Both are great for me, actually
July 8, 2009 2:29 PM   Subscribe

Please help me choose between nursing and pharmacy school please.

I did volunteer work, talked to both nurses and pharmacists, read extensively about both careers, and still feel pretty confused. I can see aspects of my personality that would allow me to do a great job in either field. I was originally interested only in nursing and specifically aspired to be a Nurse Anesthetist.

However, and this might be silly, I started reading various message boards and forums, as well as news articles, and am concerned by what seems to be a huge surge in the number of people going back to school for nursing. I'm also discouraged by the anecdotes regarding healthcare administrators who freeze hiring and rely on a skeleton staff. The message boards seem to be full of recent graduate nurses who passed the NCLEX and can't find jobs.

I've been considering pharmacy school at the same time, even though I know the jobs are fundamentally different. BLS data suggests that the demand for nurses will be higher than for pharmacists (in that there will be more openings). My cousin, who is a doctor, insists that there are way more opportunities in nursing, but I pointed out that there are all these cash cow programs in Healthcare Administration spewing out graduates without any experience actually working in the healthcare field. BLS data suggests that there will be more growth in nursing than in pharmacy.

I'm about to start my pre-reqs and I don't know how to figure out which path would be a better bet.

I'm 32 and a career changer, single, childfree, and I know pharmacy school would be 4 years, and getting a 2nd degree BSN + Masters would be more like 5 years. I'm really just way more interested in how to figure out which field will have more demand/security/stability. (Also, please don't give me platitudes like "Follow your passion.")
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Demand for pharmacists should still be pretty good - my mom was one until she retired and never had trouble finding work. She even got called to fill in on a regular basis after retiring until she finally decided to let her license lapse a couple years ago. Also, when I lived in Canada, drug store people were always grousing about their pharmacists getting sniped by chains in the states.

Not that this is the only job for a pharmacist, but be aware that if you're a store pharmacist for one of the big retail chains, as my mom was, this also more or less means "store manager." So you get to deal with marketing plans for the holidays, scheduling hours for the cashiers, and especially any weird situations that come up - and drug stores are rife with these. (Apropos of nothing, note that just because someone has a medic alert bracelet that claims they're a diabetic does NOT mean they're allowed to buy hypodermic needles. Anyone can buy those bracelets. Also, Jerry Falwell does not get free prescriptions just for being Jerry Falwell. Though he's dead now; you probably won't have to worry about that one.)

My point being, it's not really work that puts you off by yourself in a quiet back room full of drugs and paperwork. There's a pretty serious dealing with people's problems quotient. On the other hand, if you're seriously considering nursing, you're probably someone who can handle that or worse.

Good luck. Oh, and whatever you do, follow your passion. (ducks)
posted by Naberius at 2:42 PM on July 8, 2009

Ok -- I won't suggest following your passion, but do consider which job you'd be happier to wake up to every day.

I would definitely suggest nursing. I'm not a nurse and am not going to be one, but I was planning for about two years to go get a 2nd bachelor's in nursing so I've read a lot about it. What drew me to it the most was the sheer variety of what you can do and where you can work.

Finding a job is rarely a cinch, even in a field with a relatively high number of openings. But nursing is one of the surest bets out there.

And . . . you never know why those peeps on the message boards aren't getting jobs. Some of them might be horrible interviewees, etc. Go by the data out there. Going to nursing school is a smart move.
posted by imalaowai at 2:45 PM on July 8, 2009

Do whichever one suits you better.

As a pharmacist, you won't be dealing with sick or injured people, except over the counter. You'll keep regular, reasonable hours, and will be able to enjoy being precise and organized every minute of every day (if that's your sort of thing.) You also will be distanced from the people you serve, in that you won't have to watch some of them die before your eyes.

On the other hand, if you fill a prescription incorrectly, you can kill someone; it has and does happen. You'll also spend every day dealing with impatient people who don't understand why it takes more than two minutes to hand over a couple of pills, or who are trying to pawn off the world's worst forged prescription and think yelling will make you accept it.

Now, as a nurse, you'll be helping people more directly; you'll be in a position to provide emotional and practical support in addition to administering the drugs that, as a pharmacist, you'd merely be filling. You'll get closer to the people you serve emotionally and physically in all the positive ways, and people will sometimes send you flowers for how nice you were.

On the other hand, you will be close to the people you serve emotionally and physically in all the negative ways, too, and you'll see some of your patients die (assuming you work in a hospital or nursing home rather than a doctor's office.) Your hours will be irregular (again, assuming hospital or nursing home) and many demands will be made. Even if you work at a doctor's office, you will have hostile patients who don't understand why they had to wait an extra hour to see the doctor and all you're doing is bringing them into a room to wait for another half hour.

