Upon entering my professional years, I felt the overwhelming urgency to get as involved as I could. I was thinking of completing a residency after graduating, and I had heard how competitive those were. I wanted to set myself apart from the other pharmacy students, and make myself a good candidate for my future plans. Does this sound like you? If it does, you aren’t alone. Pharmacy school is so competitive, it is easy to feel like you are somehow behind on your classmates, and have to do everything you can to catch up. I used to say yes to everything I possibly could just to feel like I was ahead of the game. I know now that this is not necessary and not the way to go through school. I am going to walk you through several different activities that you can get involved in to make yourself stand out as a pharmacy student, and I am going to explain to you guys what I feel is most important looking back now and what you should really be focusing your energy on!
Get involved with events/volunteering – One of the first things I ever did was sign up with different pharmacy organizations on campus. This allowed me to get all of their emails or meeting dates and events that I could sign up for online. I have done everything from volunteering for events with local food drives to educational events on diabetes for children. It is great to give back to your community and school, but it is also a great way to network with fellow students and professionals, and a great way to get hands on experience. Personally, I will always enjoy volunteering and think it is very important. One of my tips is to find an ongoing volunteer organization you can get involved with. I think it looks better to have an ongoing volunteer relationship somewhere versus doing multiple one time events, this also allows you to form a good relationship with that organization, who will be able to speak to your work ethic and leadership abilities in the future. My second piece of advice is don’t sweat it if you can’t make it to a few events here and there! There will always be volunteering opportunities and events going on, pick the ones that really interest you and that you enjoy doing. It is so important to do things for yourself too and take time away from pharmacy, just make sure you are staying professional and give notice if your plans change!
Hold leadership positions – I have held executive board positions for professional organizations like American College of Clinical Pharmacy (ACCP) and societies like Phi Lambda Sigma (PLS). I was SGA Representative for ACCP my P2 year. The position itself didn’t entail much, but it got me on the executive board where I could step up outside of my defined roll and do much more to help the organization. Sometimes it isn’t about the title of the role as much as it is what you do with it. My P3 year I served as Membership Vice President for ACCP and Vice President for PLS. Leadership positions look great because it means you want to take on more responsibilities outside the classroom to help the field of pharmacy. They allow you to work with and learn from your peers/professors. Personally, I know how much positions like these helped me grow my leadership skills and my confidence as a pharmacy student. If you are just getting started being involved on campus, don’t let these positions intimidate you. I started volunteering more and meeting the people in each organization, then I found one I really liked and ran for an executive position for the following year. Work experience – Work experience is obviously a great thing to have but sometimes it may not work out. At my school there are quite a few international students that unfortunately cannot work due to their visas. There are also people like me that because of being in such a high demand area like Boston, never got the dream internship they wanted. I know I have talked about it before, but I left CVS before going into my second semester of P2 year. My original plan was to get a hospital internship, but that never happened and that’s okay, that is life. What I have done instead and what I encourage those of you who haven’t landed a job yet or cannot work is to get more involved on campus with that free time. I truly do not believe any one thing is going to make or break you, so if you are like me don’t stay agonized over not having a job, keep applying and in the meantime stay active in your field of pharmacy these other ways.
I will also say that having a job that isn’t a pharmacy intern position is still good. Any job demonstrates your work ethic and your ability to juggle multiple responsibilities at once so that is always an option too!
