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Everything I know about being professional I learned from hockey

Here we are, firmly at into the new hockey season and it reminds us of how much we can learn about respect, courtesy, and gratitude from the sport of the boys of winter. Yes, the sport that is the butt of the joke “I went to a fight last night and a hockey game broke out,” is the same sport that can be our pattern for good behavior and holds many lessons on how we can be better professionals, indeed better people in general.

Hockey has much to offer in the line of courtesy, respect, and good manners. It is not uncommon for a game to feature players who had once played for the opposing team. Typically, the home team prepares a short montage of those players to be shown on the scoreboard screens and they were welcomed back by the PA announcer during a break in the action. These players aren’t seen as “the enemy.” Rather they are friends who have moved away to take another job and are greeted as friends back for a day, much like we greet our former coworker fellow pharmacists if we should meet at professional meetings or alumni functions. We may now work for competing organizations, but we still share a professional bond and continue to learn from each other.

Thinking about those breaks in the action, we find another commonality. While play is going on in a hockey game, play goes on in a hockey game. Only if the puck is shot outside the playing ice, at a rules infraction, or after a goal is scored does play stop. Otherwise, the clock keeps moving and play continues. If you’re lucky you might get to ask for one time out but mostly you’re at the mercy of the march of time. Play begins. After a while play ends. If you play well between them, you’ll be ok. Much like life - our life. There aren’t many professions outside of pharmacy where breaks, lunches, even days off and vacations are often caught on the run or are pushed until some indeterminant “later.” Others may say they work from sun up to sun down but pharmacy staffs truly know the relentless march of time. The day begins, the day ends, if you work well in between you will be okay.

Hockey rosters have no room for “bench players.” There are twenty players who dress for each game and the only one who might not see game action is the back-up goalie. Otherwise, if you are dressed, you will play. Nobody is held back in case of injury. In fact, in the case of injury play goes on with the remaining players extending their shifts or doubling up on assignments. Likewise in the pharmacy, there are no reserves. Rarely do pharmacy staffs include casual or as needed personnel. Hospital and corporate pharmacy personnel budgets offer little consideration for replacing injured, ill, or absent pharmacists or technicians. As they do in hockey, we rely on the entire team to play our best for the entire workday and to do what we can when one of our own needs a helping hand.

The point of hockey is to score goals. Sometimes goals are scored ridiculously easily, sometimes goals seem to be scored only through divine intervention. Most times, goals are a result of working together, paying attention to details, and wanting to score more than the opposing team wants to stop you from scoring. There is no rule that says after one team scores the other team gets to try. It all goes back to center ice and starts out with a random drop of the puck. If the team that just scored controls the puck and immediately scores again, oh well. On every play, every player plays a mix of offense, defense, and self-defense. The scoring rules of hockey recognize that it takes more than an individual to score goals. Hockey players are equally recognized not just for scoring goals but for assisting others who score goals. We all know we could never do all we do without an effective, efficient, cohesive pharmacy team. When one team member succeeds the entire staff benefits from the advantage won. When somebody at work says you’ve done a good job, you know how many others have contributed and you pass those thanks to them also.

The ultimate good job is winning the championship. The NHL hockey championship tournament is a grueling event. After an 82 game regular season, the top 16 teams (8 from each conference) play a four round best of seven elimination tournament. It takes twenty winning games to win the championship. It could take as many as 28 games to play to the finish. That’s like playing another third of a season. Our pharmacy jobs are filled with long, demanding, often challenging days. Today’s wannabe pharmacists can plan on at least six years of college if they are lucky enough to get into a straight through program and don’t transfer in from preparatory coursework or an unrelated discipline. Then there are still intern hours that must be fulfilled and licensure exams before the graduate can be called “Pharmacist.” Many pharmacists then elect to continue to post graduate residencies or to other graduate degree programs. Regardless of what education path take to start work, continuing education is still required to maintain licensure and keep on working. It is not uncommon for states to require as many credit hours of continuing education between licensure renewal as in a typical academic year.

In hockey, there is another lesson not taught in any formal education class. After each playoff round only one team moves on. And for each round, every year, for as many years as the tournament has ever been played, and for as many years as the tournament will ever be played, when that one team wins that fourth game and is ready to move on, they and the team whose season just ended meet at center ice and every player on each team shakes the hand of each opponent player and coach, wishing them well as they move on and thanking them for a game well played. No gloating. No whining. No whimpering. Only accepting. Yes, hockey holds many lessons on how we can be better, but this, this might be the best lesson of them all.

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