Residency tips and advice are hands down the most highly requested topics from this community so I couldn’t be more excited that this post is finally launching for you all! Whether you are about to start your residency journey this summer or hope to do one in the future, my hope is that this post gives you a better understanding of what to expect and how to tackle your residency journey head on, it is after all one of the most challenging yet rewarding year(s) you will have in your career.
1. Don’t compare yourself to others – this is your journey
First and foremost, YOU are on your own journey. Repeat after me, “this is MY residency year, I am doing this for ME.” Trust me when I say it is easy to compare yourselves to others or worry about how well or how quickly another resident is progressing compared to yourself. Even if you don’t have co-residents you most likely have friends who are doing residency somewhere or may hear pharmacists at your institution talk about past residents, but comparing yourself to others only slows down and hinders your own growth.
Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses and everyone learns or grows at different paces. Your residency year is all about YOU learning the most YOU can and growing into the best clinical pharmacist YOU can be. Hopefully I’ve made my point with the “YOUs” by now but from personal experience I know how hard this can be throughout the entire year. I personally struggled with this from time to time but I found I was so much happier and grew more when I was focusing on my own progress.
This doesn’t mean you can’t and shouldn’t be there as a support system for your co-residents because I think that is so important and can really make the residency year more enjoyable! Now if you are with co-residents you just aren’t getting along with don’t panic, do your best to remain professional and kind and focus your time making more meaningful connections with those around you who you connect with better (preceptors, non-pharmacy staff like medical residents, nurses, PAs, etc).
2. Stay organized
As I am sure you have heard before, residency is hard and you have a ton of work to get done throughout the year. Most of us have specific ways we like to stay organized and that is perfectly fine, just make sure you consistently make staying organized a priority because I promise you it will make life so much easier. Organization is such a big topic on it’s own so I will be doing a post dedicated to just that, I will link it HERE once it is live. In short however, here are some of the things I did throughout residency that really helped me!
- Monthly written planner where I put all of my presentations, topic discussions, due dates, etc as I became aware of them. This would allow me to quickly get a feel for how long I had to complete each task by just a glance at my month. I used (& still do) the Erin Condren Monthly Planner.
- I used (& still do) my phone (built in Reminders app) to keep track of my daily tasks, to-do lists, etc. Anything that came up during the day I needed to remember I’d put in there. Hack: create different lists for the different aspects of your life! Some examples of my lists are:
- To Do List
- The Luxe Pharmacist
- And more but again customize your lists to best suite your needs!
3. Give your long-term projects deadlines throughout the year
It is so easy to put off long-term residency commitments and deadlines because it always feels like you have so much time left to complete them but getting behind in residency is a recipe for disaster so it is super important to stay on track! To keep track of long term projects try to break them down into smaller tasks and responsibilities and give yourself due dates for each mini task along the way. This should make it less overwhelming each month since you can focus on each smaller item instead of the end goal. I did this for my research project, teaching and learning certificate and continuing education presentation to name a few and it was very helpful (more to come on this in my organization post on exactly how I mapped these out and kept them organized).
4. Take advantage of every opportunity & don’t be afraid to make your own
Residency is designed to be a year of huge growth, both personally and professionally, you should take advantage of any opportunity you can to make the year just that. There were a couple extra experiences that I sought out or accepted that were not required but they were really beneficial and I am so glad that I did them!
Examples of some of my experiences:
Presenting and public speaking has always been something I struggled with so I made that a priory to work on while in residency. One opportunity that presented itself to me was volunteering to do a continuing education presentation for Nurse Practitioners at the largest hospital in our system (& the current hospital I work at). It was a great chance to work on my presentation skills and I’m sure it also looked good to the system, I even met two of my future co-workers that day. While on my general medicine rotation I worked with the medical education department to find a day to give a grand rounds presentation. As someone who hated public speaking I was terrified but the presentation went great and was really well received by the medical department and it gave me a huge boost of confidence in my presentation skills!
I also did some volunteering at University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy in one of their skills labs to help get additional teaching experience and more hands on experience besides completing the teaching and learning certificate as part of residency. This experience was again one that I had to seek out on my own but it was a great experience!
These examples may not apply to you if they are not weak areas or areas of interest to you but I hope they helped make this idea of going out of your way to supplement your residency experience more concrete and applicable!
5. Accept feedback and critique
One of the biggest things I had to get comfortable with in residency was truly accepting feedback and critique in a positive way. I was a fairly strong pharmacy student and do not remember getting a ton of feedback or critique as a student or at least nothing that was “hard to swallow” I guess is a good way of saying it. Obviously as a resident a lot more is expected of you and again it is a year meant for growth so you are meant to receive real and actionable feedback (things you can improve upon). However, I know for a lot of us (including myself) critique or negative comments can hurt your feelings or sting in a way that they were not intended to. The two things that helped me overcome this aspect of residency were reminding myself that.. (1) everyone struggles with certain topics or aspects of pharmacy and therefore everyone has something they can actively improve on and (2) no matter how my brain wanted to perceive this feedback I knew my preceptors weren’t giving feedback to be mean, they wanted me to improve and were invested in my growth just like I was. I honestly found that my “hardest” preceptors and those who gave me the most feedback were also the ones that shaped me and allowed me to grow the most, so try to keep this in mind throughout your residency year.