In short: are you a caring, gentle, supportive person who likes people and likes to help strangers? Be a nurse. Are you an efficient, precise person who likes accuracy and organization? Be a pharmacist.
posted by davejay at 2:57 PM on July 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

note: I didn't say that all as a platitude, but in the spirit of which one provides more stability -- because hating your job five years down the line is about as unstable as you can get.
posted by davejay at 3:12 PM on July 8, 2009

Also keep in mind that while retail-level pharmacy is one angle (and the most visible) there are lots of other things that pharmacists do as well as work at hospitals. My sister is a pharmacist at a small community hospital and the way that she describes her job she is very much a part of the team providing health care to the patients. It's not solely a transactional event since she often knows more about the latest on the drugs and their interactions than the doctors do. FWIW she also responds to "codes" in the hospital as well.

With that said, there are far more opportunities for nurses overall (hospitals, clinics, elder care, home care, insurance companies, drug companies, research facilities).
posted by mmascolino at 3:14 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Direct patient care is hard physical labour. I know nurses who are still at the bedside at age 55-60, but they are few, far-between, and most of them are in pain. There comes a point when working smarter (due to experience) just doesn't balance things out.

I go home exhausted after every shift. I love my work, and wouldn't do anything differently, but it gives me the willies to know that if I want to stay in nursing after a certain point, I'll have to start being a manager. Nurse Managers are committed to good patient care, but the bottom line is cost, and we nurses are just warm bodies to make the numbers legal.

I know several pharmacists that are old enough to retire. It's all hard work, but the physical price is much less.

Consider what happens to a woman or man who becomes unable to do their job at age 55.

Did you decide against a Nurse Anesthetist education? You'd essentially be in school until you got that Degree and Certification. Clinicals (working supervised in a patient care setting) while in school can be stressful, but it's not forever.

All the hospital pharmacists I know are ... like the nursing staff... bogged down with paperwork and working with minimal staffing levels.

Follow your dream.
posted by reflecked at 3:14 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

it's not really work that puts you off by yourself in a quiet back room full of drugs and paperwork

It [pharmacy] can be like this, though. I have a friend who is a pharmacist in a hospital, and this pretty much defines his job - in the basement, doing his thing, not dealing with the public much, if at all.

Granted, there are a lot more jobs available as chain or drugstore pharmacists, just by the sheer volume of such establishments when compared to the number of hospitals.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 3:15 PM on July 8, 2009

I am an old guy, which I mention because back then, to get a degree in Pharmacy at the Univ of Conn took the 4 year program. Then, for whatever reasons, the program added on a year. But with the degree you might work for some drugstore or open your own. Now, though, CVS and a few other places exist and you work for them. Or hospitals. Nursing, by contrast, gives you flexibility within a larger city or moving from one to another place.

Those are but job focus upon love, interest, money.
posted by Postroad at 3:32 PM on July 8, 2009

Floor nursing (ie being a nurse in a hospital providing direct care to patients) is not something most nurses are willing to stay with their whole lives. Most nurses will "burn out" after so many years of 12 hour shifts. Many choose to go into research, which has many opportunities for nurses.

Good luck. It really all depends on you, and what you want to do.
posted by majikstreet at 3:56 PM on July 8, 2009

If it were me, I would do the pharm program. Lots of reasons, but shortages in either area is not a concern. There will be jobs. However this is quite dependent on WHERE you want to work. Where I live its all shortages all the time.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 4:35 PM on July 8, 2009

I'm 33, in a similar position to you. I don't know why you are saying it would take 5 years to do school? I started my prereqs last september for nursing school, got accepted to a very accelerated BSN program and will be finished by next August (i.e. less than 2 years, I had no science classes at all).

I'm not sure what to say about the job situation. The way I understand it, and I could be wrong, is that there are not enough people to educate nurses. It doesn't pay nearly as well as being a nurse does, and you need more education=why do it? So there is a bottleneck for nursing. I'm not sure if this is true, it's just what I understand. I could be wrong.

Anyway, more people may be trying to go into nursing but that doesn't mean there are more programs. I think programs are definitely opening up to fill the demand, but I generally hear things like, "there will never be enough nurses". I don't know. It scares me, I don't like to think about it. I have a lot invested in this.

One thing I was told: I'm in a big city with a lot of teaching hospitals. I like living here a lot. I was told that it's very, very difficult to find a job here right out of school BUT if you go somewhere else for a year or two, you can find a job no problem. I'm not sure if that's true but that's what I was told (by a nursing instructor). So people who can't find a job right out of school, they might not have the motility to go to the place where the jobs are.

Just a thought.

Nursing is definitely hard, busy work. My clinical experiences have been emotional, definitely. Heavy stuff, really sick people. But I do feel some benefits from it in myself. I felt myself, over time, becoming a little less interested in other people. Lately I think the clinical experiences have been helping me open up to others and develop more compassion in myself. good for me.

I guess the way I see it is that if anyone has a job, I'll have a job. And if I don't have a job, we're so screwed that my student debt is going to be the least of my and our worries. What else now is a sure thing? Nada. There are no sure things. This seems like the best thing I can do right now.

Email me if I can be of more assistance. You should look for posts by Mefite dogfoodsugar, who did a nursing program, blogged about it and wrote a good bit on here about it too. Also search for "nursing" you'll find my questions along with others.

