Students in Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Should Seek Out Opportunities for Research, Mentorship


And whatever specialty the student or resident decides on, it does not have to define the rest of their career.

Chung-Shien Lee, PharmD, BCPS, BCOP Assistant Professor St. John's University, Richmond Hill, New York, offers advice on how hematology/oncology pharmacy students can prepare for a career in the field, common profession misconceptions, and taking as many opportunities as possible at Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Association (HOPA) Annual Conference 2023.

PT Staff: What are some of the most common misconceptions that future oncology pharmacists have about hematology/oncology career options?

Chung-Shien Lee, PharmD, BCPS, BCOP:I think for me, and working with several trainees and students and things like that, is that oftentimes [students] feel that they need to make that lifelong decision at that moment. And I always discuss with them that, you know, there, may be things that you may want to change your career options, or you may focus on 1 specific tumor type, but you may find a different interest or maybe have a life-changing event that may pique your interest in something else. And I think it's important to know that you have different options. And that's 1 of the great things about hematology oncology, that there's so many different career paths and options for us.

PT Staff: How do hematology/oncology pharmacy students approach choosing a specialty in this field?

Chung-Shien Lee, PharmD, BCPS, BCOP:That's a great question. I think most of the time in my experience for students is there, they find that they're interested in something. And if they choose that, it's oncology, they really don't know all the specifics at that point in time. So you know, they may not get into the nitty-gritty of choosing tumor types. As such, I think their goal is to first get to postgraduate year 1 (PGY1) residency, and ultimately PGY2 residency. And I think, as they become a little bit more exposed, and they decide what they want to do more specified, you kind of go through your different, you know, advanced pharmacy practice experiences (APPE) and rotations, they get a different feel and flavor for those things. And I think those kinds of help people make their career decisions. But I think that it's important that students or residents understand that that decision doesn't necessarily have to define them for the rest of their career.

PT Staff: What can be some of the most difficult factors for students who are learning how to achieve optimal drug therapy outcomes?

Chung-Shien Lee, PharmD, BCPS, BCOP:I think 1 of the things going to oncology that's a little bit different than other fields is that sometimes, we may not be able to achieve the optimal outcome. And sometimes we may know why, and sometimes we may not. And I think for me, 1 of the big struggles, and kind of the things that I've learned to deal with, is that we don't necessarily have all the answers yet. And, you know, I think that's a part of oncology that unfortunately we must accept at this time. But it moves so fast, and in at least in my short career, we've learned a lot of different things that has helped develop new therapies and stuff for patients. For anyone, not only students, sometimes when you don't have the answers, it's very frustrating. I think for students, sometimes they struggle, because you know, when you're in school, a lot of things are black and white. And as you know, in practice, most cases, most patients are not black and white. So, for students, I think they struggle a little bit in finding that gray area and kind of accepting it.

PT Staff: What opportunities do you suggest students take to prepare for their residency?

Chung-Shien Lee, PharmD, BCPS, BCOP:I think for students, a lot of things that I like to encourage is just getting involved in general, whether it's at organizations, whether you have interest in a specific field, such as hematology, oncology, talking to a lot of those pharmacists, getting their perspective [and] different viewpoints, and really finding people that will help you. So mentors don't necessarily have to be in the ecology field, but [you want] mentors who really understand you and can help nurture you in terms of achieving and getting kind of getting to where you want in your career and helping you get to your career goals.

PT Staff: What do you recommend for students who want to conduct and publish clinical research?

Chung-Shien Lee, PharmD, BCPS, BCOP:So I think that oftentimes, and with a lot of the students and trainees that I've worked with in conducting and ultimately publishing research, it is to understand that it's a process. I think most of the time in school, learning didactically, you don't necessarily learn about that process. But it is, you know, a very time-consuming process when you think about what happens from the beginning to the end. So things just like learning from doing data collection, data analysis, actually putting, you know, the publication and manuscript together. And then the editing process, the submission process, it all takes a lot of time. And I think oftentimes students or residents may not know that upfront. And I think it's important that even going through the process once will really help you appreciate how much effort it goes into to seeing the final product.

PT Staff: How does conducting research factor into oncology pharmacy career development?

Chung-Shien Lee, PharmD, BCPS, BCOP:I think, you know, even for people who are practicing the field, I think research helps you stay in touch with kind of what's happening in their field because oncology changes so fast. I think it also in doing research also helps in the way that you think and how you take care of patients. So doing a lot of the nitty-gritty of research or asking those questions that lead to the next therapies, change [them], or newly-evolving therapies. I think that all helps into our patient care and ultimately you know we're all conducting research to find things to better the care for our patients, so I think those are some of the ways that research you know ultimately helps patient care.

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