“Where is the pharmacy?” I asked. The woman pointed behind me. I turned around and saw a wooden structure that wasn’t quite sturdy enough to be called a shack, maybe ‘lean-to’ is a more accurate description. ‘Farmacia’ was written on a piece of white construction paper and taped to the door. A hole was cut out of the door forming a makeshift window, and I could see through it to the back of the structure. It couldn’t have been more than 6 feet from the door to the wall.
I took a deep breath and walked inside. I should’ve taken a deeper breath; the inside of the lean-to farmacia was sweltering. I took a look around, somehow there were two rooms and a sort-of hallway…and no air conditioning unit in sight. I didn't even see an outlet where a fan could be plugged in. Boxes of drugs were everywhere, stacked up to the ceiling. I took another deep breath and said to myself, “This is going to be a long 10 days”.
I was in Zacatecoluca, La Paz, El Salvador, and while I highly doubt any staffing assignment will result in you finding yourself in a lean-to farmacia in a foreign country, you may still find yourself in some truly unique situations. In order to successfully navigate the various assignments you may encounter, a set of essential skills is necessary. For this article, I’ve picked a couple of my favorites.
Although the above scenario is an extreme example of a situation necessitating adaptability, I could produce an endless list of more realistic scenarios that are similar. I’ve walked into pharmacies (stateside) and realized I’d have less support staff than expected, and sometimes no support staff at all. Other times, pharmacies were days behind on prescription filling or weeks behind with putting away inventory. I’ve had to be an I.V. room pharmacist and a decentralized clinical pharmacist in the same shift. These are just a few examples, with the common theme being that there is no way I would gotten through the assignments without being adaptable.
My travel assignments have been overwhelmingly positive, but every now and then, an assignment ends up being a little more complex than I may have originally expected. I quickly learned to adapt to these situations. I even learned to appreciate and enjoy them, as I viewed them as challenges, which brings me to my next essential quality…
2. Problem-Solving Ability
I love a good challenge. Most people I know also love challenges. When people aren’t challenged in their professional roles, they often start looking for other opportunities. Being challenged can make people feel alive, useful, and, ultimately, accomplished once the challenge has been overcome. There’s nothing quite like a celebratory drink, ice cream cone, or whatever other indulgence people reward themselves with after a job well done.
In order to successfully overcome challenges that may present themselves on staffing assignments, pharmacists (and other healthcare providers) must have solid problem solving skills; i.e. the ability to analyze a situation— like walking into a pharmacy that is a day behind and a pharmacist short, come up with a plan— delegate tasks to support staff where appropriate and reset patient or provider expectations, and see the plan through until completion— work hard and push until the pharmacy is caught up.
These situations were always fun for me, and, as an added bonus, these sites often sent compliments to my superiors and requested me specifically if they ever needed coverage in the future. It felt good to do good work and be acknowledged for it.
These are only two of the essential qualities that health care professionals need if they desire to excel in traveling and temporary positions. Look for my next article, where I will discuss more of these essential qualities.