Good luck!
posted by sully75 at 4:49 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I guess I'd also just think about what you want to do. Do you want to be making calculations that will save the life of a patient and the career of a nurse/doctor? Seems like being a pharmacist would be a good thing then. Do you want to have your hands on patients, be active in healing and nurturing them? I don't think you are going to get a lot of that in pharmacy.

One thing about my nursing class, we are all, 100% fascinated by poop. Joking about it, talking about it. Everyone is really different, but we talk about poop all the time. Shapes, colors, sizes. I think if you are down with that, it's a good sign for nursing. I don't think there's nearly as much poop in pharmacy.
posted by sully75 at 4:54 PM on July 8, 2009

How funny you are considering those two options, for those are the two I've been thinking about. After considering all the points the other posters mentioned, and after a long talks with my mother-in-law (a pharmacist) and my aunt (a nurse) I decided to pursue pharmacy. Temperamentally, it fits better for me. I like being organized, having set hours, and all the reasons mentioned listed above. Additionally, (and I know this is just one data point), my mil says she gets calls all the time asking if she'd like to work at this place or another, while my aunt only works a few days a week and when she does, works long, exhausting days. I know, just one data point. Good luck!
posted by lizjohn at 4:57 PM on July 8, 2009

Both have areas to branch into, but I think nursing has more. IAARN and have worked on the floor and in surgery. It is hard work. I have to move equipment around. Currently I have a piece of equipment that is 1,200 lb. of dead weight, and that's just the beginning. I sometimes have to crawl on the floor for various things during the surgery, (to look under the sterile drapes and check on the patient, to look for a lost needle, the list is endless). Do I enjoy it? Yes, I do.

Yes, the floor is a grind, but there are other options. Nursing schools are not currently able to produce enough nurses to help the demand of older nurses, like myself and older, that will be leaving the work force. (I have a long time before that happens). There are different fields of nursing. If I had to do it over again, I would have gotten critical care experience and went on to nurse anesthesia school, to eventually become a CRNA. This may *sort of* combine both fields for you. You have to have a lot of medication knowledge to be a CRNA.

I think pharmacists in stores under utilize their knowledge. They have so much of it, yet the general public just doesn't tap into it when they go to get their Rxs filled. Pharmacists in hospitals can specialize in I.V. prep, chemo, etc..

There will always be a need for both, especially if you are good at what you do. I came into this field during a glut of nurses. It was hard, but once I got in I've never been without a job opportunity.

FWIW--my hospital is one of the few in the area hiring RNs.

Best of luck to you. Feel free to MetaMail me if you have any further questions.
posted by 6:1 at 5:10 PM on July 8, 2009

A few observations, after working in healthcare and also having clinicians in the family:

If you're a nurse or a pharmacist you will be forced to work the graveyard shift no matter what at first. Seniority will get you the "normal" shifts.

Nurses don't come by desk jobs right out of school. You will have to get your shoes dirty, if you know what I mean, for several years before you can get into management or non-patient contact jobs, if that is what you aspire to. And you probably already know this, but don't get into nursing if you can't stand the sight of blood, poop, vomit or old wrinkly bodies.

All clinicians are subject to scrutiny from payors (either health plans, Medicare or both). Meaning you have to justify your decisions. Yes, even nurses... even though technically they are not making care decisions independently.

Pharmacists are some of the smartest people I know. Nurses have got to be the strongest people I know. I am grateful to both. This would be a hard decision for me, too.
posted by FergieBelle at 5:55 PM on July 8, 2009

If you're concerned about job availability for pharmacists, I can tell you my husband graduated from pharmacy school a handful of years ago, and since then he's not had one bit of trouble finding a job. He was offered a job before graduating with a nice signing bonus. He constantly hears of new openings, as well as getting mail and phone calls from companies looking to hire him. He's had his choice of jobs and availability has definitely not been an issue thus far. I can't say what the future will hold though. With the baby boomers quickly approaching retirement and old age, theoretically demand for pharmacists should only increase, but without a crystal ball no one can say for sure.

You said you've already studied both professions intensively, but if you have any other questions you'd like to ask a pharmacist feel free to MeMail me. I'm sure my husband would be happy to answer them.
posted by geeky at 6:14 PM on July 8, 2009

I would choose pharmacy. It seems like it would be a nicer job to go to every day. Nursing is hard work, and seems less rewarding to me.

I think job availability would probably be about the same for either profession.

I think davejay put up some pretty good metrics for the soul searching. If it was me, I'd go out and visit with people in various strains of the professions and "interview" them. See what they like and hate about the job.
posted by gjc at 7:01 PM on July 8, 2009

BTW have you thought about doing a nursing assistant or PCA program? You really should. They are oftentimes free. It will get you on a hospital floor, give you something to do while you are doing your prereqs, and probably answer all your questions re: nursing and maybe some regarding the pharmacy.

I didn't do this, and some of my school friends did. They are all way more comfortable with stuff than I am. The poop and the bed baths and all that. It will be cool for me in the long run but for this accelerated program, you are really thrown in there and it's definitely a big deal for me. I'm getting used to it but had I that experience it would have been a lot easier.
posted by sully75 at 5:55 AM on July 9, 2009

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