Pharmacist Entrepreneurs – Why Are Pharmacists Terrible Entrepreneurs?

I shared a variation of this blog post about pharmacist entrepreneurs on – you can also check it out here:

As I was helping my dad on his family farm about 5 years ago, I had an idea.  Why not start a Facebook page or blog designed to help nursing home staff and pharmacy students better learn medication management?  Who wouldn’t want to have the opportunity to help millions of people across the world?

After I thought about a couple of positive things about the project, I immediately shifted to fear.  What if I make a mistake?  What if I get sued? What if my employer has concerns? What if I say something controversial?  As I had more thoughts down this road, my training in pharmacy school kicked in and this really explains why pharmacists are terrible entrepreneurs.  If you make a mistake as a pharmacist, what happens?  People die.

In my mind, pharmacy school is the most stagnant, uncreative, place I have ever been in my life.  I didn’t really recognize it at the time, but it is so apparent now. Guidelines, standards of practice, systems, and on and on… Pharmacy school is a “box-checkers” dream.  Get an “A” in this class, be president of some organization, take this elective, be nice to this instructor, do this rotation, sign up for this residency, get published in this article…I think you get the point.  With the vast amount of information that needs to be crammed in during pharmacy school, it is understandable that creativity, social media connectivity, and entrepreneurship is not high on the teaching priority list.

I grew up on a farm (and the type of farm without a “ph”).  Farmers are some of the most creative people on the planet.  Why are they creative?  They have to be.  When it is late Saturday afternoon with a potential rain storm coming on Monday, and the store that has the part you need isn’t open until Monday, you have to be creative.  You have no choice.  In this type of situation, there isn’t really a disincentive to at least try something.  Worst case scenario you are probably out of a little time and effort. Best case scenario, you are able to fix what you wanted to and get back to work before the storm.

Back to my journey.  Because of the fear of doing something outside the box, I sat on the idea for about a year.  The rest is now history.  The last several years have been a compilation of failures and lessons learned that I never would have had the opportunity to grow from if I hadn’t tried in the first place.  Pharmacists are terrible entrepreneurs because we are scared that failure = death.  My mindset has completely changed.  Failure = living.

What’s your biggest fear?

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  1. John[Jack] Bowen RPh

    Many are very introverted,confined to “four walls” of low risks and little rewards!

    • kam

      You are correct about “four walls.” In certain areas of pharmacy, pharmacists are assessed by “metrics.” These “walls” (metrics) make it difficult to function autonomously with any creativity.

  2. Rajesh Patel

    This is so true. The schooling was very stagnant and depressing. Great article.

  3. Alan Vogenberg

    You are right on target! Even back in the 1950s, our professors would tell us to buy a Pharmacy (most graduates were Community practitioners (or as hospital Pharmacists and PharmDs cal it – deriseively
    “RETAIL”) However we never had any business courses. What we learned about business was from our
    preceptors. However, many of us became entrepreneurs as we struggled to solve the Pharmacy problems of our patients, and after 1965, Long Term Care, then specialty Pharmacy, etc.
    The Pharmacy schools are staffed with people who are EMPLOYEES, who were and are not creative. They have trouble thinking “outside the box”. When they finally figure our the problem, Community Pharmacists are moving on to other fertile fields.

  4. Gopinath K Vinayakam

    No scope for a failure, if we have a ‘ effective system ‘. Without a system, striving for excellence , more than a ‘ suicide attempt’. Thanks for Good posts.

  5. Kathy Campbell

    Pharmacy school has naturally selected the current pharmacists for clinical skills, not entrepreneurial skills.

  6. kam

    Great commentary Eric. I too fear failure. But why? Failure is how we LEARN. But in healthcare, if failure means harm/injury/death, no one wants a part of it. Failure eats away at Self-Confidence, Self-Esteem, and Self-Dignity

