My Story: Pharmacist to Freelance Medical Writer and Business Owner
And everything in between … including family (wife + 4 kids), paying off student loans,
moving cross-country, and building a business
I want to thank you for being here. I spent hours crafting my story and I’m thankful for every person that takes the time to read it. And though it’s not perfect, it’s real and genuine.
I truly believe that the biggest limiting factor to our success in life is our own doubts and fears. In some ways, I’ve faced my fears and replaced my doubt with faith and belief. In many ways, I still have a long way to go.
What I really want to share is my path to full-time self-employed business owner/freelancer. When I was younger, I always thought that it would be easy to just go to work, do your job, and get paid. And in some ways, it is the easy route. But along the way, I realized that’s a limited way to look at your potential and there’s so much you miss out on.
A mentor once told me that you can’t make real money working for someone else. Along my career path, I found this to be true. As a self-employed freelancer and entrepreneur, I’ve had more success than I thought possible.
And it’s not just about the money. Money itself has little real value. It’s what you can do with money that counts. Today I have more lifestyle and time freedom. I choose my own schedule and I make time for my family. I still work hard, and sometimes long hours, but your motivations change when you’re the one in charge.
The great thing is that everyone can do this. I didn’t want to be my own “boss” (and didn’t have the skillset) until I had a vision of what I could accomplish and strong motivation to do it (more time with my family, building a business that is more future-proof).
Then through learning and application, and lots of trial and error I figured out something that works for me. I believe that if you have the desire, motivation, and discipline to build more money and freedom into your life, you can too.
So here’s my story …
You can’t make real money working for someone else.
Career Beginnings and Undergraduate
I had a few jobs as a teenager. Mowing lawns, being a bank teller, and substitute teaching, to name a few. I have to admit that my dad got me lined up with a lot of these jobs. Which was a good thing because I was not that motivated and afraid to get out of my comfort zone.
I didn’t make life-changing money or anything really that substantial, but doing these jobs started teaching me how to work.
I worked really hard in high school to excel in academics. And it paid off with a full-ride scholarship for my undergraduate studies. But as I later learned, academics aren’t everything in your career.
My parents told me I could be anything I wanted. But how do you choose what to do from “everything”? I was used to someone sitting me down and telling me what to do. Around this time in my life, my early 20s, I had the thought more than once, “If I could just get paid to go to school and get good grades that would be a good job for me.” And that’s because that’s mainly how I applied myself.
Looking back, I was actually testing the entrepreneurial waters a bit, though I didn’t realize it. I created a Youtube channel with videos about yo-yoing in 2013 because it was a fun hobby and I was trying to get some free yo-yos. It didn’t work.
I also love playing the piano. I even played at a wedding reception (as a volunteer – it was a family wedding). But I didn’t want to make a career out of music.
I started getting a business degree because I thought “you can work in pretty much any industry with a business degree”.
But finally, I got serious about looking for a career and through talking with some mentors I learned about being a pharmacist.
It resonated with me.
My grandfather was a pharmacist and I wanted to carry on his legacy. It took a lot of school (4 years of graduate school after undergrad). And I could use my skills and knowledge to help people be healthier.
All in the same week, I graduated with a bachelor’s in general economics, my wife and I bought our first house, and our first child, a daughter, was born.
It was a crazy week. But we were now living the “American dream.”
In pharmacy school, I had the mindset that I was going to get it all paid for, just like undergrad.
But I was completely wrong.
The average student graduating pharmacy school has more than $150,000 in debt by the time they finish. There are no full-ride scholarships, and minimal grants and other monies to help pay for tuition.
It was a long, but worthwhile 4 years. My wife and I worked hard. We still had fun with a few vacations here and there and spent time with family. Our son was born during my third year of pharmacy school.
When I graduated pharmacy school, we made it out with less debt than many. But I still had a whopping $80,000 that would hopefully get paid off, someday.
Pharmacy Residency –
Moving to Oregon
On top of the heavy debt load from pharmacy school, I decided to do 2 years of pharmacy residency. It’s not required, but more and more pharmacists are doing residency these days.
It’s much like medical residency – you work way more hours a week than “regular” pharmacist (50-60 hours) and get paid less than half of the usual pharmacist salary.
