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What do you want to be when you grow up?

Do many people fulfil their childhood career ambitions, or just fall into a job by chance? A recent newspaper article inspired Sheila Beaumont to think about what influenced her decision to become a pharmacist ...

The other Saturday morning, I was flicking through one of the colour supplements while indulging in my weekend treat of coffee and croissant, when an article entitled "Mission Impossible" caught my eye.

I thought it would be something to do with James Bond, since the latest film has just been released; but no, it was about four people who, since the ages of about six or seven, knew exactly what they wanted to do when they grew up and had achieved their ambition. One was a train driver, one a vicar, another was a specialist registrar in plastic and reconstructive surgery, and the forth was the curator of the beetle collection at the Natural History Museum.

This set me wondering if this is generally the case – or are there many people who really don't have a clue about what they would like to do in the adult world? I decided to take a straw poll of friends and colleagues to see if any of them remembered having strong feelings about what they wanted to be when they grew up.

Results came out about 50-50, with half definitely knowing what they wanted to do and half having fallen into their career serendipitously.

What I found particularly fascinating was that two of my friends from very early on had wanted to become teachers, but for various reasons were unable to pursue this when young. However, neither lost sight of their dream and when in their late 30s, and circumstances changed, they both were able to attend teacher training college as mature students and after four years hard study finally fulfilled their ambition.

But for nearly every person I talked to who had no clear idea of what they wanted to do at such an early age, with hindsight there were indications and pointers as to what line they might follow.

A pharmacist colleague at work told me that he was always fascinated by bottles of all kinds, but particularly those that came from his local pharmacy. Whether they were smooth medicine bottles either clear or brown, ribbed ones, often hexagonal in shape that contained external preparations, or tablet bottles of all shapes and sizes, it seemed a logical move to him to make pharmacy his career!

For another friend it was meeting a charismatic pharmacist while undergoing work experience in a local pharmacy; for another, delight in the wonders of a chemistry lab, seeing beautiful crystals emerge from a petri dish containing a saturated copper sulphate solution, or a few glossy blackish potassium permanganate crystals swirling round a flask of distilled water gradually turning it purple.

For me, it was an experience that occurred many years ago. I couldn't have been much more than about four years old and I was suffering from earache. My mother took me to the local chemist and after he had chatted to her about the problem, he disappeared into the nether regions of his shop and returned with a mysterious liquid that was called "Oil of Swallows" which had to be instilled twice a day.

That amazing name really caught my imagination. I didn't worry about whether or not swallows were involved in its making, but it was the fact that such an exotic preparation was produced by an ordinary human being and not a magician that so impressed itself upon me. What is more, it cured my earache!

So, maybe that experience of long ago was what subconsciously influenced me in my decision to become a pharmacist. Not that we dispense such wondrously named medicines these days,  although maybe to some, the recommended international nonproprietary names, such as trospium, zuclopenthixol and lumefantrine, are equally seductive!

Do you have equally vivid memories of what caused you to become a member of the nursing profession?
Your comments:
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"I never wanted to be a nurse. In fact, I lived near the college of nursing but was never interested in nursing. I wanted to be an optician but did not have good A level grades. While training as a nurse I took my A level exams again and passed. After qualifying as a nurse I took a break from nursing and studied optical management which involved dispensing of spectacles and contact lenses. I realised after a year that I did not enjoy it as much as I enjoyed working as a nurse and returned to nursing. I enjoy my work now as a practice nurse and its the best decision I have ever made." - Pamela Boakye-Adjei, London

"I had never considered nursing as a career option. In fact, I wanted to be a music teacher! But circumstances (and disappointing A level results!) led me to apply to my local nursing school while I 'found something better'. I never found anything better because I stopped looking as soon as I realised how much I loved nursing. No regrets!" - Trevor Guilliano, Gibraltar

"I had always wanted to be a nurse but especially an army nurse. My family have no military connections and we had no TV or cinema, so I am amazed where this vocation came from. I was just as amazed to find two out of the 10 intake in my 1974 nursing school had always wanted to nurse, the rest were "trying it out" just as you would any other job. I did join the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps in 1979 and am still a member of the TA. Perhaps some regression therapy might answer my question?!" - Olivia Neely, West Midlands