Today, I quit my job as a pharmacist within the National Health Service (NHS) after over 30 years’ service. As with any major life choice, the decision to wind down my NHS career has not been an easy one.
Working as an NHS pharmacist has been tremendously fulfilling
In our often precarious world, working as a pharmacist in the NHS offers relative security, the pay provides a comfortable lifestyle and you leave with a coveted public-sector pension.
Through work, I’ve met some compassionate, talented and inspirational people, some of whom I am proud to call friends. Senior management of the organisations within which I have worked has been committed to excellence across the board.
I’ve been given opportunities that I wouldn’t have dreamt of at the start of my journey as a junior pharmacist, including full funding for a PhD which I was awarded in 2012
But as important as these benefits are, for me, job satisfaction trumps them all.
In the early days, as a patient-facing clinical pharmacist, this was derived from opportunities to improve someone’s health and well-being, to make a difference in their lives. As my role progressed, influencing change came at a distance, through developing and implementing new services to benefit end-users, as opposed to eyeballing them in a consultation room.
Climbing the greasy pole of career progression can come at a price. For me, that price was a further separation from the elements of the job from which I gained the most job satisfaction. Patient consultations were exchanged for financial spreadsheets; goodbye ward rounds, hello report writing.
I’m far from naïve and recognise that’s entirely expected and fine. Until it wasn’t fine, that is. Belatedly, I recognised that some of what I had been experiencing were classic signs of job burnout.
Knowing when to give up is as important as knowing when to go after your dream
That said, the decision to leave wasn’t based solely on any erosion of job satisfaction.
You know when you can no longer ignore that devil on your shoulder? For me, that devil was a growing recognition that this important period in my life was drawing to a close, and the next phase was knocking ever more loudly on the door. Increasingly, I would make a mental list of all that I could achieve if I wasn’t in the nine-to-five and feel frustrated that I couldn’t do it NOW!
I had to face up to a gnawing feeling that I was no longer living my best life.
I’ve rarely suffered from indecision, but one of the biggest decisions of my life was to trust myself and my instincts on this occasion. Having the wisdom to recognise that you need to make life changes is one thing; having the courage to effect these changes is another story.
Coasting along, scratching the weeks off on the wall until retirement age was never in the game plan. I value my colleagues, the organisation and myself too much for that.
Equally, I don’t want to be the jaded curmudgeon in the department who’s been there and seen it all before. It was time to move over to allow younger, more energetic and more enthusiastic colleagues to make their mark in the department’s and organisation’s history.
Life is a series of transitions
The final push was the recognition that I had achieved all that I wanted to as a pharmacist within the NHS, and that my life goals now lay elsewhere. There are seasons to life and this particular season was drawing to a close.
Whilst the coronavirus pandemic has altered travel plans, at least in the short-term, the ability to travel deeper and slower is one of these new life goals. Despite visiting over 60 countries, my travel hunger has not been satisfied. Solo travel is my Kryptonite.
From immersive Italian courses in Tuscany to learning more about Renaissance Art, my wishlist of enrichment experiences grows by the day.
Last but by no means least, this website needs far more love and attention than I have been able to shower it with. I’m itching to create new and exciting content to empower solo travellers and provide guidance on how to travel better for less.
The issue of identity
These new life goals notwithstanding, I’m not ready to relinquish my professional registration.
I have worked hard to have my name on the register of the General Pharmaceutical Council and am proud to call myself a pharmacist. This professional registration also opens doors to other job opportunities, which I have not ruled out.
But forfeiting my professional status goes deeper than this. Although, in itself, it doesn’t define me, being a pharmacist is part of my identity. I’m not prepared to give that up just yet.
Far from creating a potentially damaging loss of identity, early retirement will allow me to forge a new identity, a modified version of myself.
Let me ask you a question. How many times has someone opened a conversation with “So what do you do for a living?”
When someone next asks me that question, I will reply “I help to empower those in midlife to travel solo, better and smarter.”
And that’s something I can be proud of.
“Listen to the sound of the river and you will catch your fish”– Irish proverb