A story of resilience

By Timothy Cole posted 10 days ago


           Greetings! As a fellow pharmacist, I have been struggling a lot recently with career issues, work-life balance, and general well-being. I would like to share my story in the hopes that others might find comfort and support in knowing you are not alone.  

          I never wanted to be a pharmacist. I started out in undergrad as a double major in pre-med and theater. I got heavily involved in the theater fraternity and ended up with a 1.6 GPA my first semester. I moved home and commuted and took remediation courses to get a 3.5 GPA my next semester. So I dropped the theater major and went for a double in Biology and Chemistry.

          In December of 2002 I was two semesters away from my double degree when I was informed that I had reached the limit of $50,000 in federal student loans (I was at a private university) and that I would only afford to finish one of the two semesters. I quickly switched to a BA in Chemistry degree but was still 22 credits short of graduation requirements. I completed 22 credits my last semester while working 20 hours a week to get my degree.

           In light of the amount of debt I was facing I had no choice but to continue on in a profession that would allow me to pay back those loans. I took the LSAT in December and scored a 50% national average, good enough to probably get into law school but not a good one. I then took the PCAT in January. I didn’t even know my results when I submitted an application to Midwestern. I got my results back and I scored in the top 2% nationally.

           So I was off to Midwestern, except that I was still short 12 credits of prerequisites. So the day after graduation I started summer school, full time to complete the 12 credits in order to start pharmacy school. So from January 2003 until 2 weeks before pharmacy school started, I worked 20 hours a week as a pharmacy tech and completed 34 credit hours of college courses.

           Needless to say I was burnt out before I even started. By the time the third trimester came I was skipping so much class that when I returned for the second year I had friends say they though I got kicked out. After a summer break I committed to only getting 1 C in Pharmacology, Med Chem, or Therapeutics per trimester. I was successful and was able to complete pharmacy school.

           Problem was my heart wasn’t in it. I graduated high school with a 2.99 GPA, graduated college with a 2.99 GPA, and graduated pharmacy school with a 2.99 GPA (Grrr! J ). At least I am consistent as the material gets increasingly difficult.

           During my 3rd year of pharmacy school I was able to be an extra in the filming of Stranger than Fiction as well as taking a precision machine tooling course at the local junior college. I made my own steadi-cam and camera crane and was generally messing around with monster makeup when I wasn’t in school or at work.

           So I graduated, did 2 years in retail and then I was able to find a position a local hospital as an inpatient pharmacist. The position was challenging because I had to recall all that clinical knowledge I had almost lost. I worked at the hospital for 4.5 years. During this time I took computer programming classes at the local college in an attempt to postpone my now massive ($180,000) student loans. Turns out I really enjoy computer programming.

           This lead to getting involved in pyxis and meditech at work in an attempt to learn all I could about blending pharmacy and technology. It also led to enough experience with meditech that I was able to get a contract position as a consultant building order sets from home in meditech for various facilities. I enjoyed it thoroughly! Problem was I was too good at my job, finished the contract early and was out of work. I was able to land my current position after that and have been working as an inpatient clinical specialist for the past 3 years.

           I started by splitting my time being the clinical pharmacist for a nearby critical access hospital that we contracted to provide pharmacy services for and performing medication reconciliation at the main hospital I work for. I provided leadership for the pharmacy technicians and became the subject matter expert for all things med rec on the inpatient side. I was able to refine our process and work with the informatics and IT coworkers to build a robust medication reconciliation program that lead to increasing our number of technicians from 3 to 8 technicians providing medication reconciliation. With IT I was able to assist in the design and build of reports to show an increase from 4-500 med recs per month to over 1,000 med recs per month!

          Recently, however, my position has changed. The critical access hospital has hired a pharmacist full time and I have been shifted to staffing more and more. I now find myself in the position of feeling burnt out and depressed. Lately I have felt that I have spent the last 10 years becoming someone that I’m not, meeting the expectations of leadership and others in an attempt to fit in.

          As I said before I have never wanted to be a pharmacist and I really don’t have the pharmacist personality. I don’t find it interesting to read clinical trials or articles about pharmacy. I’m very much a geek and enjoy Dungeons and Dragons, board games, LOTR, Star Trek: TNG, Dr. Who etc.. Much of what I enjoy clashes with “professional” and I feel as though I cannot express myself or merge what I enjoy with what I do.

          I am attempting to find a position as an informatics pharmacist as currently that feels like the best opportunity to blend some of my skills and interests with the clinical knowledge I have in a best of both worlds situation. I have had two interviews so far but both times I’ve not been successful in being chosen for the position.

          For those of you struggling with well-being, work-life balance, and resilience I have this to say: “It could always be worse!” Often times when I feel like my situation is horrible and I have it so bad, I simply am not looking at how bad it could be. I just need to look to see the discipline reports of others who have made poor choices and have been disciplined or lost their license to realize its not that bad. Yes I may struggle, and no I am definitely not the best or most clinically minded, but I provide a unique perspective and a fresh look at things in a profession that can sometimes suffer from a singlemindedness way of looking at things. The challenge then becomes how do you challenge that perspective and lead change, especially when you are happier being left alone reading than out there in the trenches dealing with the messiness of leading change.

1 comment



6 days ago

​​I loved your blog Timothy. You may want to take a look at my blog reflecting on a recent WSJ essay on resilience. Definitely a trait we need to encourage perhaps today more than ever.