Pharmacist Shortage Leads to Stable Career:
High school sophomore Scott Kislak wanted to go into broadcasting. There was one problem: a class project on careers revealed a dearth of career opportunities. What good would a job be if he couldn't get it? When he looked into pharmacy, Mr. Kislak saw something different his future. Growing up in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, suburb of West Mifflin, he decided to go to the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) - close, but not too close, to home and ranked one of the top 10 U.S. pharmacy schools.
After a two-year pre-pharmacy focus with coursework including biology, chemistry, organic chemistry and various other science courses, he won a spot in Pitt's School of Pharmacy, where he completed challenging courses such as Pharmacotherapy of Infectious Disease and Pulmonology/Rheumatology as well as the school's professional experience program.
Also at Pitt, a school affiliated with one of the country's largest health care systems, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Mr. Kislak learned there was more to pharmacy than dispensing pills and making money. He discovered other career options that awaited pharmacy school graduates.
Since graduating with his Doctor of Pharmacy degree, Mr. Kislak has gotten married, bought his dream car (a black Hummer) and moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia, where he works at a community Rite Aid pharmacy.
Scott Kislak & His Career
Where did your interest in pharmacy start
In 10th grade, we had to do a project about careers. At that time I wanted to go into broadcasting but found that there were hardly any jobs available in that field, so I started looking into pharmacy.
What jobs have you had in your career
I have worked as a pharmacist for Shop 'n' Save Pharmacy in Pittsburgh, Rite Aid Pharmacy in Virginia and Pittsburgh, and a small independent pharmacy.
What do you enjoy most about your current position
The best thing about a career in pharmacy is the excellent pay and stability. There is a huge demand for pharmacists, so jobs are plentiful and pay is high. There is also the day-to-day satisfaction of knowing that you went out of your way to help a patient with their health care needs.
What has been your greatest success
My greatest success in pharmacy came when I was working for Shop n' Save pharmacy. I ran a blood pressure clinic there for a little over two years and I was able to help many people. One instance sticks out above all the others. A man came to one of the free blood pressure screenings and I found that he had developed remarkably high blood pressure. I recommended that the patient get in contact with his doctor as soon as possible and get in for a check up. When the man went to the doctor, they found that many of his arteries around his heart were clogged and he was dangerously close to suffering a heart attack. The man underwent surgery three days after his office visit and recovered.
What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future
I would like to move to a position as a pharmacy district manager. These individuals oversee a large number of pharmacies and are basically the link between corporate offices and the individual stores.
Is it important for someone to be passionate about pharmacy in order to be successful in the field
That depends on how you define successful. It is possible to be an intelligent person who does well in school to get their degree and practice pharmacy and get good pay. However, the best pharmacists are the ones who do have a passion for helping others.
Education Information & Insights
Tell us about your pharmacy education. Where did you go to school? What was your undergrad degree in? Why did you choose the schools you chose
I went to school at the University of Pittsburgh. For pharmacy, there was no undergrad degree. There were two years of "pre-pharmacy" where one completed electives and the basic math and science courses and then four years of pharmacy school. At the end of the six years one graduates with a doctor of pharmacy degree, also known as a PharmD. I chose the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy because I am from Pittsburgh and it is one of the top 10 pharmacy schools in the country. One added benefit of going to pharmacy school at Pitt is the link between UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center), which is one of the largest health care systems in the country, and the pharmacy school. This link offers students the ability to see many different types of pharmacy careers and make connections that will enable them follow the career path of their choice.
What do you need to do or have to get into pharmacy school
To get into pharmacy school, one needs outstanding grades, SAT scores, etc. Every pharmacy school sets up their program a little differently. There are some pharmacy programs that enroll students from pharmacy school out of high school and they complete their six years of college with no distinction of undergrad, grad, etc. Other schools, such as Pitt, break it up into two years of "pre-pharmacy" and four years of pharmacy school. In the first two years, one completes general college electives and basic requirements with a heavy emphasis on science such as biology and chemistry. After the pre-pharmacy requirements have been met, one can apply to pharmacy school. Getting into pharmacy school is extremely competitive. Two years ago at Pitt, there were more than 5,000 applications for the school's 90 spots.
In retrospect, what do you know now that you wish you knew before you pursued your education
When I applied to pharmacy school, I had no idea about the multitude of careers that pharmacy offered. Like most people, I only thought of a pharmacist as the person at the neighborhood drug store. Pharmacy offers much more than this. There are pharmacists who specialize in animals and work with vets, work in operating rooms, round with doctors in the hospital and recommend what medications patients should be on, pharmacists who work for lawyers or are also lawyers that work on malpractice cases, pharmacists who work for insurance companies that decide what drugs should be covered, and many more.
How has your education benefited your career
The University of Pittsburgh was a great school and prepared me well for my career. In order to practice pharmacy, one must pass a state board exam after graduation. I was very well prepared for the state board exam.
What factors should prospective pharmacy students consider when choosing a school
There are several things to consider when selecting a school. There are numerous places where one can find national rankings of pharmacy schools. When visiting a school, it is a good idea to ask how the previous year's graduating class did on their boards. They should be able to give you an exact number. As a point of reference, 97 percent of Pitt students pass on the fist try. One should also consider how long the pharmacy school has been in existence. There are not very many pharmacy schools, and the demand for pharmacists is high, so many schools have been trying to add pharmacy schools in the last decade. I would suggest going to a more established school rather than those newcomers. The final thing I would suggest is to pick a few and apply to at least two or three. As I said before it is very competitive and pharmacy schools only enroll students once a year so if you don't get into the program, you have to wait an entire year to reapply.
Does graduating from a prestigious school make a difference in landing a good job
Yes, if you go to a good school you will have a few job offers before you graduate. If you graduate from any pharmacy school, you will have no problem finding a job working at a drug store, but you may have a harder time getting more prestigious jobs in clinical pharmacy without going to a good school.
What types of continuing education requirements should pharmacy students expect once they graduate and land a job
This requirement varies depending on the state in which one practices. In general, the requirement is between 10 and 20 hours a year. This is not an obstacle at all, as there are opportunities to complete these hours in a variety of places, including every pharmacy magazine that one receives.
Pharmacy Career Information, Trends & Advice
Describe a typical day of work for you.
I work for Rite Aid pharmacy. When working in a community pharmacy, the most basic job of the pharmacist is to make sure the right drug gets to the right patient and that drug is safe for the patient to take. Pharmacy technicians do most of the computer entry and accepting payment for the medications, so the pharmacist is there to make sure that the drug is safe for the patient to take and check the work of all of the technicians. The ability one needs to work in this field above all others is the ability to multitask. It is not an exaggeration to say that at the same time, I may be recommending an over-the-counter medication for a patient, holding to talk to an insurance company about why they are not paying for a medication, checking a new prescription, and eating lunch at the same time.
What are the most challenging aspects of your job
The most challenging and frustrating aspect of the job is dealing with patients' insurance companies. Health care has gotten so expensive, insurance companies have put many different limitations on what they will pay for, and negotiating these limitations to get the patient the medication that they need is often a long and difficult task.
What are the best ways to get a job in pharmacy field? How available are internships
It is easy to get a job in a pharmacy, especially once you are already enrolled in a pharmacy school. Most of the larger chains have websites where you can apply for internships.
What further advice can you give to prospective students thinking about an education and career in pharmacy
Do research and look at the many types of career paths for pharmacists. Do not just think of working for the chain drug store in the neighborhood; pharmacy offers much, much more than this. The second piece of advice is to be prepared to work extremely hard during school. Pharmacy school is very difficult and challenging.