Welcome to the inaugural interview of my new series, Pharmacy + Me!
This series of interviews will explore the alternative career paths of pharmacy professionals.
When I was a student, I was pretty naive. I was under the impression that you only had one career path and one shot at a career, and you had to stick to it.
While this is obviously not the truth, whenever I would ask others what they wanted to do outside of pharmacy (probably to get my own inspiration), there was always a lack of an answer.
It’s clear that this conversation needs a little nurturing. I want current students to know they can be both fantastic clinicians AND pursue their interests outside of pharmacy.
So, without further ado, let’s get started!
Syafiq kindly agreed to be the first interviewee of the series. From working in the pharmaceutical industry to pursuing a career change in law, Syafiq has plenty of insights and experience to share with us all.
Tell us about yourself!
I am a community pharmacist with a variety of interests, and I’m now looking to change to a career in law.
People often question my commitment to a single career path but my response is that I am an adventurer. I like to try out new things and if it doesn’t work out, then I would have learned something new.
At the very least, I won’t regret not trying.
How has pharmacy impacted your career aspirations and goals?
Working in pharmacy has made me realise the things I enjoy in a career: problem-solving and patient consultations.
To be honest, I chose pharmacy as a career because I was rejected from all the medical schools that I applied to. In hindsight, I think these rejections were a blessing in disguise because it led me to discover my passion for law.
As for career aspirations, I am still undecided.
I love learning about everything; from maths to physics, biology and even history. Ideally, I’d want a career that has a mix of everything I enjoy from working as a pharmacist to advocacy and exploring my other interests.
My goal at the moment is to get as much experience at Boots while I look for an opportunity to pursue law.
In terms of my pharmacy career, I am now trained in delivering the full range of vaccination services that Boots offer. I am also a Boots Macmillan Information Pharmacist where I support patients and their families in living with cancer. The next step would be to explore the independent prescribing qualification.
What motivated you to pursue law as a career?
During my pre-reg, the pharmacy I worked in received an inspection from the GPhC. In preparation for the inspection, I audited various aspects of the pharmacy’s practice. This piqued my interest in how the pharmacy profession is regulated.
After I qualified, I worked for Femtogenix, a biotech start-up that researches treatment for cancer. My role was mainly administrative but I had the opportunity to do a PhD in pharmaceutical sciences.
After pursuing a PhD for two years I realised that research wasn’t for me. It’s solitary work and I missed interacting with patients. That’s why I moved back to community pharmacy.
I joined Boots in 2019 and my plan was to travel around the world for the first two years of working there. Unfortunately, the pandemic made this difficult for me so I decided to go ahead with pursuing law to find if it fits with my personality and career aspirations.
Having done the course for a year now, I’ve learned a lot about the practice of law. I really enjoy advocacy, which is where I have to persuade someone about my interpretation of the law.
How do you combine your pharmacy expertise/skills with your new career path?
Community pharmacists have many transferable skills. The most important one, to me, is resilience.
It’s not uncommon to hear community pharmacists being referred to as ‘a glorified shopkeeper’. This isn’t accurate as most community pharmacists strive to give the best clinical care they can, particularly in helping patients navigate the bureaucratic nature of the NHS system.
Pharmacists need to be resilient because the work can be tough and you will make mistakes. When you make a mistake, you need to deal with the consequences of the mistakes, learn from it and pick yourself back up. It’s only human nature to make mistakes.
You also need to have the courage to take risks in your career. By utilising resilience, you won’t be afraid of failure because you know that if you fail, you can deal with the consequences of it and pick yourself back up.
What aspects of the practice of law are not present in pharmacy?
I don’t think there’s a lot of difference between the practice of law and pharmacy. Both require exercising professional judgment, attention to detail and being a strong communicator.
The practice of law is deeply rooted in history. You can find cases that trace back to the 1600s which are still applicable today. I have a strong interest in history, whereas with pharmacy the focus is often on the future.
The practice of medicine and pharmacy is influenced by new discoveries which can make old practices obsolete.
Do you view a ‘career change’ as a positive or negative (or neutral), and why?
I like to think of it as positive but sadly many people still view a career change negatively, including recruiters.
I can understand their perspective: it can be risky to employ someone that has changed careers as they might leave the job once it gets tougher.
The legal profession is known for being a highly competitive field. It’s hard enough to get an entry-level job as a lawyer. It’s even more difficult for those that have changed careers because you need to overcome the question that’s on every recruiter’s mind: ‘why the sudden change?’
But I’ve read two books that completely changed my perspective on career changes.
The first one is The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. Achor explains that rather than thinking of happiness as the end goal, one ought to think of happiness as the process in itself. In essence, be happy with what you have so that you can achieve what you want to have.
Achor suggests various strategies to help your quest for happiness, such as reframing how you think about the work that you’re doing.
My second book is The Unfair Advantage by Ash Ali and Hasan Kubba where the authors explain how to get ahead of your competition. What resonated with me is the idea that your own background and life experiences are your unfair advantages against your competitors.
The resilience that you build when practising as a pharmacist will be valuable. You will face many rejections before you get the job that fits your personality and career aspirations.
What advice would you give a pharmacy/pre-reg student who’s thinking about changing careers?
Don’t let go of your pharmacy qualification! Even if you don’t intend to be a pharmacist full-time, keep the registration as a backup. You can always do locum pharmacist work occasionally to cover the cost of your registration.
When deciding on what to change careers to, get your feet wet. Try different things out first so you know whether it works for you. If you can’t get an opportunity to try it, talk to people who have.
At the very least, write about it. This is the motivation for my blog, where I write about exploring my various interests.
Finally, don’t be discouraged with rejections. Ask yourself this every time you get a rejection: what can I learn from this experience?