Becoming INDISPENSABLE-Alex Barker


HB: Alright. So we are here live at the APhA annual meeting, and in this episode, we’re going to be talking with Alex Barker of the Happy PharmD. And so he’s a special guest on the Talk to Your Pharmacist podcast. He is helping pharmacists create fulfilling careers and lives. For a time, he was a burned out clinical pharmacy specialist, but now he’s the founder and head coach at, where alongside his team, he creates classes to help over 400 pharmacists find and create new career paths. He recently published the book, “INDISPENSABLE: The Prescription for a Fulfilling Pharmacy Career,” and his goal is to help 500 pharmacists transition into new jobs by January 1 of 2019.


AB: 2012. 2020.


HB: 2020. OK. I know, I was like, oh.


AB: What year is it?


HB: We are in 2019, so.


AB: Yes.


HB: Alright, 2020. So that’s good. 500 in this upcoming year. So when he’s not working with pharmacists, he spends time with his wife Megan and two girls, Izzy and Addie. So Alex, welcome to the Talk to Your Pharmacist podcast.


AB: Thanks for hanging out with me. I mean, it’s nice to meet people in person.


HB: Totally.


AB: And doing a podcast live has such a different feel.


HB: Yes.


AB: So I just appreciate you taking the time to talk with me.


HB: Definitely. Well, thanks for joining us. And now that our listeners have heard a little bit about your background, you can fill in any gaps from that intro or share a little bit more about…


AB: I mean, I’m probably more of a nerd than what you let on. But that’s about it. You know, I graduated in 2012, and I’ve been hustling on the side for a few years. And 2017, that’s when I kind of decided I’m going to stick to one thing, and the Happy PharmD is it.


HB: Yep.


AB: And it’s kind of been a roller coaster ride ever since.


HB: And remind everybody where you live.


AB: So I’m in the middle of nowhere, Upper Peninsula of Michigan.




AB: So it’s very — there’s snow on the ground still. And it’s end of March.


HB: OK. That’s too cold for me. I’m from Mississippi, so.


AB: Oh are you, really? OK.


HB: Yes. So I like it warm. And I’m now in Nashville. So we’re going to be talking about the state of the pharmacy job market. What are some of the challenges and roadblocks that you’re seeing, Alex, that pharmacists are facing to a fulfilling career?


AB: There’s, unfortunately, a lot. We’re at APhA right now, and they’ve been talking about some of them, some of them indirectly, some of them more directly. I mean, starting off from just a chronological standpoint, we know that there are a lot of new graduates every year. The number has been increasing. And what’s interesting with that is that the number of applications has been decreasing. At some colleges, I just heard a stat yesterday that they saw a 20% decrease in applications from the year prior.


HB: I’m hearing that as well, yes.


AB: Since 2010, I believe, the number of applications has decreased by 35%. So the argument is they are accepting a lower quality. Attrition rates have gone up — from 2000, I think our attrition rate was near 0%. In recent years, it’s up to 12%.


HB: Yep.


AB: We are seeing the typical jobs not being offered in plethora to our students. So I get a lot of messages, and you just shared with me you do as well, that new grads can’t even find a job. And they’ve been looking for months. I hear that as of recently, starting salaries in many community pharmacies have been lowered to about $45 an hour. And I hear people who have been promised full-time jobs, their contracts are changed to being part-time. They’re being forced into those things. The older pharmacists who do not have PharmDs feel like they’re becoming more and more irrelevant, and their skills are not being valued by companies. And it isn’t the same market that it was just 15 years ago. The demand for us seems to be lowered in the normal positions. The interesting positions seem harder to find. I just helped a candidate get a job who was competing against 125 different applications. And only seven interviews were offered.


HB: Sure.


AB: So a lot is stacked against us in this marketplace.


HB: RIght.


AB: But I think there are pathways that most people aren’t considering to create an indispensable career. It’s just no one’s talking about how to do that.


HB: Right. There’s a lot of — I guess we’re seeing a lot of the negativity around the pharmacy profession. But I think that with the whole healthcare landscape being such a dynamic — there’s a lot of opportunity. So Alex, tell us how you’ve helped pharmacists really jumpstart their burned out careers and get into some of these jobs where they’re just thriving and loving and able to take on some of these new opportunities.


AB: I think you kind of have to step into their mind for a moment. And what I mean by that is when you’re burned out, you really feel trapped. Not only do you feel trapped by like financial obligations because you’ve got all that debt that you have to pay off, and you put yourself in a position where you’re like, well, I have to continue making this money otherwise if I make even just $5,000 less, I’m not going to be able to pay off my debt as quickly as I want. So you feel trapped, and you go to work, and you wonder, oh my gosh, what is this job? I don’t feel fulfilled. And then you come home, and you’re just like, I just want to watch Netflix. I just want to catch up on my favorite show or watch the game, and I don’t want to think about work. And then you wake up the next day, and you’re doing it all over again.


HB: Yeah. Just a cycle.


AB: Some point in that process, people go and they look up, and they realize they’re in a cage, and they’re like, I don’t want to stay here. But I don’t know how to leave.


HB: Right.


AB: And that’s usually the first point where people come to us and say, “I think I’m burned out. I think I need to change something, but I don’t know how or what.” Whenever I work with people one-on-one, it usually comes down to asking usually some deep questions about things that have always been true about you.


HB: Yeah.


AB: So Hillary, you’ve chosen a very public way of going about your interests, right? You have a podcast.


HB: Sure.


AB: That took a lot of courage.


HB: Yeah.


AB: I’m sure that you probably as a child, even, you kind of had a little bit of that since you were a kid, right?


HB: I’m an achiever.


AB: OK. That’s one of your strengths, then.


HB: Yes. “Strength Finders,” of course, is one of my favorite resources to be more self-aware. So yes.


AB: Right. And so it probably didn’t come as much of a struggle to you to like think, I can do a podcast.


HB: Right.


AB: But for a lot of other people, they would be like, no way. I’m not talking to no one, usually, right? If you’re just talking into the microphone, you’re kind of like, I’m just saying stuff.


HB: Right.


AB: But for you, it’s natural. And so it’s kind of digging up those things. One gal that we helped named Tracy, she had been working 10 years in retail pharmacy. And I remember our first deep dive conversation, I remember asking her bluntly and saying, do you even want to stay in pharmacy anymore? Because you’re not convincing me that you really love this profession. She had been saying things like, “Oh, no, I like pharmacy.” But you could tell a lot of the symptoms were there that I don’t know. But by diving deep with her, she told me a story about how she was always prepared for the worst. And I was like, “Well, tell me more. What do you mean?” And she said, “Well, ever since I was like a kid, my dad beat it into me like you’ve got to have your emergency preparedness kit in your car in case something happens. All my friends, whenever they had accidents, I was the person they called.


Hillary Blackburn

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