Residency Programs Are Competitive, but Students Can Stand Out

Pharmacy CareersPharmacy Careers Spring 2020
Volume 14
Issue 1

Pharmacy students pursuing residency programs should consider their strengths and goals.

Pharmacy students pursuing residency programs should consider their strengths and goals, according to Joshua Caballero, PharmD, BCPP, FCCP, professor and chair of the Department of Clinical and Administrative Sciences at Larkin University in Miami, Florida. Residency programs are extremely competitive, Caballero said.

In a session at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) 54th Midyear Clinical Meeting and Exhibition in Las Vegas, Nevada, Caballero emphasized that 1 in 3 students would not secure a residency. He added that students who are more interested in retail pharmacy may not need to pursue a residency if they already know that they are passionate about interacting with patients in the store environment.

“If you’re good at what you do and have a passion for what you’re doing, then you’re going to be a successful retail community pharmacist,” Caballero said.

Those pursuing residency programs, however, must take into consideration many things, according to Caballero. First are the typical factors all students consider when applying to jobs and entering the workforce, Caballero said. Time management, grades, and resumes are all vital, regardless of career or goals.

Students must balance myriad responsibilities, including classwork, research, jobs, and social commitments. In his ASHP presentation, Caballero recalled a student who worked as a dealer at high-stakes poker tables: the student had asked whether he should quit that position to pursue a job in pharmacy. Caballero told him no and explained that the skills he was learning at the poker tables, including handling high-pressure situations and making quick decisions, were invaluable.

Even if job experiences don’t seem to be directly related to pharmacy, Caballero said, a student should consider the skills learned there and how they would translate into the residency program.

Grades also are important, confirmed Caballero, and he emphasized that the minimum competitive grade point average (GPA) is between 3.0 and 3.2. More selective programs will have a higher average GPA, which is one of the first metrics used to narrow the applicant pool.

Caballero also had several tips for creating a professional resume: It should be updated at least every semester, he said, and should be consistent, easy to follow, contain specific details, and begin with the most recent experiences. He also advised students to feature their awards, honors, and achievements prominently.

Portfolios aren’t always necessary, Caballero continued. If a student chooses to include one, it should be in a professional binder with all the student’s major works during pharmacy school. They should also know their materials inside and out and be prepared to discuss them in depth.

Although these are all important skills and tips for any career path, Caballero said, pharmacy students seeking a residency have several other things to consider. For example, many students place a large emphasis on holding leadership positions within their professional organizations. Caballero agreed that this is important, yet it is not the only thing residency advisors seek when reviewing a student’s application.

“You really should be looking for leadership positions that play to your strengths,” Caballero told students at the session. “What residency directors really want, and what they look [for], is how you evolve within the organization and how you are able to elevate a position.”

In those professional organizations, students should aim to be innovators, whether that includes creating a new program or pushing research involvement. If a project fails, Caballero said, that is OK. Interviewers may ask about a failure; they’re trying to understand a student’s thought process and what was learned from the failure.

Additionally, research opportunities should be a part of every pharmacy student’s résumé, but individuals can make their research stand out from the crowd, Caballero said. Research projects can take many forms, including working with patients, working with databases and computers, writing review articles, and presenting posters and abstracts. Seeking publication opportunities is a great way to stand out, even if it is in a small publication, such as a professional organization’s newsletter.

Finally, planning ahead is important for managing the demands of research, academics, and career, Caballero said. Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experiences are important, and students should select them based on interests and passions. Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences (APPEs) should be chosen in a similar way, but students should include a mix of easy and difficult experiences. Caballero encouraged students to schedule their most difficult APPEs earlier in their academic careers, and consider participating in an APPE at a site where they may want to interview for a residency.

Residency programs are a fantastic opportunity to enter into a pharmacy career, Caballero concluded, and although there are many factors to consider when preparing, it is not impossible. Ultimately, students should work hard, be resilient, and enjoy their success.


Caballero J. Fundamental strategies to secure a residency: getting a head start as a P1-P3. Presented at: American Society of Health-System Pharmacists 54th Midyear Clinical Meeting & Exhibition; December 9, 2019; Las Vegas, NV.

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