3 Tips for Life on Pharmacy Rotations

When picking your rotations, it's important not to take the easy way out.

Pharmacy school is a long process, lasting anywhere from 5 to 8 years. Students count down the days to graduation, and it’s a big relief when we’re finally released from the classroom and given the opportunity to apply all our knowledge in the real world on rotations.

I recently completed the classroom part of my pharmacy career and am in my final year on rotations before I become a licensed pharmacist. From this vantage point, I’d like to share some tips I’ve learned from my own journey, as well as some advice I’ve received from friends who’ve already graduated.

1. Choose Carefully

When picking your rotations, it’s important not to take the easy way out. Don’t pick a site because you’ve heard the preceptor lets you out early after 3 hours of work. Although that may seem like a pretty good idea at first, you must remember you’re paying tuition to be there and work for free.

The whole point of pharmacy rotations is to apply all the knowledge you’ve accumulated throughout your studies. Although you’ll have real-world application opportunities when you’re a pharmacist, right now, you have someone guiding you through decisions and helping you along the way, unlike when you’re actually a pharmacist and have to figure it out on your own. I chose several preceptors who are professors or have teaching backgrounds. I do receive extra daily work from them, in addition to the assignments already expected of me by my school, but I can honestly say I’m already learning so much.

Picking your rotations may not seem like a big deal, but it really is. You want to make sure you’ll benefit from it in the long run because it will not only help you further prepare for the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX), but also bestow knowledge that will potentially stay with you for the rest of your career.

2. Perform and Behave Well

You’d be surprised how many students let this slide and suffer the consequences.

Basically, be on time, and by that I mean make sure you’re early. I try to be at least 10 minutes early each morning. Live by the adage “if you’re not early, you’re late.”

Remember, you’re going to be a pharmacist, which means you’ll be in charge of opening the pharmacy as the first one there in the morning. Even if you’re working the night shift, you’re expected to be there on schedule. This means anticipating traffic, accidents, and whatever other scenarios could potentially cause you to run late.

Dress professionally. Men should always show up to work in a suit and tie. Women should wear a blouse or other nice top with a pair of business pants or skirt, a dress, or a suit. You should never come to work wearing yoga pants. You’re a health care professional, so you’re expected to dress like one not only throughout your rotations, but also when you graduate and start your career.

Also, make sure you’re always on your game! We all have problems that arise in our lives that can cause us to fall behind and lose focus. I’ve had personal issues from time to time, but it’s important to remember that they won’t matter a year from now.

This is your year to focus and really prepare yourself for the next chapter in your life. So, ask questions, do every assignment given to you, and try to continuously exceed your preceptor’s expectations by going above and beyond. Do this when interacting with not only your preceptor and the other health care professionals you meet on rotations, but also your patients.

If you’re given the opportunity to counsel, then counsel, provide excellent patient care, and start to build that relationship between you and the individuals within the hospitals and community. Believe it or not, that’s a big part of being a pharmacist. Building trust and credibility starts on day one of your rotations and may follow you throughout your whole career.

At the end of each rotation, I recommend hand-writing a personal thank you note to your preceptor and any other health care professionals you may have worked closely with during that time. This allows you to thank them for the opportunity to learn and for the knowledge you gained from them throughout the weeks of rotation. It’ll also help them remember you and your thoughtful action. Pharmacy is a small world, and you want to make a good impression everywhere you go.

3. Study When You Get Home

It’s easy to come home and just sit on the couch and watch television after a long day. I know we all have other tasks to complete, like additional assignments or going to work. But, it’s important to set goals for yourself in terms of studying and preparing for the NAPLEX. Yes, it may be a ways away, but you want to make sure you don’t waste this year.

Many graduates have told me time and time again to start early, and I’ve already taken their advice. I try to look at the RxPrep book even if it’s only for an hour each day— not just to prepare for the NAPLEX, but also to attempt storing this information in my long-term memory so I actually know my stuff and become the best pharmacist I can be.

Too many students fail to realize the main goal isn’t to learn this information simply for the sake of the exam, only to forget it all once you’ve passed. Obviously, passing the boards is necessary for obtaining your license, but the real goal is to remember the information so you can excel and perform to the absolute best of your abilities and knowledge.

Don’t just think you can study a month before the exam, cram, pass, and then rely on technology to get you through each day. If you take that route, you’re bound to make mistakes, and you won’t get far. Plus, do you really want to be that pharmacist who doesn’t know anything?

Bottom line: Use this year wisely, be the best you can be, and know your stuff!