I sometimes ask my pharmacy students what they think will be the most important thing to help them reach their own career goals as a pharmacist. Is it the school you went to? Is it the degree(s) you obtained? How about residencies or certifications?

In a previous article, I discussed the various types of pharmacy "add-on" degrees that pharmacists can obtain, along with the merits of each. A similar discussion I started on LinkedIn generated thousands of views and many great comments.

But I would like to suggest that although certain add-on degrees may be good and necessary to reach some specific career goals you may have, there is actually another tool that may be even more important.

That tool to which I refer is networking. It is my contention that pharmacists who want to develop a strong, healthy and ever-progressing career will find learning to network one of the most valuable skills to help them reach their goals.

And this conclusion has been substantiated by studies. For example, a 2009 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology concluded that "Individuals who engage in networking behaviors are more satisfied with their careers."

In a time when many pharmacists are complaining about low levels of career satisfaction, this may be something worth thinking about.

But what is networking? One of the best definitions I have found is by business-networking guru, Ivan Misner, in which he wrote that networking is…

"The process of developing and activating your relationships to increase your business, enhance your knowledge, expand your sphere of influence or serve the community."

Networking for pharmacists specifically involves growing the number of quality contacts with which you maintain some minimal level of ongoing discussion or shared interest that is mutually beneficial.

Let me give you an example. For many years I worked as a manager in a community pharmacy and functioned as a preceptor for a local school of pharmacy. I developed a relationship with the school and with the faculty member responsible for my students.

After leaving that job for a new opportunity, I kept up some degree of contact with this faculty member, even though I wasn’t serving as a preceptor any longer.

Then, when I was looking for the next step in my career, this faculty member heard of a need at a local hospital that she thought would suit my interests…and it did! I got the opportunity because she pointed me to it before I ever would have found it myself.

Here’s another example. I wanted to convert one of the pharmacies I managed into a specialty pharmacy since it was in close proximity to several key prescribers of specialty pharmaceuticals.

Because of the network of pharmaceutical sales representatives I maintained, I was able to utilize those relationships to gain for myself the knowledge needed to launch the required services and programs considered fundamental for an effective specialty pharmacy program.

Networking, however, is not simply about getting information from others. It is about developing relationships with fellow professionals that are mutually beneficial and significant. This doesn’t have to take hours of time.

How do you begin to grow your network as a pharmacist?

First, you need to know where you are at. Begin by sifting through your past and present career interactions and create a list of your current network (i.e., those whom you have worked with or interacted with professionally in some manner).

Do you have their basic contact information like phone number and email? I recommend a simple excel spreadsheet as a way to organize those professional relationships.

Second, share something. Is there anything at all you have been reading or doing professionally that might be of interest to those in your network? Share it! Found a cool website online that helped you or intrigued you? Share it!

Third, reach out. It is important to find new people with whom to interact and share content, thoughts or ideas. There are many ways to do this, and the approach you take can be tailored to your own personality and interests.

At the same time, recognize that this might also be a learning experience for you, and it isn’t unusual for it to feel uncomfortable and unnatural to start.

Begin, if you haven’t done so, with creating a LinkedIn account and joining some pharmacy-related LinkedIn groups. Joining or participating more in your local pharmacy association is another approach. You could start a blog. The options are endless.

As you continue with the above activities you should find that your list of contacts is growing. These relationships, watered with the occasional sprinkling of interesting observations and friendly interactions will often pay big rewards in the development of your pharmacy career.