How to Narrow Down Your Pharmacy Residency Options


The following are questions that I ask my clients as I coach them through the residency process.

When choosing potential residency program, conventional wisdom tells you to choose programs that match your career goals.

While your career goals are important to distinguish, choosing residency programs is a lot harder than that. I’m currently coaching a pharmacy student through the residency application process, and she often brings up the problem of narrowing down her residency options.

The following are questions that I ask my clients as I coach them through the residency process.

What are your pharmacy career goals?

This question circles back to that conventional wisdom. Without a goal in mind, it’s impossible to choose the right residency program.

The things you will experience in your residency will prepare you for the next step in your pharmacy career. If you want to go into academia, then sign up for residencies that will provide appropriate experience. That may seem obvious, but all too often, students apply to residencies that don’t match up with their career goals.

Don’t settle for programs that are less competitive but will not give you the opportunities necessary for building your career. The worst-case scenario is you getting matched with a residency that only gives you postgraduate year 1 (PGY-1) resident status without appropriate experience.

Are you willing to move far away?

There is less competition in desolate places, which is true for both pharmacist jobs and residencies. So, if you’re willing to reside and work somewhere else for a year, go for it!

I completed my residency in the middle of nowhere and can easily say that my application was at the top of the pile (albeit a small one).

Are you willing to work weekends?

Weekend shifts are common requirements for pharmacy residents. If you want to avoid weekend shifts, that will rule out 60% to 80% of residencies.

Whenever I consult with a student who wants to become a resident, I ask this question first because it can rule out most programs.

What do your peers say?

Your network is your most valuable career asset, so consult as many current or past residents as possible to soak up their knowledge and experience. Their advice may steer you away from a particular residency program.

How competitive is your application?

An honest assessment of your career thus far is difficult to complete. How can you spot your career holes when you haven’t held a job as a pharmacist yet?

That’s why it helps to have a second pair of experienced eyes review your career with you, either in the form of a curriculum vitae (CV) evaluation or a mentoring session. A mentor’s assessment can inform your “chance” of getting matched with a residency program.

Do you have a great list of accomplishments?

What have you accomplished in your last 3 years of pharmacy school? Would a residency manager be impressed with your list?

If so, then apply for highly esteemed residencies. However, if you lack the basic components of a great CV, such as research experience, then you should avoid highly competitive residencies in metropolitan areas and academic institutions.

Does the program have a PGY-2 opportunity?

A PGY-2 is a great career step to specialize further. PGY-1 programs that offer PGY-2 are much more likely to accept their PGY-1 resident than an outside applicant.

It would be wise to first determine what field of pharmacy you wish to enter and then look for programs that offer both PGY-1 and PGY-2.

Do you have a connection at the institution?

Your network is your net worth. Who you know is your most powerful career tool.

The more exposure you have to employees at a company, the more likely you can get into a residency program. Not knowing anyone at an institution shouldn’t dissuade you from applying, but I recommend that you focus on the programs where your connections are the strongest.

I urge you to spend some time answering all of these questions. Your answers will help you create a system to narrow down the hundreds of pharmacy residency programs available to you.

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