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Defining Your Brand - Bridging the Professional Gap From Student to Life-Long Learner

by Nikola Markoski, PharmD, MBA; PGY2 Pharmacy Resident, Health-System Pharmacy Administration and Leadership (HSPAL), Northwestern Memorial Hospital

“Just Do It”.1 One of the most established and successful brand slogans, recognizable to individuals on a global scale. However, have you ever considered what your brand is?

As a student at Purdue University’s College of Pharmacy, I was enamored with the stories I was told by distinguished pharmacy alumni about their career paths, ambitions, and achievements. I recall sitting in the back row of the Robert E. Heine Pharmacy Building in Room 172 thinking, “How can I do that? How can I become that?” I quickly realized that it would be impossible to follow the exact career path of these individuals; their paths were forged on individualized experiences and passions. The integration of that passion with their unique approaches to accomplish their goals ultimately defined my perception of them – this was what defined their brand.

Finding Yourself
Merriam Webster defines a brand as, “a public image, reputation, or identity conceived of as something to be marketed or promoted.”2 Within every phase of life, we tend to identify our brand as what we are currently pursuing or practicing. For example, most students when asked to tell someone about themselves tend to start with the fact that they are a student instead of highlighting what makes them unique within that role or anything about their personal life. They could be passionate about public service or about a certain hobby – and all of these things together cultivate to form one’s brand and identity. It extends beyond just your formal title.

When transitioning from a student to a resident, fellow, or practicing professional, most individuals tend to forget their brand. Most individuals no longer identify as a student; however, life-long learning is a requirement for any professional and thus we are always, in some capacity, a student. One of the best pieces of advice that I received from one of my mentors was to consistently analyze and re-define your brand to suit your own passions and needs, while always remaining true to yourself. When I interviewed for a pharmacy residency at Northwestern Memorial Hospital (NMH), I remember the Residency Director at the time, Dr. Noelle Chapman, asking me to define myself in one word. I chose goofy which embodies exactly who I am. I like to create an environment for my teammates to have fun at
work, feel like everyone is included and still work hard. I could have responded that I am hard-working, driven, or passionate, but instead, I chose the one word that I confidently felt truly represents who I am and my approach to making others enjoy their time working with me.

As a resident, students have consistently been asking me what characteristics I would consider an ideal residency candidate to have. The answer is, and always will be, that an ideal candidate is one who embraces their own uniqueness, and that every individual has something that they can contribute. Instead of focusing on the ideal candidate, I encourage potential candidates to think about what makes them unique, to highlight what makes them stand out, to describe what they can bring to the table, and not to be afraid to portray what they want out of the position as well. As the cliché saying goes – it is all about fit. One of the things that has made my time at NMH so enjoyable is learning from every person within my residency class. We are all individuals striving for a common goal, and each of us will achieve that goal in our own unique way. As you take the next step in your career, I would encourage you to continue to reflect on your experiences, determine what has brought you the most joy and pride, and to define your brand with that passion in mind.

From Purpose to Impact
“From Purpose to Impact - Figure Out Your Passion and Put It to Work”3 by Nick Craig and Scott Snook is one of the most eye-opening articles I have read in recent times. In this article, the authors discuss the need to create an impact statement, or a specific statement of your intent or purpose. This statement defines the impact of whatever you are striving to do or achieve to your audience or end users. Too often, we are so focused on the end goal – finishing residency or landing the dream job – that we tend to forget why we want that role in the first place and what we plan to do once we obtain that role. After reading this article, I have started modifying my approach to setting goals. It is no longer enough to have a “SMART” goal defined by timelines and that are specific, but I now include a purpose statement for why I want to achieve the goal and also an impact statement – what is the ultimate impact to those around me and myself once I achieve my goal?

In the words of Mark Twain, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” As you continue to cross the next bridge and achieve the next personal, life, or professional goal, always remember to reflect upon your experiences, define your purpose, and outline your desired impact. Together, these individual components will help define who you are and what your brand is – and they will better help guide you through your transitions.

  1. Nike®. 2020. Just Do It.
  2. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Brand. (accessed 2020 Dec 8).
  3. Craig N, Snook S. From purpose to impact. Figure out your passion and put it to work. Harvard Business Review. May 2014.



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