Navigating the ASHP Midyear Residency Showcase: A Program's Perspective

One of the most intimidating events of ASHP Midyear is the residency showcase.

In a few weeks, thousands of pharmacy students and pharmacists will attend the American Society of Health-System Pharmacist (ASHP) Midyear Meeting, a large portion of which is dedicated to informing students about post-graduation training programs, be it residencies or fellowships.

One of the most intimidating events is the residency showcase. Many articles have been written with general advice for interested applicants, but this article will focus on the residency program’s perspective.

1. Dress the part.

Think of the residency showcase as the interview before the interview. Dress as you would for your clinical rotations, but take it up a notch.

Men: Wear a suit and tie. No suit? Then wear nice slacks, a button-down shirt, and a tie.

Women: Wear a suit, too. No suit? Then wear a dress, a skirt and top, or slacks and top.

Consider deviating from the sea of black suits with navy blue, grey, or olive green. A little variation in color will help you stand out. Maybe add a little flair with your accessories, such as a school-affiliated tie or necklace.

Why this is important:

What you wear will send a message to the programs before you even open your mouth. You don’t want to give off the idea that you are sloppy or that you are unprepared and just happened to roll into the residency showcase because you had nothing better to do at the time.

Also, be conscious of the amount of perfume or cologne you wear. The showcase gets noisy, so you will stand close to the program staff to engage in conversation. You don’t want to assault their noses when you do.

2. Do your research.

One of the biggest pet peeves my colleagues and I have is interested candidates approaching us with the opening line of “Tell me about your program.”

In response, we would love to hand you a flier, say “Let me know if you have any questions,” and turn towards the next potential candidate, but most of us are too professional to do so.

Initiating a conversation with potential preceptors is difficult and nerve racking, especially when it’s one of your top programs. A little research can help you break the ice.

Step 1: Introduce yourself with “Hi, my name is so-and-so from the University-of-my-State-is-Great.”

Step 2: Use a factoid about your research to break the ice. Try, “I saw on your website that you offer a rotation in some-obscure-but-interesting-specialty.” Or, “What attracted me to your program is the wide variety of elective rotations available to residents.”

Step 3: Use an open-ended question such as “Can you tell me more about something-related-to-your-factoid?”

Why this is important:

Preceptors and program directors love interacting and mentoring residents. That is why they continue to stay in positions that are involved in actively recruiting and training residents.

However, we need to see that you’ve gone the extra mile, did your homework, and came prepared. After all, this is a foreshadowing of how you will perform and be a “self-learner” during a residency.

Almost all programs have residency websites with basic information about geographical location, patient volume, residency class size, preceptor biographies, rotation requirements, and maybe even past resident information.

Keep a journal or log dedicated to the residencies you are interested in. Jot down information you found appealing about each program. List a few questions you would like answered. If you come across spur of the moment programs you previously did not identify, you will already have some go-to questions you can use.

Didn’t do any research ahead of time? Programs should have a display featuring highlights of their program or fliers advertising this information. Ask for a flier, quickly scan it, and then adopt the above tactic of initiating a conversation.

Also, consider saving your top programs for the latter part of the showcase. You can work out your nerves and get into a routine of asking questions at some of your “safety” programs and project a more confident persona to your top choices.

3. Don’t hand out your CV haphazardly.

We live in a digital world. When it comes time to apply to programs, it will likely be electronically via the Pharmacy Online Residency Centralized Application Service (PhORCAS).

Nevertheless, have a final, up-to-date version of your CV available. Bring 1 or 2 copies with you. If a program asks for a copy, then provide them with one. If you don’t have a copy on hand, then ask the program for their contact information and e-mail them your CV at your earliest convenience with a quick note detailing your interaction.

Prior to attending the ASHP Midyear meeting, and definitely before applying to programs, make sure your CV is reviewed by trusted colleagues. While your friends can serve in this capacity, you will get more valuable feedback from professors and mentors who are involved in residency programs. They can offer advice on formatting, content, and length.

If you have a business card, ask the program if they would like one. Some programs like to keep track of the applicants they speak with at Midyear and write notes on their interaction. This serves as a reminder for when the applicant formally applies through PhORCAS.

Why this is important:

Programs travel far to attend the showcase, and they’ve got a lot of stuff to set up. Do not add to their clutter by providing them with several pages of stapled documents printed on off-white linen paper. Most likely, your CV will get shoved in with the display case and not resurface until the program goes to a recruiting showcase the next year.

4. Leave a lasting impression.

There are 2 ways to ensure that a program remembers your name:

A. Be an outstanding candidate that the program vows to interview.

B. Be an outlandish candidate that the program vows to avoid at all costs.

Pharmacy is a small world, and the hosting city for the Midyear meeting is even smaller. Applicants and program faculty are bound to run into each other outside the showcase. You will attend other symposia, networking sessions, and (gasp!) restaurants and bars where you may see each other.

While programs understand that everyone likes to have fun, make sure you don’t put yourself in a situation where you embarrass yourself or insult or offend the program or faculty you are interested in.

Remember all the preparation work you did to make a good impression on the program? Remember the business card you gave the program? While everyone wants to be memorable, especially when hundreds of applications come through PhORCAS, make sure the reason you are memorable is because you stood out for good reasons.

Colleagues and I have stories of interactions with potential candidates who rubbed us the wrong way. Those names stayed with us, and when their applications were submitted, they ended up in the “do not interview” category.

Why this is important:

You don’t want to get voted off the island before you even apply.

5. Interview the program.

Remember, the residency showcase serves as a forum for prospective candidates to interact and obtain more information from programs they are interested in. It’s the interview before the interview, but this goes both ways.

While the residency programs screen you as a candidate, you should be doing the same screening for the programs. You should expect the programs to have neat, organized booths and the preceptors and residents to be dressed neatly and professionally. They should also seem enthusiastic about answering questions and sincere in promoting their program.

Why this is important:

You can observe a lot about the program from the non-verbal clues its preceptors and residents are projecting.

Overtired, uninterested residents and preceptors can convey a miserable environment to work in. On the other hand, a lively, professional group of people who get along can make for a wonderful learning environment.

6. Thank the program.

After your interaction with the program, send the preceptors and residents a thank you note as a follow-up.

Some may say this is not necessary after the residency showcase, but if you had a meaningful exchange with a preceptor or 2, then consider letting them know in 2 to 3 sentences.

Keep it brief. Keep it sincere. Keep it professional.

Some candidates may choose to e-mail the recipients, while others will send an actual note through the mail. Personally, I prefer an actual note, but others may disagree. Whatever your choice, make sure you definitely send a thank you note after the on-site interview.

Why this is important:

It shows your maturity and exhibits consideration and manners. It also proves that you are able to reflect on your experiences.

These next few weeks can be incredibly stressful on potential residency candidates. You may be nervous and scared, but following some of these simple tips may calm you down and help you give a good first impression.

Good luck to all potential candidates!