Although I won’t tell you what classes to focus on, or which therapy topics will be highlighted on the NAPLEX, here are 5 things I found helpful in both pharmacy school and my career today:
1. Don’t Just Be Book Smart
Your didactic training will give you a solid foundation of knowledge to build upon, but practicing as a pharmacist isn’t really like a multiple-choice exam. It’ll help you think analytically through clinical presentations and treatment algorithms, but that’s not all you need to be competent in your field.
Being a pharmacist requires a unique skillset, and there are certain traits you need to learn and practice that just can’t be found in the classroom. There’s no substitute for real-world experience, so try to find a part-time job as a pharmacy intern. Expose yourself to the different types of career opportunities available, and really use the opportunity to fine tune your interpersonal and communication skills.
Whether it’s explaining patients’ medications to them in layman terms, or substantiating therapeutic recommendations to the interdisciplinary team in the intensive care unit, getting real-word experience will build the confidence you need to succeed. The notorious “Select All That Apply” questions might help prepare you for the NAPLEX, but they won’t expose you to all the interactions and challenges you’ll face as a pharmacist.
2. Think Outside the Box
As the pharmacy world constantly evolves, so does pharmacists’ ability to affect public health epidemics. Avoid limiting yourself to the traditional mindset of a pharmacist from decades’ past. Consider pursuing a residency, fellowship in industry, or certification in one of several Board of Pharmacy Specialties.
It might sound crazy adding more academic titles and letters to your signature, but look into working toward another graduate degree. Schools offering dual degrees open up even more avenues after graduation.
Working in a federal government agency was never on my list of career options during pharmacy school, but applying for an APPE rotation exposed me to the opportunity of having an impact on public policy and public health. Don’t be afraid to venture outside your comfort zone every once in a while. Because, let’s face it, what 5-year old dreamed of just counting pills?
3. Make an Impact
As Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Throughout school, you’ll interact with patients who will make you feel jaded about your profession. There will be times when you feel belittled and desensitized, and you’ll question whether pharmacy school was the right choice.
If the money is the reason you entered the profession, it’ll never make it worth it. By the time you’ve graduated, the lucrative salaries and signing bonuses will be long-forgotten things of the past. What will last well beyond graduation are the memories of how you interact with patients.
Put forth every effort to learn and connect with your patients. Make a lasting impact on their lives, and you’ll see how easy it is to forget about the difficult patients and remember the ones who can make you tear up just thinking of them.
4. Create Lifelong Connections
The most valuable lessons in pharmacy school won’t necessarily come from your textbooks. While it’s important to stay on top of studying, it’s just as important to take a break and network with those around you.
The classmates, professors, and preceptors you connect with will continue to play an important role in your career development over the next few years. The professional relationships and comradery you develop will stay with you well beyond graduation, so make a concerted effort to mingle with everyone.
Investing time in professional relationships will certainly pay dividends in the future, regardless of whether it’s someone in the class above or below you, the administrative assistant, or the facilities manager. Pharmacy is a very small world, and you’ll find the personal relationships you forge from the late nights “studying” in the library are among the most important things you leave school with.
5. Find a Mentor
A good one encourages you at every turn and offers sound advice for both your personal and professional development. I’m not talking about the upper classman assigned to you in the peer-mentoring program in your first year. Your mentor doesn’t necessarily have to be your class advisor or favorite professor, either. It really can be anyone, but it shouldn’t be a stranger you’re simply assigned to.
A true mentor should be someone you know and have interacted with, who also inspires you and keeps your best interest in mind. Seek out someone you look up to who follows through by sponsoring you for opportunities that may arise. Finding the right mentor for your corner can be challenging, but also immeasurably impactful.
Many factors will make you successful in pharmacy school, but I think a lot of schools already harp on skills like time management, study habits, and test-taking. Irrespective of what year you’re in, try to remember these 5 tips to succeed in school and the real world. Oh, and don’t forget to make time to learn how to compound ChapStick properly.
Hank J. Hoang, PharmD, MBA
Hank J. Hoang is currently a pharmacist at the US Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Hoang earned his Doctorate of Pharmacy from the University of Charleston and completed a Master's of Business Administration and Master's of Finance from Northeastern University. The views and opinions expressed reflect the views of the author and do not reflect the views of the FDA, the US Department of Health and Human Services, or any agency of the United States government.