Pharmacists and Phinances!

Get out from under higher education loans and maximize your financial future!

Interview with Dr. Tim Ulbrich, PharmD, RPh

Tim Ulbrich is a professor of pharmacy practice and associate dean of student success at Northeast Ohio Medial University (NEOMED) College of Pharmacy. He graduated from Ohio Northern University with his Doctor of Pharmacy and completed residency training in community/ambulatory care at The Ohio State University College of Pharmacy.

After paying off more than $200,000 in non-mortgage debt, Tim is working to empower pharmacists and pharmacy students to take control of their financial future. He is the creator of the Your Financial Pharmacist blog, co-host of Your Financial Pharmacist Podcast and co-author of Seven Figure Pharmacist: How to Maximize Your Income, Eliminate Debt and Create Wealth.



Your Financial Pharmacist


Tim Church, Tim Ulbrich: Seven Figure Pharmacist

Full episode transcript:

L: Hi everyone and welcome to Two Pills Podcast. Today I am so excited to have Dr. Tim Ulbrich with us. Tim Ulbrich is a Professor of Pharmacy Practice and Associate Dean of Student Success at Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) College of Pharmacy. He graduated from Ohio Northern University with his Doctor of Pharmacy and completed residency training in community/ambulatory care at The Ohio State University College of Pharmacy. After paying off more than $200,000 in non-mortgage debt, Tim is working to empower pharmacists and pharmacy students to take control of their financial future. He is the creator of the Your Financial Pharmacist blog, co-host of Your Financial Pharmacist Podcast and co-author of Seven Figure Pharmacist: How to Maximize Your Income, Eliminate Debt and Create Wealth. Welcome Tim!

Today is a little bit of a different spin on things since you are a professor, but we also have a personal finance focus today. I am a huge fan of the podcast and I think everyone should go out and listen to the Your Financial Pharmacist podcast. They talk about applicable topics like student loans, disability insurance, buying a house, etc. I think the episode that really got me hooked on the podcast were pharmacists who had paid off a ton of debt and pharmacist who owned rental properties. It's cool to have personal finance advice specific to our field. I think what you're doing is fantastic!

T: Thank you and what is so fun about the topic is that I get to live it as I teach it. Right now, my wife and I are in the transition of buying and selling homes, so I'll probably have some new content about that as I go through it first hand.

L: Absolutely. I know a lot of people probably know about you, but can you tell us a little about yourself and your teaching Style?

T: I went to Ohio Northern University, shout out to the polar bears, then did residency at Ohio State. I went into residency confident that amb care practice was where I wanted to be. I liked patient care and loved teaching and mentoring students. You kind of have a mindset at all along that you're going to do patient care, then when I accepted where I can have the most impact in my role, I feel like that's where my career really took off.

When I was at Ohio State, I had great mentors there. One of the mentors in a faculty development session to the residents discussed evidence based teaching. In school, we always heard about evidence based medicine and evidence-based patient care, but I had never really thought about approaching teaching in a scholarly way. For me, that was a fundamental shift.

It was no longer about coming into the classroom and being a sage on the stage and everyone was just going to absorb all that great knowledge that I had. For me, that was a shift to seek out the best practices in active learning, team-based learning, and problem-based learning. For me, it's all about creating a learning environment that is adaptable to the styles of the people in the room. It focuses on them as the learners and takes the focus off me as the educator. What I've come to realize is that can look different in any given class or level of learner or size of the class. Flexibility in the classroom for me is important. I have this topic and this amount of time and that's important, but I also need to be able to be ready to pivot. If I am in the classroom and I see that things are not going well or that we need to engage in the material in a different way, then I think we need to make a move. That has really become my style as I've become more confident and comfortable in the classroom. I really try to get rid of the focus off of myself. I really try to shift the focus to the learners in that setting.

L: I agree and I think that is what active learning is all about. As you were learning about evidence-based teaching, were there any resources or mentors that were helpful to you along the way?

T: Yes I felt like it opened up a whole new world of resources for me. I think about the academic pharmacy journals like AJPE or CPTL and newsletters like The Faculty Focus. I was well versed in evidence related to patient care and this opened a whole new world of resources related to teaching and learning. That term, SOTL, or scholarship of teaching and learning, I had never heard before. As a junior faculty member coming in, I felt like scholarship was so intimidating. You hear the publish or die mentality. Then I realized that there were opportunities for scholarship in teaching, ways that students are learning in the classroom, or developing new methodology with residents or trainees. There is also a great conference called the Lilly Conference on teaching. A mentor dragged me to that conference, but what I loved about it was that it was not pharmacy specific. It was lots of different professions and completely focused on teaching and learning. It was refreshing because so many of us in pharmacy education do not have formal backgrounds in education. We were informally taught in residency or other areas. It opened up my eyes to other professions such as academic medicine.