Honors/Societies – Whether you get an award or get into an honor society, these are great accomplishments that highlight your hard work and passion. Some honor societies are strictly GPA based like The Rho Chi Society and Phi Kappa Phi, but others involve an application process and look at much more than GPA, like Phi Lambda Sigma The National Pharmacy Leadership Society. Now don’t get me wrong these things are great to get into, but they are not “make or break”. Just because you miss the GPA cut off doesn’t mean you are not a smart and capable pharmacy student. Even if you don’t get into Phi Lambda Sigma after going through the whole application process, doesn’t mean you are not a leader. Pretty much my conclusion on societies/awards are that these accomplishments deserve their praise, but in the grand scheme of things we should take them with a grain of salt. Research/project – I did bench top research the summer after my first professional year for about 2 months. Originally it was going to be cancer related (something I was very interested in at the time) but it ended up being focused on osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. This research was such a unique experience that I couldn’t get in the normal curriculum and gave me one on one time with a well known professor at our school. I also did a directed research study for one of my professional electives this past semester. This time it wasn’t in the lab, but it was again a great way to form a better relationship with a professor and gain experience outside of the classroom. I highly recommend doing a directed research study as one of your electives or asking some of your professors if they have any research you can assist with. For those of you who have specific interests like oncology, cardiology, ICU, etc., find professors at your school working in those areas and ask to assist on research or projects they have ongoing or that you would like pursuing! You can also turn your research into a poster and present at conferences like mid-year!Why you don’t need a 4.0 – Has anyone ever told you GPA doesn’t matter? I remember having so many upperclassmen tell me this and thinking to myself how can this be? Well I hate to burst anyone’s bubble who is obsessed with getting their straight As (much like I was) but it’s true. Being out on rotations has made me realize that there are so many other factors people are going to take into account when working with you like: your work ethic, your ability to find the answers and help patients, your attitude, etc. It’s not like I walk around with a sign that says, “Hey everyone look at me I have a 3.9 GPA!” NO ONE CARES. I could have a 3.3 or 3.7 and no one would know the difference. It just doesn’t hold as much weight as we think. Does this mean we should all stop studying so hard or trying for good grades? Of course not, but that being said, no one should feel ashamed of a 3.0 or spend weeks after an exam being hard on themselves that they didn’t do as well as they wanted. The point of learning all these drugs, side effects, and treatment protocols isn’t to ace an exam, it is to one day be able to save or help a real life patient sitting in front of you. There are so many other skills that go into making someone a great pharmacist and none of those can be measured by GPA.Find your why and find your other passions – If I have learned one thing over the past 5+ years, it is that pharmacy can never be nor should it be our whole lives. Also, that being exactly like everyone else is sooo boring (can’t leave this reminder out, it’s too important). A lot of your fellow classmates volunteer, a lot of them have an intern job somewhere, a lot of them are in professional organizations or societies, a lot of them are doing A LOT of the SAME THING. Most of what sets us apart are the unique things we are really passionate about. Sometimes these passions are pharmacy related and other times they have nothing to do with pharmacy… maybe you love art and paint in your free time, maybe you are a super star athlete, maybe you’re practically a gourmet chef, whatever it is don’t be afraid to highlight these things about yourself! Residencies and other jobs want to hire people who they know will not only make a great pharmacist, but who will also fit into their workplace and isn’t a total pharmacy robot. If I had to hire someone, I’d rather take the person who spent their time following a passion of theirs, over someone who just went through the motions of what they thought they were supposed to do to stand out. So my biggest advice to you is to find something you are passionate about both in your personal life and your pharmacy life, and focus your energy there. I have also found personally that when I make time for my other passions (this blog for example) I am less stressed, happier and preform better overall in school because of it!
Here are some examples to make this more concrete:
- For me personally, I use this blog as both my pharmacy and life passion. I love the creative freedom blogging gives me and I love talking about lifestyle/wellness, but what I really love is connecting with so many amazing pharmacy students across the world, educating people on pharmacy, sharing my tips for pharmacy school and hopefully helping to inspire others.
- For someone who is very religious and loves their religious community —> Stay involved going to church, etc., but also see if your school has a club for your religion or see if you can work with some professional pharmacy organizations to do community events/charity events in that community.
- For someone who is involved in fitness/nutrition —> take the time to stay dedicated to these things during pharmacy school, and try to host events with organizations either for students or in the community to help spread healthy habits to our patients.
Another thing that is uniquely yours is your why. Why pharmacy? This question is something you should really think about and have a good answer to. Focus on the things in your life that made you apply to pharmacy school in the first place. Has your reason for loving this field changed over time? Make it as personal as you can because when someone sees that you are truly passionate about the field of pharmacy for your unique reason, it will stand out.