But you make more money after residency right? No, you don’t. But you get a better job right? Maybe … at least that’s what I hoped for.
But this was the “career path” I had chosen. I wanted to be an ambulatory care pharmacist. And that required 2 years of residency. “Ambulatory care” means you work in a doctor’s office, talking to patients face-to-face in 1-on-1 appointments about optimizing their medications.
I still think it’s one of the best ways for pharmacists to make an impact on patients.
I chose that path because I wouldn’t have to work nights, weekends, or holidays, and I could be there more for my family.
My first year of residency was a great experience and I learned a lot. I chose the program because it had a second-year ambulatory care program, which is what I wanted to do.
Even though we had to move to Oregon (inconvenient for our family of 4), it ended up being a great experience.
I did everything in pharmacy school and residency “correctly” – I got the ambulatory care rotation, I networked with the leaders and people in charge of the residency. I went above and beyond the requirements to do a great job.
Everything was set for my charted career path.
I did everything in pharmacy school and residency “correctly” … everything was set for my charted career path.
When it all changed …
and breaking the mold
The time came to interview for the early commit program to the second-year ambulatory care residency. This is what I had been prepping for the past 5+ years and in my mind, I was the best and most qualified candidate. And it was 5 candidates competing for 2 spots, so I though my odds were decent.
Interviews came and went, and the decision came: I was not selected.
I was devastated.
I spent years and years prepping for this. All that work and what went wrong?
I was devastated. I spent years prepping for this. All that work, and what went wrong?
I asked the committee what I could do more. They said they chose candidates that were a “better fit.”
I later learned that my rejection was mostly the opinion of a single individual, one of my managers, that didn’t like me. Turns out she gave me a very negative letter of recommendation, unknown to me, and in contrast to all of my other mentors.
So there I was trapped and stopped dead on my career pathway because one person didn’t like me.
I resolved then and there that I would never let my life be dictated by the opinions of other people.
As it so happens, I was required to have a letter of recommendation from this manager even for all other regular programs. And as I applied to other ambulatory care residency programs, the same negative letter of recommendation had been in all my applications (unknown to me at the time).
I resolved to take control of my own future and my own path and not have to rely on someone to “like me” to advance my career.
Of course, it’s important to work with other people. And you need others to be successful. I have countless mentors, colleagues, and clients that have helped me be successful. Some people will like you and some won’t.
If you get stuck in a job with a manager that doesn’t like you, it can be a serious roadblock to what you want to achieve.
I decided that I needed to start making money on my own. That was the only real way to take control of my future.
I resolved then and there that I would never let my life be dictated by the opinions of other people …
I needed to start making money on my own. That was the only real way to take control of my future.
Making extra income, despite the barriers
So how do you make more money when you’re a pharmacy resident already working 50-60 hours a week with a barely livable salary?
If you want or need something bad enough, you’ll make it happen.
I knew that I could no longer rely on my “cookie cutter” pharmacist career path I had planned for years. I had to figure out how to make more money on my own terms.
It wasn’t just that either – there was more motivation to my financial “why”. At the time it was my wife and I and our 2 kids. We wanted to go see a movie at the theater and it was going to cost $40 for all of us to go. We looked at our finances and (we had resolved to never take on more debt except for a house) saw that we really didn’t have enough money in the budget to go to a movie with our family.
I resolved that we would never have to wonder if we could spend $40 to take our family to a movie again. And I got to work.
I resolved that we would never have to wonder if we could spend $40 to take our family to a movie again. And I got to work.
I did online tutoring, I took online surveys, I taught piano lessons out of our home. Figuring out how to make a decent amount of money online as a beginner isn’t easy. But it was so empowering even with the first dollar I made just because I decided I was going to create more abundance into our lives.
I really started putting in the work when I found medical writing.
Starting the business –
Ulrich Medical Writing, LLC
Despite the one horrible letter of recommendation, the residency committee from a nearby institution knew me personally and accepted me into their ambulatory care residency program. My second year of residency was in academia and ambulatory care at a school of pharmacy.
And it so happens that on the first day of my second year of residency I launched my freelance medical writing business – Ulrich Medical Writing, LLC.