L: I agree and the scholarship of teaching and learning can really be across all professions. Specific to Health Sciences, we all have similar students. Whether you are nursing, pharmacy, or medicine faculty, we can all benefit from learning about what each other are doing. So, How did you pivot into this personal finance area?

T: That's a crazy story. It's funny how you look back on things and realize how much it all made sense. At the time, it feels like you are in a chaotic tailspin. For me, ever since graduating and starting as a faculty member, I've always had a theme of professional development. I've done a lot of work with students around preparing for residency training and helping mentor them through career choices. Personal finance to me is professional development.

One of my long-term goals is to get ACPE to recognize the importance of financial literacy in the Standards. We need financial literacy requirements in the PharmD curriculum. I've always had a passion for personal finance. I'm often reading financial books and resources. I've always been interested in the topic and all of the nuance to it. For me, it was the School of Hard Knocks. I graduated with $200,000 in debt and made mistakes. I've chronicled those mistakes in the podcast, the blog, and the book. You learn from those mistakes. As I paid off my $200,000, I started blogging about it. I contacted 100 of my closest family and friends and said: I'm thinking about starting a personal finance blog related to pharmacy, what do you think? The fear of failure is that it's going to be crickets. Probably 97% of those people emailed me back and said absolutely sign me up, I’ll tell my friends about it. I felt like I was on this island struggling to try to figure out how to pay off this debt and navigate this complicated new practitioner life.

My vision was to create this community of pharmacists who learned together and didn't have to feel like they were alone. It's kind of an unsaid story that you make a great income, so don't worry about the financial piece. As I shared my story and was vulnerable with my story, people were saying-that's me! I think I gave people permission to say I'm stressed out about this and this is hard. Once we give permission to have that conversation, that's when we start to work towards solutions.

The blog took off and that became the Seven Figure Pharmacist book. The podcast launched just over a year ago and that has grown into a big community of pharmacists. One of the most rewarding things to me has been our Facebook group for Your Financial Pharmacist. I really wanted to facilitate the exchange of more information and not just me divulging information about personal finance. How can we engage more people in this conversation? For those who jump in that Facebook group now, you'll see that someone will post a question or concern about something they're struggling with or something that they have been successful with, and literally before I can respond 15 people have jumped in with responses. That is so rewarding. That vision of facilitating people coming together is becoming a reality. There is nothing more rewarding than knowing that we can do just one thing to help alleviate some of their stress and I think that's a win.

L: I agree and in those communities, it's kind of a safe space to post your question and to be vulnerable. We don't all have it figured out. We're not at all able to graduate with zero debt, buy a house in cash, and invest perfectly in mutual funds. There is so much nuance to it as you mentioned.

T: Yes and I think we have to change the perception that we have it all together. We don't. I am a role model to my listeners that personal finance is such an area of behavior. Even if you don't have debt and you are doing well with retirement, you are still prone to making mistakes. We're struggling in this transition period this month. We have activities, events, and we're hosting a boy from Latvia. Most the time I'm like everyone else and we all make mistakes. This is not something that you figure out once and you're done. This is a lifelong journey. Personal finance is an area where you inch your way forward and then you look back over many years and notice the small progression along the way has a significant compound impact over time. Whether it's debt, investing, home buying, or insurance. This is such a multifactorial system that we need to have community and accountability to be successful. We have to be educating on this at least in the pharmacy curriculum and hopefully before that.

L: I agree that you are giving permission to not be perfect. I also like that you do not focus on one specific way, you don't say it's this way or the highway.

T: The average student loan debt for the class of 2017 was $163,000. We don't have the 2018 data yet. We look at that number and we don't feel too concerned about it, because we think about how pharmacists make good money. What is the debt to income ratio for pharmacists and is a pharmacist salary keeping up with this debt load? It's not even close. Pharmacist salaries over the last 5 years are not keeping up with inflation, let alone the debt load. The purchasing power of a pharmacist income is decreasing every year. Something is going to have to give with these debt loads.

L: Do you have any advice for how faculty can talk to students about this debt?

T: Personal finance has to be a part of the personal development conversation. This can be part of the co-curricular content. You can't look at all career decisions in the same way. You have to consider things like how much loan debt the student already has, dependents, etc. What I'm trying to do here with our new curriculum is to have a touch point of personal finance in every semester. We have a personal finance elective in our second and third year. I also do a four-hour session with our graduating students as a Capstone. That's great, but the graduating students all wish they had heard this information earlier. When I think about progression, I think about the first year taking apart the anatomy of a student loan. Understanding the basics of interest and how it's calculated, budgeting, and goal setting. You then start to layer on topics throughout the second, third, and fourth year. We can be a little more proactive rather than reactive instead of just talking to students when they graduate. If we are doing it along the way, then we can tie it to career discussions. We have a professional development advising team. Now, they can fold personal finance into all of these broader career discussions. If there is no personal finance discussion at your institution currently, the easiest place to start is to do a Capstone or to tie it to a student organization. Maybe you implement a personal finance elective and better yet implement a longitudinal progressive course across the curriculum.

