Spring Into APPEs: A Primer for Students and Preceptors

JUNE 01, 2018
Erin Albert, PharmD, JD, MBA, PAHM
Spring is here, and for P3 pharmacy students, that means not only warmer temperatures but also that it’s time to get ready for Advance Pharmacy Practice Experience (APPE) rotations during their final year of pharmacy school.

Because it’s critical that students and preceptors be prepared for rotations, this article will review both roles and provide a few ideas on what each should do before, during, and after APPEs to maximize the experience for all parties.

Getting Ready to Rotate Through APPEs: For Students
Before Each Rotation
Long before your rotation year, you should be scoping out favorite rotations that require applications. Plan and apply ahead of time, making sure you follow the school’s instructions on application-based rotations.

Special rotations aside, and assuming you have your rotation schedule, reach out to your first or second preceptor at least 6 to 8 weeks before your rotation. Introduce yourself, share your excitement about joining the site, attach your résumé, and check to see whether any additional paperwork required is required. Also be sure to ask about parking, dress code, and the time to meet on the first day; you should show that you can take the initiative and make it as easy as possible for the preceptor to work with you. Don’t be afraid to share a little about yourself with your preceptor in advance so that he or she can look for interesting projects for you when you arrive for your rotation.

During Each Rotation
On day 1, hit the ground running by sitting down with your preceptor, going over the syllabus together, and ensuring that you are clear on expectations. Ask for projects, and find out how often your preceptor wants updates from you. Bring a calendar in case your preceptor does not have one for you.

Keep a running list of all your projects, and before you go home each night, update the list of your activities and the status of each project so the information will be ready whenever your preceptor asks for it. I recommend Trello or Wunderlist, if you prefer to carry your project list on your phone or in an app (of course, take care that you don’t breach any confidential information and violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act     while using these apps). Find a sentinel or large project that you can present at the end of your rotation to the team or department you’re rotating within; this will provide an opportunity to share what you know and what you did during your time on the rotation.

During the first week with your preceptor, ask whether there are other professionals in the organization you should meet or shadow, and set up appointments as soon as possible. Meet each person if you can, and be sure to send them all a handwritten thank-you note, preferably with your business card included. You never know when your contact may lead to a future gig!

Last, throughout your rotation, provide your preceptor with feedback and ask for it in return. What’s working on the rotation? What are you struggling with on the rotation? What suggestions do you have for improving the APPE? Keep the conversation going on both sides—a strong preceptor will keep asking for feedback, and so should you.

After Each Rotation
The heavy lifting may be over, but after the rotation, you’re still not done. Send a final thank-you note to your preceptor and the head of the team or department. It is important to note that many preceptors are not paid to precept but do so because it’s the right thing to do. Regardless of extra pay, preceptors provide you with their most precious resource: time. For that reason alone, be sure to thank them in writing for their efforts.

Consider giving your preceptor a rave review on LinkedIn. Not only does this allow you to thank a preceptor publicly, but it also gives you an opportunity to link your experience with the preceptor’s persona online.

Getting Ready for APPE Season: For Preceptors
Before the Academic Rotation Year
Strong preceptors plan; preceptors typically begin thinking about the academic rotation year at least 6 months in advance, particularly if there is an application involved for coveted rotation spots. The rotation year usually starts in May, so preceptors are generally recruiting at the beginning of the fall the previous year. The application for APPEs should be posted in the fall semester the year before the rotation year. Students should be selected by the end of January of the rotation year; offers extend into late January or early February to provide enough time for students to gather their background paperwork prior to the start of the academic year.

As a preceptor, you should update the syllabus, ask across the enterprise for a list of potential projects, and keep a running tally of them for APPE students on rotation. Before students arrive, consider printing a calendar and sketching out what they will be doing and whom they will be shadowing.

During Each Rotation
Like the advice provided for students, block time on their calendar on day 1 to go over the syllabus, expectations, and possible projects. Ask students about their interests after rotations, as well, to see whether matches can be made between projects and the students’ career interests and goals.

Throughout rotations, constantly reassess your students’ workload, asking questions and soliciting feedback. Try to meet with your students and provide them with detailed evaluations, particularly if you spot weaknesses or opportunities for the student to learn more in a specific area of your practice or enterprise.

After Each Rotation
Thank your students for their hard work and time at the site. Additionally, include a thorough final evaluation for your students; if the midpoint evaluation was thorough, however, there shouldn’t be any surprises.

Although it is easy as a preceptor to get caught up in giving the students feedback, be sure to ask for feedback in return. Feedback from students to preceptors is critical for making the rotation experience even better. Continuous quality improvement is a hallmark of pharmacy, so it should also be for APPE rotation experiences and preceptors. The feedback doesn’t need to be extremely long or detailed and should include a list of the projects your students worked on during the rotation.

APPE rotations are ultimately a learning opportunity for students and preceptors, and if both parties work hard and remain open to growth, the experience can be a win for everyone involved.
Erin Albert, PharmD, JD, MBA, PAHM, is a health outcomes pharmacist, writer, entrepreneur, attorney, podcaster, preceptor, career coach, and STEM advocate. Her latest book is Single Women Entrepreneurs: 5 Years Later. You can learn more about Dr. Albert on her blog (erinalbert.com) and follow her on Twitter (@ErinLAlbert).