Caution: I’ve written books on this subject, and the affiliate links are below.
I get asked…a lot…about the combination of the pharmacist and attorney in one.
The first question I get is, “Why do both?”
Pharmacy was my first career choice. Adding law kind of made sense. If you check, maybe behind only money, banking, and what they call the regulation of money and banking (securities law), pharmacy is probably the most highly regulated profession out there. (We like to keep an eye on our drugs and money, apparently.) That and, in pharmacy, we’ve already got the cool scales. 😎
So, going to law school was important, because in order to defend and support the profession of pharmacy, you have to get involved in the law and regulation of pharmacy. (Although, you don’t really have to go to law school in order to get involved in the pharmacy law and regulation side. There are plenty of pharmacists who are already there, without a law degree.)
The second question I get is, “Are there a lot of you out there?”
Actually, there are a lot of us. More than you may think, actually. We even have a professional society or two where we hang out. (One is the American Society for Pharmacy Law, where I am in full disclosure a member.)
In my nerdiness of studying career development for a variety of professions, I thought I’d look at some of the pharmacist attorneys in my network, just for curiosity to see what side of the business they currently work, and whether or not they have additional degrees beyond the pharmacy and law degrees. Here’s what I found of the appx. top 40ish pharmacist-attorneys in my network (some below):
In the analysis of my pharmacist attorney tribe, I found that no surprise: a third of them work in law firms. But interestingly, that’s followed by pharmacist attorneys working in the pharmaceutical industry, health plans, and academia. As you can see, there’s a number of pharmacist attorneys working in other areas of the industry as well — insurance, foundations, associations, consulting and government, to name just a few.
The third question I get is, “Isn’t that a lot of school?”
The answer to this one is — yes. But, most pharmacists love to learn. (And in the book I wrote on this subject, The Life Science Lawyer, 95% of the professionals I interviewed and researched for the book first studied their health professions, then went on to law school. It’s very rare to find the opposite.) There are nurses, pharmacists, even physicians who went on to law school in the book, and all of them are passionate about the intersection of healthcare and the law.
The fourth question I inevitably get is, “What did law school teach you that pharmacy school didn’t?”
Answer: how to think differently. Pharmacists think about a ‘best’ solution. Lawyers think about a range of solutions, and then weigh the pros and cons of each solution. Lawyers also try to think ahead a little more to prevention of other problems down the road. While I did get some of that thought train in pharmacy school (for example, in a diabetic patient), I did not get it to the degree that a lawyer thinks. Lawyers think about problems much like a Rube Goldberg Machine — the more that happens down the road could be trickle down effects: but for X happening, Y and Z may occur.
The last question in the conversation always ends with the bright, eager pharmacy students or students in general is, “Should I go to law school?”
My answer is the classic lawyer’s answer: it depends. Everyone’s reason for going is different. I went to law school for other reasons too that were not directly related to pharmacy — I had many reasons to go. And while I was going through it — working full time during the day, and going to school at night 5–6 days a week, it wasn’t exactly fun. It was a lot of hard work and reading. When I asked the question, I got a lot of “No’s,” but I didn’t let that stop me, and it shouldn’t stop the eager students who want to do more as well. That, and I’m sure I could send a message over to any of the 120 or so classmates I met while I was in law school and they’d help me out in a NY minute, and vice versa. It’s kind of like military training or anything intense and rigorous: you make friends for life.
There. I thought it might be fun to return to this corner of my career and share what I’ve learned since I went and have been licensed. And as little fun as it was when I was going through it, I’m glad I have the knowledge in my brain now. It’s helped me tremendously on so many fronts — in work, and in life.
Erin L. Albert is a pharmacist, attorney and author. She also works for Apex Benefits as Pharmacy Benefit Practice Lead. Opinions here are her own and nothing here is legal advice. She has written two books on pharmacy law: The Life Science Lawyer and Law School: A Few Short and Plain Statements.