Know Thyself: Building a Professional Pharmacy Identity


Do educational curricula within pharmacy support a framework for developing a professional identity?

It is the goal of pharmacy educators to equip future generations of pharmacists with the tools they need to enter the real world as practitioners and representatives of the pharmacy profession. By teaching in both didactic and experiential settings, educators utilize multiple strategies to convey and demonstrate the numerous roles of the pharmacist, as well as the skills and foundational knowledge necessary to practice as a clinician.

But, with those efforts, do pharmacy students really develop a sense of professional identity at the completion of their formal education? And, at that point, are they ready to make the transition from student to pharmacist? Do they have a strong sense of the benefits and challenges associated with the practice of pharmacy, or are they in for a rude awakening because everything that was taught was framed in rose-tinted glasses?

A group of pharmacy education researchers from Australia set out to answer these questions, and their findings speak volumes on professional identity. In analyses of pharmacy students and interns, defined as students who completed their pharmacy degree and trained for 1 full year under supervision prior to engaging in pharmacy practice, experiences during the internship year were very different from those anticipated.

In addition, the perception of the interns by other health care professionals and patients (and, in some instances, their own peers) did not necessarily meet expectations as experts in medication therapies.1,2 The study results also demonstrated that improvements within the educational curriculum are necessary to provide sufficient exposure to the realities of pharmacy practice and the types of unique contributions that pharmacists can make in improving patient care.3

However, this identity crisis is not only common among pharmacists-in-training. Researchers in the United Kingdom conducted an analysis of professional identity among seasoned practicing pharmacists, and similar themes emerged related to issues in roles and responsibilities, as well as application of knowledge and practical skills within various practice settings.4

A white paper published in 2000 made suggestions for students and faculty alike related to the incorporation of the concept of professional identity within the pharmacy educational curriculum.5 While the paper provides some activities related to the development of professional identity within the educational setting, it does not specifically delineate how these activities can be implemented throughout the curriculum.

Nevertheless, the Taskforce on Professional Identity Formation within the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy has a mission to not only define best practices for the formation of professional identity for pharmacists-in-training, but also develop a toolkit for such recommendations within the curriculum. Similar to the medical and nursing professions, the implementation of such defined activities of this social learning framework within all aspects of the educational experience for pharmacists-in-training would facilitate and strengthen the development of professional identity within the pharmacy field.


1. Noble C, O’Brien M, Coombes I, Shaw PN, Nissen L, Clavarino A. Becoming a pharmacist: Students’ perceptions of their curricular experience and professional identity formation. Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning. 2014; 6(3):327-229.

2. Noble C, Coombes I, Nissen L, Shaw PN, Clavarino A. Making the transition from pharmacy student to pharmacist: Australian interns' perceptions of professional identity formation. Int J Pharm Pract. 2014 Nov 2 [Epub ahead of print].

3. Noble C, Coombes I, Shaw PN, Nissen LM, Clavarino A. Becoming a pharmacist: the role of curriculum in professional identity formation. Pharmacy Practice (Granada). 2014; 12(1):380.

4. Elvey R, Hassell K, Hall J. Who do you think you are? Pharmacists' perceptions of their professional identity. Int J Pharm Pract. 2013; 21(5):322-332.

5. American Pharmaceutical Association Academy of Students of Pharmacy-American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy Council of Deans Task Force on Professionalism. White Paper: Pharmacy Student Professionalism. J Am Pharm Assoc. 2000; 40(1):96-102.

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