Stand Out as an IPPE and APPE Pharmacy Student


Five ways to truly stand out, and make a great impression on IPPE and APPE rotations.

Pharmacy rotations are the perfect opportunity for students to apply information learned from their didactic coursework into the real world of pharmacy practice. Of course, pharmacy rotations involve more than just a baseline of pharmacy and medical-specific knowledge. Rotations also offer the chance to work, and improve upon communication skills with patients and other healthcare professionals, writing competency, and general problem solving skills.

My husband and I have precepted several dozen pharmacy students on rotation and have compiled our best advice for students about to begin their next IPPE and APPE rotation. I previously wrote about 6 tips to stand out as a pharmacy intern, and this article will cover an additional 5 ways to truly standout and make a great impression on both IPPE and APPE rotations.

1. Treat the rotation like your real job

This sounds like obvious advice, but often goes overlooked. Regardless if the rotation site is an area of future career interest or not, treat it like it’s your permanent job. This means showing up on time, dressing appropriately, working hard, avoiding workplace drama, and looking for ways to improve upon yourself. Additionally, take advantage of all opportunities that are offered during the rotation and avoid getting into the mindset that any work is 'beneath you' or not worthwhile because you’re not getting paid.

Students may not realize, but it’s painfully obvious when a student has no interest in the rotation. Sometimes, they’ll even make it perfectly clear the rotation is just a place to pass through, as it is a required rotation assignment or they were randomly assigned to that particular site, but have career plans outside of where the rotation is taking place. For example, if you’re doing a retail rotation but know you’re committed to pursuing a residency, try to make the best of the situation, and learn what you can throughout the rotation. It’s possible the residency route doesn’t pan out and you may end up working retail in the end.

It is also important to understand that regardless of where your site is located, many pharmacy skills can be easily transferable, particularly communication, and time management skills. Finally, as the old adage goes 'pharmacy is a small world,' and making a poor impression during any rotation means risking that information could be shared at some point during your career.

We have had students over the years carelessly take home PHI documents, despite instruction not to do so, and multiple HIPAA violations. In one instance, a student that had multiple violations on rotation made it clear they had no interest in our rotation, which backfired for him after one of the pharmacists on the team was contacted by a fellowship director upon seeing that student completed a rotation at our site. (The student did not get a glowing recommendation.)

2. Ask Questions

Asking questions is arguably one of the simplest, but most effective ways of learning. It not only helps to gain insight into unfamiliar areas, but also shows the preceptor that the student is thinking critically, and wants to learn. Do not think that any question is stupid; as preceptors we do not expect IPPE or APPE students to be experts, and always encourage students to ask questions on topics they are unfamiliar with. This helps facilitate discussion, and help us preceptors understand which areas to focus on with each student.

Notably, although asking questions is certainly advisable, asking the exact same question over and over again is not productive, and can be irritating for all involved. Therefore, I always encourage students to carry a little pocket notebook during rotations to write down their questions with answers. This prevents repeat questions, plus writing down information can help students retain that information more effectively, and think of appropriate follow-up questions on the topic.

3. Take an interest in your work and be flexible

Treating every rotation like a future opportunity will surely help in your success. Regardless if you’re 100% sure you don’t want to work in that particular pharmacy field, gaining experience can be helpful later on. Additionally, being able to build your pharmacy network can help with career advice, letters of recommendation, and potentially open other opportunities down the road.

Keep in mind that rotations are temporary. We have all had rotations we do not necessarily love, but try to extract what value you can. Additionally, be flexible. Understand that there may be some rotations where you spend most of the day doing tech work or other assignments that may feel like a waste of time. Try asking for additional responsibilities, and offer to help out where needed. In the end, gaining a wide range of pharmacy experiences will only help in a student’s development.

In addition, aavoid constantly having your phone out during rotation. It may seem like no one is looking, but someone always is. It reflects poorly on the student, and makes it seem like they are uninterested. We have unfortunately seen this too many times.

4. Challenge yourself

Rotations are the perfect time to incorporate academic knowledge into real-world pharmacy work. Therefore, each time you come across a specific medication, whether at a retail site, hospital, or otherwise, try to recall its mechanism of action, and key counseling points. If you’re filling or handling a medication you are unfamiliar with, write the name down, and when time permits look up the medication in your class notes or other resource. This will not only help you become more confident on rotation, but will also help when studying for the NAPLEX post-graduation.

Additionally, identify your weaknesses, and come up with a game plan to work on those areas. For example, if you have not had much practice counseling patients, then ask your preceptor if you can spend some time counseling. Or if you know answering drug information questions or journal club assignments are not a key strength, ask for some opportunities to prepare and present your work. Most preceptors will be more than willing to help aid in a student’s growth.

5. Ask for feedback.

Most preceptors will complete midpoint and final reviews with students to assess and evaluate their progress. However, students should be proactive to seek feedback outside of those evaluations to help identify both strengths and areas of weakness.

Working during rotations in the pharmacy can certainly get busy and the hours and days go by quick. However, continuing to seek feedback on a regular basis shows your preceptor that you are motivated, and will only benefit you in the long run. Try asking specific, open-ended questions to your preceptor (for example: “What skills do you see that I need to improve upon?”) and don’t be offended by any feedback received.

Bottom line

As the pharmacy profession continues to become more saturated, it is important for students to maximize opportunities from IPPE and APPE rotations. Regardless if you think you may or may not end up in the specific field where you’re completing your next rotation, try to keep an open mind, work hard, and make the most of each opportunity.

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