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A Hard Pill to Swallow

By Cheryl Tang, Bachelor of Commerce

Throughout my school life, people regarded me as the ‘smart kid’. I went from a local public school to an opportunity-class primary school. Then I subsequently attended two selective high schools. There, the peer pressure to take up university studies as either a lawyer or doctor was immense. But this was to be expected seeing that I came from an Asian-Australian family. My family meant well for my future, even if they did not ask me about what I wanted for myself. Sadly, my high school grades were insufficient for me to enter a law or medicine degree, but they were good enough to undertake a pharmacy degree. My family believed that being a pharmacist would be ‘almost as good as a doctor’. At the time, I wanted to study Commerce, but I did not have the courage to go against my family’s decision. To please my family, I started a degree in ‘medicine’.

After battling mental health issues throughout my studies, I finally attained a Bachelor of Pharmacy degree. I was hopeful that I could start my career as a pharmacist, however, I struggled to find an intern position because my academic record was blemished. The mental health issues meant I had failed some subjects and had to repeat them. Eventually, I found a job the first year after my graduation, but it was as a pharmacy assistant – not an intern. The boss was happy to sign off my hours as if it were an internship. The requirements for upgrading from provisional practice to general practice were logging 1824 hours of work, passing two external exams, and completing postgraduate education at an accredited organisation. Unfortunately for me, I was overwhelmed in my role as a pharmacy assistant and could not complete any of the requirements to become generally registered. I left that pharmacy and tried to be an intern again at another pharmacy for the second year out of university. At that second pharmacy, my contract ended before I could complete the requirements to be generally registered. In the third year after graduation, I applied for many more pharmacy jobs. But each time I applied, I never heard back from any of them. My career as a pharmacist was over before it even began because employers only wanted fresh graduates, not interns who had tried and failed during the first two years after graduation. It was then that I realised I had a ‘hard pill to swallow’ - the situation was extremely difficult to accept. I learned the hard way that a career in Pharmacy wasn’t for me and in any case, it wasn’t really what I wanted in the first place.

I decided to retrain in accounting – the field of work I’d originally wanted to enter. I didn’t have the courage to do it in the past, but considering how things with pharmacy transpired, I had nothing to lose. I saw no shame in going back to university to take up another career, especially because it seemed the best course of action. I went to Macquarie University and started a Commerce degree. I was uncertain if this was the right thing to do, but I thought to give it a shot. Sure enough, halfway through the degree, I succeeded in securing a paid internship with PricewaterhouseCoopers. This was celebrated by myself with the careers advisors from Macquarie University who helped me prepare my application.

Today, I still work with PricewaterhouseCoopers. It occurred to me that my pharmacy training would not be wasted in my role as an auditor there. As an auditor, I would be investigating different companies. My background in pharmacy gave me an edge over my peers in auditing pharmaceutical companies since I knew more about health care than the average auditor. Interestingly, I discovered that one person can be simultaneously registered as an accountant and pharmacist. I still have provisional registration as a pharmacist with AHPRA and I am working towards a CA accountancy registration. Eventually, with both the degrees and professional accreditations, I am sure that I would be highly sought after for future work. Perhaps a new job title will come into existence because of my expertise?

Next time you decide on matters related to your career, know that you are permitted to follow your dreams instead of listening to well-meaning people around you. As it is said, ‘If you love your job, you never work a day in your life’. May the ability to choose your career despite the opinions of others be a remedy to the suffering you would have endured otherwise. But even if you are in a place where you don’t feel inspired, also know that your time and efforts there are never wasted. Time and effort are never wasted unless you believe it to be. Make the most of everything.


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