L: I think it is also valuable to discuss your own mistakes with students. For example, I deferred my loans during my first year of residency and then paid on them in my second year. It was convenient at the time, but the interest that grew was insane. I try to advise against that now.

T: I also made similar mistakes and I noticed that there is a focus on the monthly payment and deferment, without an understanding of how interest is calculated. Students may graduate with $200,000 in student loans and then after residency it has bloomed to $220,000 or more. I joke that the grace period is anything but gracious. During the grace period, your unsubsidized loans, which are the majority of them, are accruing interest. It's convenient that you don't have to make a payment, but your loan balance is going up. There has to be intentionality in choosing the right student loan repayment plan. Choosing the right option could be the difference in up to $100,000 or more in interest. We can't expect our graduates to go through one exit counseling session and have all of the tools and knowledge to choose the best option. That's where a longitudinal personal finance program can help them be successful. One thing we're seeing is a disgruntled view of students and their alma mater due to the student debt load. We can debate if that is fair or not, but if they are bitter about it, they are less likely to be engaged as alumni. I think it is our obligation to help them along this journey.

L: With everything that you do, what is your favorite part of your job?

T: For me, it's always working with students one-on-one. I do a lot of career development with students and I'm able to pull in a lot of the personal finance. For me, the most rewarding day is when a student has that aha moment. I love to ask challenging and probing questions to students. I'm seeing a trend among students in pursuing a career path whether or not that is what they actually want to do. Most notably, I am feeling that with residencies. I try to ask good questions like: what gets you most excited on your experience of rotations? Tell me the things that frustrate you. What does success look like for you in 5 years? Not only professionally, but also personally? What else is going on in your life? And what are the things that are most important to you? When I can see the student take a deep breath and realize that they can see the whole picture and they feel like they have clarity around the path that they should take to get there. To me, I walk away feeling like that was a good day. That one-on-one interaction is definitely the most rewarding part of my job.

I'm a big believer in the strengths-based approach in aligning your strengths with the roles and responsibilities of your job. I want to feel like 80% of my day leaves me feeling energized because I know that I played to my strengths. It's about figuring out what that percentage is. It’s important to remember that your first job is not your forever job. I am getting ready to enter the fourth evolution of my career. I could never have predicted any of those along the way. Every one of those led to a different experience and a different skill set. They opened up different doors to things that I could have never have anticipated. Having that open mind that whatever you enter into, you do it well and you figure out what you like and don't like. You seek the mentors and put yourself in the position that is going to challenge you and something else is going to come along the way. You're just going to continue to build on that over time.

L: Going back to that first day, what Insight do you wish you had on that day that you do now?

T: One thing that is critical that a mentor helped me with is that when you start as new faculty and you're balancing practice, teaching, and research is that collegiality and networking. Coming from a residency mindset where you feel like you have to do everything yourself. During residency, while you may have collaborators, everything really falls on your back. That's kind of the mentality and residency training is that you have to own your research project. You have to own it from beginning to end. I realized that I'm never going to be successful in scholarship if I have to do everything myself from idea to publication. I quickly realized that I needed to form research networks and research collaborations. I had to let go of the idea that I had to do 100%. A mentor also told me not to get too caught up in your work that you don't walk outside around the office and build relationships with people. One article I was given was how to have a quick start in academia. The focus of the article was on creating these collaborative networks early on and not feeling like you have to do it all yourself.

L: What is your overall prescription for success and happiness in this job and in general?

For me, I'm a big believer in goal setting. The power of setting specific goals is incredible. One activity I have my students do is to take a piece of paper, fold it, and write down the four most important areas of your life. Professional will be one of those and the other three are to be determined. It could be financial, family, spiritual, whatever of those areas. 5 years from now, someone approaches you and says how is life going? Your answer is: life is going great, never better. The activity is to write down what is going on in each of those areas to make you have that response. So then, what do I need to do today? What specific goal do I need to start today to get towards that 5-year goal? Maybe it is starting to save an emergency fund or putting your student loans on auto pay. The second piece of this activity is to look at those goals every day because there is incredible power and looking at your goals each and every day. It's the power of positive thinking.

The other key to success is a morning routine. I am a big morning person. I would reference your listeners to a book called The Miracle Morning. It talks about setting and establishing a morning routine. It defines your day, rather than the day defining you. Our natural tendency is to pick up our smartphone and start reacting to those messages right away. We have grand visions for the day and those get derailed within 5 minutes. For me, a good day is to wake up at 5:15 or 5:30 before my kids get up, I have an hour and a half to get some very important things done. It can be reviewing my goals or reading something that I'm passionate about, maybe it's meditation or prayer, maybe a little bit of a workout. Something that says I am going to take control of this day and not just react. You then start your workday and already have so many things done. Even if the workday gets derailed, you have already set aside those important things and finish those for the day. Goal setting and morning routine are critically important.

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