5 Tips for Graduating Pharmacy Students and Recent Graduates
Congratulations to the class of 2021. Your hard work is about to pay off as you enter the ranks of licensed pharmacists.
Although the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has raised unprecedented challenges, compounding already-tough competition for open positions, opportunities still exist. Today, pharmacists are practicing at the top of their licenses: engaging in collaborative practice through comprehensive medication management, providing medication therapy management services, offering point-of-care testing, and immunizing the nation against the COVID-19 and other diseases. One major health care innovation company declared 2021 “the year of the pharmacist.”1
Pharmacy, like many areas in health care, is undergoing rapid transformation. But with any transformation come opportunities. Whether you are looking for your first position or are a recent graduate looking to make a transition, the right approach can make the difference in your success.
Here are 5 tips to help you succeed in finding the right position.
Engage Your Professional Network
Professional networks lead to more job and business opportunities, improve quality of work, increase capacity to innovate, and improve overall job satisfaction.2 Are you engaging preceptors, faculty, your college’s alumni network, and professional associations? The most potent networks are not built via casual interactions (“Hi, my name is James, and I’m looking for a job”) but through tasks that require one another’s contributions, such as patient care, committee service, and volunteer work, or tasks geared toward achieving a common goal, such as winning a sports league championship.2
Consider Nontraditional Opportunities, Emerging Practice Areas, and Rural Areas
If you find the market is saturated, seek opportunities that allow you to stand out. Managed care, long-term care, drug or medical information, specialty drugs, and informatics are often overlooked areas of practice by students, but tremendous opportunities exist in each of these spaces. In addition, if metropolitan areas are saturated, be willing to explore rural areas where there is not a surplus of graduates. Your first position will not be your only position. With each position, focus on learning, earning, and contributing with the opportunities you are afforded.
Clearly Articulate What You Can Add to the Organization
A well-articulated elevator pitch can lead to an interview. Set up mock interviews with your college of pharmacy or the university career services office. When preparing for interviews, remember to highlight the value you would bring to the organization. Can you initiate a new clinical service and set up billing to offset some of your salary? Are you located near a border state and could be licensed to practice in multiple locations? Could you work with a large employer to improve outcomes in diabetes? Can you decrease polypharmacy for patients or reduce medication errors? Can you improve Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services core measures scores? Do you have experience with telemedicine as a result of the pandemic? Whatever your skill set, make sure you are selling your employment as a value-added opportunity for the organization. During interviews, enthusiasm is contagious, but make sure it comes across as sincere.
Build Your Personal Brand
“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”3
This quote from Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, summarizes the importance of having a personal brand. Personal branding involves providing evidence that you have the skills needed to succeed in the profession, often detailed in a portfolio or on a website. Build an identity on high-traffic sites, such as LinkedIn, that display your accomplishments and professional interests. As you grow in your career, add certifications, awards, and areas of expertise. Interpersonal skills are just as crucial and contribute to your brand and reputation among colleagues.
Engage in Continuing Professional Development
Pharmacists must be prepared for continuous learning and growth after earning their doctor of pharmacy degree. As you transition from student to practitioner, incorporate a scholarly approach in identifying problems, analyzing the literature for the best evidence- based practices, and applying this information to optimize patient outcomes.
Write down your professional goals, seek out a mentor who will hold you accountable in achieving them, and reflect on them often. Goals that are SMART (specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic, and time related) have a higher chance of being achieved. Ultimately, never stop learning. Graduation is really only the first step of your professional development.
- The year of the pharmacist. CVS Health. Accessed March 16, 2021. https://cvshealth.com/news-and-insights/articles/health-trends-2021-the-year-of-the-pharmacist
- Casciaro T, Gina F, Kouchaki M. Learn to love networking. Harvard Business Review. May 2016. Accessed March 16, 2021. https://hbr.org/2016/05/learn-to-love-networking
- Bond J. The power of creating a personal brand. Temple University Fox School of Business. August 21, 2020. Accessed March 17, 2021. https://www.fox.temple.edu/posts/2020/08/the-power-of-creating-a-personal-brand/
About the Author
James Wheeler, PharmD, BCPS, is a faculty member at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Pharmacy and currently serves as the associate dean of the Knoxville campus as well as director of continuing professional development. He teaches drug information, medication safety, and pulmonary medicine coursework. His research interests include continuing professional development, workforce development, the opioid crisis, and interprofessional education.