  7. Michele

    LOVE……and agree with Jack too! 🙂

  8. Samuel Kelley

    I am both the pharmacist a small business owner and then academician who has taught entrepreneurship and strategic management. First there are plenty of pharmacist who are entrepreneurs, but I do think that the population who selected pharmacy as a degree program were people who were smart, good students, bright earnest. As the economy waned in the early 2000s it seemed that the population going to pharmacy school was more inclined to pursue the degree as the one that paid the highest entry level salary upon graduation.
    I taught entrepreneurship at a Big 10 world class business school known for its great accounting program. I once had an entrepreneurship class that had greater than 50% accountants. It was a nightmare of non creative people looking for a precise answer in an imprecise field. Currently there is some glamour associated with being an entrepreneur as in years past there was glamour in consulting and international business degrees.
    There are people who see opportunities and are creative in monetizing them and also enjoy the process of innovating more than the routine process of managing.
    When I was in pharmacy school 40 years ago I had classes with DDS and MD students. There was an observable difference between the degrees. The MD students exhibited more leadership confidence energy social skills spoke more often in class had more insightful queries and showed more interest in applying knowledge to a patient. Pharmacy students (and b school students) consumed class materials with an on exam/not on exam orientation. School was a job, then we get a job and get paid and there will be on the job training.
    I am inclined to observe that farmers always operated with contingency plans in place, weather mainly, machinery, self employed responsibility taking self starting owners. Some people are born for the assembly line and others grow into it. In the pharmacy job crisis a few years back I observed that the orientation of many of the job seekers was to get more advanced training certifications or degrees. I noticed that the cohorts I would label as entrepreneurial were moving out of pharmacy into something else in 7 years after graduation. Many owned drugstores and were involved in farming real estate network marketing or multi retail expansion.
    That said, the research in entrepreneurship would support that anyone can be an entrepreneur but any number of personal characteristics may be found in those who do so. Both pharmacists and accountants like rules and structure and these people have a place in the world, often it is working for an entrepreneur. There is a misperception that entrepreneurs take on great risk, more accurately they perceive risk differently and get others to take the financial risk while maintains a significant share of ownership.

    I am an advocate of ownership / entrepreneurship and use those terms interchangeably. Many do not. The graph on my profile demonstrates the tendency in the world economy for wealth to move toward owners and away from labor. I strongly suggest that pharmacists find something entrepreneurial to do. We are in the midst of a transition to a new industrial revolution and one of its hallmarks will be automation robotics and the use of internet connected sensors to micro manage activity. This will most likely replace human capital with machine capital. Forecasters assign an 86% likelihood for robotics and AI to replace pharmacist activities. Regulatiry requirements will provide protection for a while. Contrast this to addiction counseling services, another career pharmacists can perform whose likelihood of being automated is in single digits.

    Right now I believe pharmacists can start their “side hustle” with a little initiative in pharmacy or out of it. Look for a big problem. In pharmacy we have more adherence related deaths and injuries than from car accidents. We have an opioid epidemic to solve while our attention goes to giving flu shots. Pharmapreneurs can take leadership in this with some effort. Better yet, find something you love and figure out how to monetize it, network face to face with others interested in starting or buying a business. I advocate buying to get started.

    BTW, I too grew up on a farm where the plan for the next day was plan A but just as often plan B was executed due to weather.

  9. Michael

    Owning 3 Community Pharmacy for over 35 years and being a preceptor for students I’ve watched students going through pharmacy school being being taught how not to think objectively. I seen students completely lose their direction and common sense when it comes to drug therapies and Pharmacy related situations. I have been a consultant pharmacists over 30 years. I have yet to see a physician, nurse, surgeon who has never made a mistake. And I’m absolutely sure I’ve never seen a pharmacist who has never made a mistake. Our jobs as pharmacists are to think and when proper to take action. As Consulting pharmacists if we don’t think and take appropriate action when needed what are we doing? Isn’t that basically the definition of a consultant. As a Consulting pharmacist we make suggestions and sometimes recommendations. However it is up to the attending physician to make the final judgement and whether to take our recommendation or suggestion. So is it the fear of making mistake or rather of not being correct in your rationale or somehow risk demonstrating that you do not completely understand what you’re talking about. I did not graduate from pharmacy school or complete my residencies knowing everything there was to know about Pharmacy and 35 years later I still do not know everything. However I do know the most important lesson and that is knowing how and where to look for the needed knowledge. Unfortunately I’m not even seeing that taught in pharmacy school.

  10. Andrew

    My fear is that others are already doing it! Well now I have decided that everyone is unique and you can bring to the table your own different perspective. This in turn can add to the pool of knowledge. Knowledge is power and not anyone can be a know it all. And of course go ahead and make that commitment, it may bear fruit when you’re least expected it too!



  1. Side Hustle for Pharmacists – drugopinions - […] are uniquely careful about mistakes, because, in the words of Eric Christianson, failure = death. He calls pharmacy a…

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Written By Eric Christianson

January 14, 2018

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