1. Show up on time, in the correct location, dressed professionally, and with any requested items ready to go. Remember your preceptors are taking time out of their day to teach you and pass on anything they can. The thing that probably frustrates us the most is a student with professional issues we have to actually address with them or the college. Although students may begin their rotations with varying levels of clinical knowledge, professionalism is something that every student should easily be able to do very well. Furthermore, if you want to be successful after graduation this is a bare-minimum requirement for any job or residency.
You will likely not know where you are going on your first day, so in order to be on-time you are going to need to leave early. Also, if your preceptor asks you to bring your laptop, your lab coat, or some other item, make sure that you bring it, as failing to do so will affect their first impression of you.
2. Review site-specific material prior to starting. When I was on my Christmas break between rotations, I took a road trip from North Carolina to Missouri, with a friend of mine driving the whole way. I knew I was fuzzy on the details of antipsychotics in particular so I just grabbed my notes from that section in school and reviewed them during some of the drive there and back.
When I got to my psychiatry rotation after returning, my preceptor was extremely impressed at my baseline level of knowledge. Because he didn’t have to review the basics with me, and we were able to delve deeper into conducting AIMS scores or managing more complex psychiatry patients with multiple comorbid conditions; as a result, I had a much more rewarding rotation and I believe I gave my preceptor a much better experience and impression of me as well. If you can do the same, you will really set yourself apart from the crowd.
3. Jump in and help. Your rotation is a two-way street: you can help free up time for your preceptor to teach you by helping with tasks that you are capable of doing. In retail, this can be as simple as filling prescriptions and ringing up customers. You can also counsel patients after reviewing what you are going to tell them to your preceptor.
One of my best students I have ever had on rotation came in on the first day and saw me moving some boxes around; we had barely introduced ourselves before he asked if he could help. Although I don’t expect students to move boxes, I (as well as and most hiring managers) want to work with people who are willing to help with any task that needs to get done.
4. Seek out projects that are meaningful to the site. Most managers and clinical staff members have a list of projects that we are working on or would like to start working on. Why not help your preceptors out with their list and get the opportunity to get real experience in the process?
When I was in my last year of pharmacy school on my pediatric rotation, I learned that the hospital had non-sterile compounds they were making primarily for pediatric and NICU patients. The pediatric pharmacy and the central pharmacy each had their own “recipe box” with handwritten notes on how to make the various compounds. I offered to take them all, make copies, research known stability data, and write formulation records for all of the compounds they were using. It turned into a fourth-year project that led to implementation of standardized formulation records across the health system. It also led to 2 peer-reviewed publications, one of which was accepted prior to me even graduating, and several pharmacists at the health system asking me if I had considered a drug information residency. Had I wanted to do a residency, this initiative would have led to not only reference letters from pharmacists and faculty, but also a really good research project to showcase during a residency interview.
Alex Evans, PharmD
Alex Evans, PharmD, BCGP is a pharmacist and medical writer based out of Jacksonville, FL. He is the founder of Pharmacy Compliance Specialists, LLC (www.pharmcompliance.com), a company dedicated to the success of community pharmacists. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.