To Our 2017 Graduates: Find the lessons hidden in your toughest moments

A dark moment in my career

Below was an email I sent out to my staff in July of 2013 when I was leading a start-up company servicing nursing homes across the state of Indiana and Kentucky.  I was 29 years old and had already managed 4 retail pharmacies and served as a district manager over 12 pharmacies for a large grocery chain – so I thought I knew a thing or two about management.  However, at this moment I found myself in a situation where the walls were closing in around me and this was my attempt to demonstrate to my team that we were going to make it through this tough time.

Our company was facing major operational challenges and we were experiencing abnormal turnover that was compounding our problems.  I remember drafting and revising this email several times.  I couldn’t share everything with the staff, but I had to show that our leadership team was doing everything possible to hold the pharmacy together.

What I learned and a few thoughts for our 2017 graduates:

  1. We are never sure what our bodies or minds can handle until we experience it for the first time.  I was not ready for that level of stress but now I feel better prepared to handle difficult situations.
  2. This moment also taught me that I couldn’t control EVERYTHING, no matter how hard I tried or how many hours I put in.
  3. It is OK to be afraid.  As a new practitioner, there will be times where you will feel fear.  Maybe fear of making a mistake that could harm a patient, or fear that you aren’t as prepared as you should be.  It is this fear that has motivated me to get stronger.  It is this fear that reminds me to be humble.
  4. We are all human, so show empathy & appreciation for others.  I really didn’t want anyone to quit, but I couldn’t blame them if they did.  I tried to put myself in my technicians’ shoes and what I would do if I was constantly getting slammed for 8-10 hours at a time for $10/hour.
  5. Have a plan.  Life will put obstacles in your way.  You can complain about those obstacles or you can work on a plan to overcome them.

Shortly after this email, I began having more conversations with my faculty mentors at the University of Kentucky.  I realized that burnout was a real possibility if I stayed much longer and with encouragement of my fiance, best friends, and family I was able to pursue a new career in academia.  It would mean that I would need to start over and move across the country, but it would be the opportunity of a lifetime.  Now I have a chance to share the lessons from my successes and failures with students on a daily basis.   I’m sure there will be new challenges ahead in my career, but I’m confident that I will persevere.  Good luck to all those 2017 PharmD graduates and remember that we can all learn from facing difficulty…so embrace it.

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Joey Mattingly, PharmD, MBA is an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy located in Baltimore, Maryland. Joey has managed retail and long-term care pharmacy operations in Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana. Leading Over The Counter is a blog of Joey's views and opinions on the topics of pharmacy leadership and management and do not represent the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Joey can be followed on Twitter @joeymattingly.

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