5 Principles About Your Last Year: An Open Letter to Pharmacy Students

By Alexis E. Vanderlee, PharmD Candidate 2021


Dear Pharmacy Student,

Going into pharmacy school I knew to expect long nights of studying, lots of classes, and hopefully making some lifelong friends. And I do have to say my time as a didactic student definitely included all of those things! What I didn't expect is what happened during my last year. The last year of pharmacy school is unlike any other. It is a great mystery that is not talked about as much during your interview process and the reason why is clear: everyone experiences it differently. However, there are a few basic principles that you will take away and keep with you forever. I wish I knew these principles before my final year to calm some of my nerves about the transition from student to pharmacist. If I knew how impactful my final year would be, I would have enjoyed my time in the classroom more and stressed less about who I was going to become post-graduation.

1. You won’t know what you want to do until you hit your last year. You can go into pharmacy school thinking: I need to be a “clinical pharmacist specializing in oncology!“ You may love your oncology lectures in school but perhaps during your clinical rotation you realize you have a really hard time seeing patients in this condition. Alternatively, you could think “I hate ambulatory care” but on your rotation you realize you absolutely love getting to make personal connections and following-up with these patients. You might be reading this right now and thinking, “I already know what it's like in these settings,” but trust me when I tell you when you're looking into a patient's eyes it's totally different than anything you can experience in the school setting. You can't be taught what you like and what you don't like; the only way to learn is to experience it. I have changed my mind 20 times since this year has begun and I am one of those students who knew they wanted to be a pharmacist since high school! Be open minded! I know everyone says that, but I promise these are decisions that should not be taken lightly just because you came into school with a pre-determined notion of what you wanted to do.

2. Physicians don't always follow the guidelines. In pharmacy school we were taught over and over again to reference the guidelines. Of course this is imperative as a pharmacist to be up to date. What I learned is that sometimes physicians don't follow these guidelines and what you really need to learn is how to interact with physicians. Each physician will have their own preferred method of communication and the only way you could learn this is by practicing it on the job. Some physicians like to be educated by the guidelines however some physicians make decisions based on their own clinical judgement. As a pharmacist, you need to be prepared to work with any type of physician and make sure you are educating the team to the best of your ability. Regardless of whether you’re working in a big or small hospital make sure you are communicating in an effective way to build strong relationships with these physicians.

3. The tone of your rotation depends on your attitude with your preceptor. Pharmacy students tend to stress about the type and location of our rotations, but we really should have been concerned with having a great vibe with our preceptors. Be upfront about what you want to learn! Remember that preceptors are human, too, and they want to teach you otherwise they would not be precepting. When you get your APPE rotation list you may be disappointed you did not get your top choice of a large academic medical center but take it from someone who did a long stretch at a small community hospital, I have learned more than I could ever imagine! The reason is because I was upfront about what I wanted to see and what really did not interest me. I ended up attending codes and watching procedures! I explained to my preceptor that I'm a visual learner, so I need to have my notebook with me at all times to learn. Know your learning style and cherish it!

4. Focus on developing your soft skills. This is something you may have heard about in pharmacy school especially if you took a class that was focused on postgraduate training. I am serious when I tell you to keep a list of everything that you have done in example format! I had my first interview and I was nervous, but I looked at my example list and absolutely crushed it! Almost everything on that list came from things I have done throughout my time on rotation! I am an effective communicator because I did this, I am a good leader because I did this, etc. Examples are key in interviews. I know everyone says that too, but it really alleviated my fears when I had it all written down. Most of these soft skills come from your clinical year! No one is going to ask if you know the difference between the half-lives of different statins during the interview process, but they want to know how you would adapt to not knowing that and working on a team.

5. Your last year is about you. At the end of the day everyone has the same goal to make you the best pharmacist you can be and help you achieve those goals. If you really dislike a rotation make a note of the soft skills you've learning from that experience! Communicate with your preceptor. Communicate with your school. Keep in touch with all of your old professors and let them know how you were doing. They care - that's why they are educators! The time goes by quickly so make sure you enjoy it.

All the best my pharmacy friends!

Alexis E. Vanderlee

https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexisvanderlee/

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