Pharmacy Residents Balancing Uncertainty, Optimism During Pandemic


Over the past 5 years, pharmacy residency positions have increased by 46% nationwide.

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) recently celebrated Residency Match Day, where 5269 individuals matched with 2551 pharmacy residency programs, according to organization. Additionally, over the past 5 years, pharmacy residency positions have increased by 46% nationwide.1

Students who pursue a Post Graduate Year 1 (PGY-1) residency work as a licensed pharmacist while receiving additional training with a preceptor. For residents who want to specialize even further, a PGY-2 residency may also be available at many programs in areas such as critical care, ambulatory care, pediatrics and infectious disease.2

At the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) School of Pharmacy in Milwaukee, the inaugural class exceeded the 2020 national average as a first-year Match Day participant, with over 70% of residency applicants matched during phase 1 and 2, according to an MCW article.3

This year, pharmacy school graduates are beginning their PGY-1 residencies during a global pandemic.

In an email to Pharmacy Times®, George E. MacKinnon III, PhD, MS, RPh, FASHP, founding dean and professor at MCW School of Pharmacy, said that pharmacists provide an “indispensable” role during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Pharmacists, as one of the most accessible health care providers in our communities, are providing a myriad of essential services during this time of crisis including testing for COVID-19 via nasopharyngeal testing, taught to many student pharmacists today including ours at the Medical College of Wisconsin School of Pharmacy,” MacKinnon said in the email. “In the hospital setting, many pharmacists serve and lead antimicrobial stewardship programs, ensuring the appropriate use of anti-infectives to reduce drug resistance with an already limited armamentarium of medications for the critically ill, including COVID-19 patients.”

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to uncertainty among pharmacy residents. Some of the biggest concerns from pharmacy residents during this time include feeling ill-prepared, the uncertainty of life post-COVID-19, and the potential limited engagement between medical teams and their patients.

“Rounding, making recommendations, and providing resources to medical teams in-person are a few effective ways pharmacists build rapport inter-professionally,” said Truong Vu, MCW School of Pharmacy Class of 2020, who was matched with Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee. “I think this will still occur, but not to the extent it was pre-COVID-19.”

In regard to handling the challenges of their programs shifting from hands-on experience to online programs, some residents have felt that the remote experiences will help them become more adaptable in the pharmacy landscape. For example, Erik Everton, MCW School of Pharmacy Class of 2020 who is starting a post-doctoral fellowship with Merck, was able to finish his Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences (APPE) in-person but will be starting his fellowship remotely.

“This has caused me to grow my flexibility in many areas,” Everton said in an email to Pharmacy Times®. “The relocation process is daunting because of the uncertainty for when we will be asked to fully relocate. As things get progress, all I can do at this point is be grateful I am able to continue working and to be as flexible as possible to change with the current situation.”

Although residents such as Everton and Emily Hansen, MCW School of Pharmacy Class of 2020, who matched at Children’s Wisconsin in Milwaukee, are not too worried about their education or residency being limited due to COVID-19, Vu feels that the variety of medical cases and surgeries will be less abundant, which may lead to a less enriching experience.

“However, I think it will be interesting to see how COVID-19 can complicate patient’s disease states, since there is so much we don’t know about the virus,” Vu said in an email to Pharmacy Times®.

To deal with stress, residents like Hansen are making sure to schedule down-time for themselves.

“I am trying to engage in activities that I enjoy and have not had time to engage in while at school, such as painting, crocheting, and watching movies and TV shows,” Hansen said in an email to Pharmacy Times®. “I also ensure that I take a 30-minute walk with my dogs daily to get my exercise and engage with the outdoors.”

For Everton, learning new skills and working on multiple projects has kept him in a good mental state.

“It is easy to become immersed in the doldrums of quarantine and the negativity during this pandemic, but I find that being purposeful with every day helps to keep me in a good place mentally,” Everton said in his email. “Whether ­­­running and doing exercises, reading a book, or exploring a new hobby, purposefulness and doing something meaningful everyday has helped me and my family during this pandemic.”

Students spend 2 months interviewing with residency programs, both close to home and around the country, and submit their preferences to the ASHP Matching Service at the end of February. Their information is fed into an algorithm system which places or ‘matches’ the student in a position.2

According to the University of South Carolina College of Pharmacy in Columbia, which typically sees 35% of its students apply for a residency, not all fourth-year pharmacy students seek a residency. However, for those who intend to work in a clinical setting such as a hospital, a 1- or 2-year residency will move them closer to their career goal.2


  • ASHP’s pharmacy residency match sees continued growth [news release]. ASHP: April 8, 2020. Accessed May 12, 2020.
  • College of Pharmacy- it’s Match Day! University of South Carolina. Published March 12, 2020. Accessed May 12, 2020.
  • MCW school of pharmacy inaugural class finds success in first residency match day. MCW. Published March 23, 2020. Accessed May 12, 2020.

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