This year of residency was a great year. My managers were very supportive of my pursuit of a non-traditional route for pharmacy (medical writing) and even allowed some of my “faculty” funds to be used for a medical writing conference.
I wrote and edited many documents for my residency program, so my development as a medical writer also enhanced my work as an academic/ambulatory care pharmacist.
I finished up residency in the summer of 2020, right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was time to look for a “real” full-time pharmacist position.
I don’t think there has ever been a worse time to look for a job. Businesses were closing, the economy was down, and even though pharmacists were needed for some components of COVID-19 (vaccines and testing), the budgets of most healthcare organizations were frozen. Positions were being removed and placed on hold. No one was hiring.
I didn’t know if I’d have a job or not.
No one was hiring. I didn’t know if I’d have a job or not.
Since I had started my medical writing business, I was debating going full-time with that, but I didn’t have enough evidence or history that I could support my family with it. It would have been pretty risky.
So we moved cross-country to North Carolina where I fortunately found and took a job as an ambulatory care pharmacist.
Moving to North Carolina – My first “real Pharmacist job”
We had already moved once, so we knew the drill somewhat. It was a big move, cross-country from Oregon to North Carolina.
Working as an ambulatory care pharmacist was great. Rather than working 50+ hours a week and fitting in freelancing on top of that, I was working about 50 hours a week total.
This was a great time for paying down debt. I was making more money than I ever had before.
We did buy a house when we moved out to North Carolina, but within 2 months, all of my student debt was gone. A significant portion of this was from my freelancing business.
As time went on, I noticed that my “effective hourly rate” as a freelancer was substantially higher than my rate as a pharmacist.
More freelance business was coming in and I was getting to the point of having to make a choice between continuing full-time pharmacist and cutting back freelancing or ramping up freelancing and cutting back as a full-time pharmacist.
Once again, I ran into some roadblocks with my employer. I had been working there about a year and asked about an annual raise. They said they were “working with HR about how to implement annual reviews.” Then there was no response for 3 months.
I figured that meant they really weren’t working on it … so my next email to my manager was a request to go part-time.
By this time, I had so much freelance work, my family and I could have survived if I was only freelancing.
I no longer needed my full-time job. I had broken the “golden handcuffs” of a “good job”. I was in a position of leverage. My employer needed me more than I needed them.
I went part-time as a pharmacist one month after my request. I continued to build up my freelancing, with the intention of quitting my job completely in a few years.
Hitting Critical Mass
While I was part-time, I had several solid freelancing clients that continued to give me repeat business. We worked well together. We found our partnerships to be mutually beneficial.
When my clients learned I was part-time as a pharmacist, they gave me even more consulting work! That accelerated my trajectory so quickly, I was having trouble getting my pharmacist work done.
After two years of freelancing, I longer did any sort of marketing. I wasn’t applying to freelance jobs, I wasn’t sending cold emails or LinkedIn messages. Repeat business and new business was finding me. The business continued to grow at a steady rate with zero marketing. My freelancing business had hit critical mass.
Making the leap
When I took a step back and looked at this trajectory, I realized my business had a solid 2-year history of recurring, good-paying work.
It was time to make the leap from employed to full-time self-employed. My last official day as an employed pharmacist was May 31, 2022, and I have never looked back since.
Today I have complete control over my schedule. I work as much or as little as I want. I still make well over double my pharmacist hourly rate from my previous job.
My last official day as an employed pharmacist was May 31, 2022, and I have never looked back since.
Today I have complete control over my schedule and I have more time with my family.
I have more time with my family, I work less, and I make more money than if I was working full-time as a W2 employee in the pharmacy profession.
I am truly thankful for the path that has taken me here. The good times and the bad were all important in reaching the point of being a successful self-employed business owner.
I have developed personally, and I feel like I can more fully use my best skills to contribute to society.
The great thing is, I believe that anyone can achieve the income and freedom they want in their life. You need desire, a definite outcome, a plan, and the motivation to do what it takes to get there.
Everything won’t be clear at first. It definitely wasn’t for me. But persistence and hard work on the right inputs, small, simple, and steady over time, can get you to where you want to be in life.
Thanks again for reading. Maybe something in my story resonated with you. Or maybe you’ve had similar experiences. At the least, I hope it was somewhat enjoyable and entertaining!