Hindsight Is 20/20: Two Final-Year Student Pharmacists Reflect on Their Experiences

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Pharmacy school is about more than academics—it's also a time to build relationships and explore opportunities.

Hindsight is 20/20. These words were uttered countless times after encountering and working through issues in pharmacy school. Experience is an effective way to learn, but there were many times we wished we had a set of tools or road map for navigating the unknown trail of pharmacy school. For students who may be feeling lost, we hope these reflections help guide the way.

1. Build Meaningful Relationships With Preceptors and Mentors

Entering pharmacy school can feel like an abrupt change, with an unfamiliar set of rules and expectations. However, meeting a great preceptor or mentor can be incredibly reassuring, and the motivation and guidance from these figures can help propel you out of your comfort zone.

During your first advanced pharmacy practice experience, it can be helpful to get to know your preceptor, discuss your goals, and make a plan to accomplish them. Preceptors involve students in issues within the pharmacy, giving them opportunities to help find solutions. Preceptors also give students direct responsibilities in patient care and encourage them to be accountable for their work. In our experiences, having a strong relationship with preceptors has allowed us to develop passion and autonomy while helping us understand how to work within multidisciplinary teams to solve problems on a hospital administration level.

Being involved in organizations can also provide opportunities to find mentors. For example, involvement with the American College of Clinical Pharmacy in Lenexa, Kansas, has given me (Madeline) the opportunity to get involved in the Cardiology Practice and Research Network, where I was paired with a mentor based on similar areas of interest and practice site locations. During meetings with this mentor, I received guidance and advice specific to my professional needs and interests as well as honest and constructive feedback that has allowed me to build and refine my professional identity.

2. Don't Forget To Build Meaningful Relationships With Your Peers

As students, we are fighting a common battle. Finding a network of peers is an invaluable step to moving outside your comfort zone. Positive peer relationships can be fostered both inside and outside your institution.

During my time as a pharmacy student, I (Madeline) have come to use social media and specifically my Instagram account (@ohey_itsmaddiek) as a platform to promote pharmacy education and build valuable connections with others. I have been fortunate enough to collaborate with other pharmacy students and pharmacists to create educational content for the public. Some of my topic posts with other collaborators include “The Buzz Behind Birth Control” with @pharma.unfiltered, “Diving Into Dental Drugs” with @cpan.pharmd, “All About Anticoagulants” with @pharmacyfun_nanhee, and “Let’s Talk Toxicology” with @thehospitalpharm.assist. Over time, Instagram has become an outlet for me to network with peers and share my passion for pharmacy with others.

3. Fill Your Cup

To doctoral candidates trying to push themselves to be well-rounded future health care providers, the sentiment of filling your cup can sound trite and meaningless. It can be difficult to relax during free time while being cognizant of looming responsibilities.

Long before starting pharmacy school, I (Victoria) found comfort in practicing pottery. Something about the process of constructing art with my own hands and melding the clay into any form I desired was cathartic and allowed me to feel as though I had control over at least aspect of my life. Throwing clay allowed me to escape the chaos of a busy mind and temporarily forget stressful obligations.

Distracting my mind by focusing on performing a physical task is one of my most relied-upon techniques to pull myself out of a slump. Identifying this has helped me incorporate other breaks into my busy routine so I can preemptively avoid roadblocks. It has also helped me become more intentional with allowing breaks for activities such as yoga, hiking, and cooking.

4. Frame Requirements As Opportunities

When trying to decide how to get involved on campus, discard the idea of seeking things to add to your résumé and instead search for opportunities to explore things that make you feel invested. Reflect on how involvement a affords you a platform to be creative and make a difference within your community. Try thinking, “How can I use this opportunity to do something remarkable that I would feel proud of?” Shifting our mind-set from “What needs to get done?” to “What are some things I have the chance to do?” may help us find the additional motivation to make amazing things happen.

Within our university’s chapter of the American Pharmacists Association Academy of Student Pharmacists, I (Victoria) assumed the position of chapter president. This proved to be a long-term opportunity that encouraged my growth as a student pharmacist in ways I could not anticipate. Working with other executive board members and supported by funding and a wonderful organization adviser, I helped steer my chapter toward increasing the number and quality of events that gave back to our community and fostering an environment of camaraderie within our chapter and pharmacy program. I had the chance to connect with other pharmacy students across the country, discussing tools to promote success within their chapters and troubleshooting difficult situations we encountered.

It is true that stepping up to assume a position of leadership allowed me to develop many skills I can list on my résumé. More importantly, however, it allowed me to cultivate confidence, creativity, professionalism, and a support network, all which continue to benefit me long after leaving the role.

5. Steer Past Roadblocks

What do you do when, out of nowhere and despite your best efforts, you find yourself stopped in the pursuit of your goals? If you hit a roadblock, don’t turn around. Instead, take a detour and find the learning opportunities on the road less traveled.

Entering pharmacy school, I (Madeline) remember setting distinct goals for myself: being inducted into the Rho Chi Pharmacy Honor Society, becoming a member of Phi Lambda Sigma, taking on a presidential leadership position, and the list goes on. Because of the competitive nature surrounding them, I believed these goals were markers of success. As someone who devoted her entire life to achieving a perceived level of success, I became fixated on achieving these goals for all the wrong reasons.

At the end of my first year, I hit a roadblock. I went through a horrible breakup, had to move back home, and started new jobs. I felt completely lost and found myself drowning in self-doubt. There are no study guides for navigating difficult times as a graduate student; it was something I had to learn through experience.

However, by overcoming these hurdles, I developed a much healthier perception of success. I no longer measure success by accolades possessed but by experiences lived and lessons learned. I can openly admit I didn’t achieve all I initially set out to do. As a result, I still experience moments of disappointment and feelings of failure. But in these moments, I take time to reflect on my new, redefined markers of success. Being hard on yourself is a difficult pattern to break, but don’t let your self-worth become wrapped up in your academic performance. Work hard, play hard, and remember to be gentle with yourself.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Victoria MacLelland and Madeline Kravitz are 2023 PharmD candidates at the University of Saint Joseph School of Pharmacy and Physician Assistant Studies in West Hartford, Connecticut.