structured receptions for social interactions. It can be difficult to portray your personality through virtual means, and connectivity and audio issues can exacerbate these difficulties. To alleviate some of this awkwardness, test your technology before important interactions. Make sure your camera works and your background is appropriate; test your microphone and choose a location with minimal background noise. However, interviewers may rely more on the written portions of applications to learn about candidates this year (because of these technical obstacles), so concentrate on how these written materials can give interviewers a sense of who you are.

Networking and Connecting with Professionals

Making and maintaining meaningful connections can be challenging, especially now. Since many people are working remotely and many events are virtual, it can be difficult to have one-on-one interactions with new people or even people already in your network. Take it upon yourself to not let existing relationships lapse. Even though it may put you out of your comfort zone and it may have been a while since you last communicated, reach out to people in your network. Set periodic reminders for a quick call or virtual meeting to check in, but make sure your intent is meaningful interaction. Distancing can make it easy to fall out of touch with people, but many will be open to initiating communication again if you reach out.

Finally, take advantage of the fact that virtual communication is the new normal. The rise in popularity of virtual meeting platforms has made many people more comfortable with meeting virtually. Because it’s easier to connect with people all over the world, your ability to maintain connections is no longer limited by geographic location. If you prefer email instead of meeting virtually, use the time to reflect and construct thoughtful, professional responses that create productive interactions. Whatever your means of communication, be courteous and professional. If you set up a virtual meeting, account for time zone differences; if you are emailing, remember that tone of voice and other nuances are difficult to portray through writing.

Working Remotely

Starting a new position remotely presents a challenge for anyone. Because you are not physically with them, it is harder to connect with your colleagues and team. The best piece of advice I heard for new graduates was: Listen and learn. You will encounter many concepts you don’t understand; remember, you are not expected to know everything at first. Be attentive in meetings, even if you are not actively participating. Note unfamiliar concepts and reach out to colleagues or mentors to discuss them. This may require scheduling time on their calendar, as there are fewer opportunities for informal discussions with colleagues while working remotely. Alternatively, you can reach out to colleagues for recommendations of resources you can use to learn about the concepts on your own. Finally, be proactive with your training. If you see a learning opportunity, suggest ways that you can get involved. Working virtually shouldn’t hinder your training, but you must take personal responsibility to ensure that your goals are met.

Another challenge to working remotely is that you may not have a dedicated workspace at home. Some people find it difficult to work productively at home with so many distractors, while other people find it difficult to log-off at the end of the day. If you find it challenging to be productive at home, set up a dedicated workspace for yourself, no matter how small. Create physical boundaries for work, with all the tools you need to be productive and few distractions. Pay attention to how your focus shifts with different distractors (e.g., music, cell phone) and come up with strategies to eliminate those that interfere with work.

If it is difficult for you to log-off at the day’s end, set working hours for yourself. To help create a schedule, reach out to your manager for considerations you must take into account, such as whether the company has core working hours or certain times you must be available to meet with your team. Though circumstances may sometimes force you to work outside this schedule, it can serve as a guide for appropriate working hours. In the end, remember to balance work and life. Working too little can hinder your growth; working too much can burn you out.

Final Advice

The last piece of advice: “These times are scary and stressful and if you can get your job done while staying somewhat sane – kudos!” In other words, don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re starting your career in unprecedented times accompanied by countless stressors. Do your best to learn and grow but give yourself the credit you deserve. You may be new to this field, but you have an education that will allow you to contribute meaningfully to any team that includes you.

Takeaway Messages

  • Applying for post-graduate opportunities has never been easier and more people will apply this year, so apply to several positions to increase your chances of success.
  • Take advantage of more time between interviews to thoroughly prepare for them.
  • Test your technology before important virtual interactions to ensure they run smoothly.
  • Focus on written portions of your application, which may be more important this year.
  • Set reminders to reach out to people in your network to ensure relationships do not lapse.
  • Many people are now comfortable with virtual means of communication, which means you can connect with people all over the world.
  • Reach out to mentors and colleagues for help understanding new concepts and finding resources you can use to learn about these concepts on your own time.
  • Take responsibility for your own training; if you see an opportunity to learn, suggest ways you can get involved.
  • Set up a dedicated workspace with physical boundaries and minimize your distractors for work.
  • Schedule rough working hours for yourself to help guide you to work appropriately during the day.


Thank you to all the pharmacists who provided me with advice for this article! Most of the advice in this article came from them, so I could not have written this without their input.