6. Get out of your comfort zone
Incase you haven’t heard this before, residency isn’t a walk in the park and that is for a reason. It pushes
you to become a better pharmacist and often we cannot grow without getting outside our comfort zone so try to actively take steps to get “uncomfortable.” These could be big steps like doing extra presentations despite being scared of public speaking, etc, depending on what you need to work on, but there are also so many little steps you can take day to day that you may not think of. Little things like speaking up on rounds, mixing a drug during a code or rapid response, helping nurses get the medications or supplies they need, answering a drug information question, counseling a patient…literally anything that makes you uncomfortable try to say yes to and keep practicing this way, I guarantee you will see a ton of growth. Here are a few of my favorite quotes relating to this idea.
“All growth starts at the end of your comfort zone” – Tony Robbins
“Do one thing everyday that scares you” – Eleanor Roosevelt
“There’s no growth in your comfort zone and no comfort in your growth zone”
7. Advocate for yourself & your unique needs
Each of us is on a different journey in life and the journey through school and to residency is no exception. We each bring unique experiences and perspective and therefore we each need our own modifications to a residency program to be the most successful. My preceptors and RPD would ask us constantly how can they change things to help us the most, how do you feel like you are progressing so far, is there anything you feel you need to modify, etc. I think taking this approach is so necessary but some programs I’m sure are more vocal about asking residents this, if you find yourself at a program that isn’t constantly checking in with you like this but you feel like you need to tweak things then speak up! No one is going to know that you need extra help with X or want more experience in Y if you don’t tell them that. It could be as simple as asking a preceptor for an in-depth topic discussion on a subject your pharmacy school really didn’t focus on or you could ask to drastically change the order of your rotations or change a rotation, etc. You didn’t take a job working possibly 80 hours a week for 50% your normal pay just because it was fun, you have every right to advocate for yourself and YOUR specific needs so that you can get the most out of your residency.
8. It’s okay to not be okay
There will be moments in residency when you are totally overwhelmed, or exhausted, or missing family or any other feeling and I just want you to know up front that feeling that way is so normal and okay. Trying to act like everything is fine and you aren’t struggling is probably not going to help the situation. I’m not saying to whine or complain all the time, I always try keep a positive mindset and take on challenges head on but we all have our breaking points. The point of #8 is for you to know that there are people you can turn to or things you can do to help ease this and again I have some examples.
Since I always stayed organized in terms of my deadlines and monthly plan I could quickly tell if a proposed deadline or project from a preceptor was going to overwhelm me. Protip: it is fine to ask for a couple more days to complete an assignment within reason! For example let’s say a preceptor asks for something by a certain Thursday or Friday and you already have so many things happening that week but you glance at your calendar and notice you don’t work the weekend following this deadline, simply ask if it would be okay if you get it to them by Monday. Chances are that really doesn’t make a difference to them and you just bought yourself 3 to 4 more days to complete an assignment. This also guarantees that you are turning your assignments in on time and are coming off as responsible and professional which is huge. Now that is a win win situation.
Let’s talk global pandemic now…in the spring when it first hit we were so overwhelmed by it and I was so heavily involved in the chaos that I didn’t work on my research project, teaching and learning, CE presentation, etc for almost two months. We were all so burned out and emotionally exhausted from the pandemic that one day at lunch some of my preceptors and I had this huge heart to heart and my RPD (their clinical manager) overheard us. She agreed we all needed a break and ordered them to take some PTO days and gave me a couple project days to get back on track and take a breather. I can’t tell you how much we all needed that and I am so glad that she overheard us but she was so understanding about it that it made me realize I could have and should have just asked her. So if you’re ever really struggling, speak up and ask for help.
Again these two examples may not be similar to what you end up experiencing but the key is knowing that you don’t have to put on a front of perfection and that asking for help is not weakness.
9. Care for yourself & your mental health
Caring for yourself and your mental health are so important, especially with the stress and hours of residency. It is easy to say you don’t have the time or claim there is too much on your plate to do anything else but I promise it is possible and it is so necessary! Even setting aside just an hour or two to do something you love or just unplug and relax can help so much. I would try to make time to keep up our work out schedule and spend time with Conner watching our favorite shows every week. When we had more time we would try to plan mini trips like Vermont in the Fall. Below are some of my residency year memories and favorite ways I relaxed away from work.
10. Enjoy the ride
Yes residency is a tough and challenging time but like all challenges, it too shall pass. You have one year (or two if you are doing a PGY2) to get the absolute most of what it has to offer. Not to mention there are thousands of pharmacists who wish they were in your shoes. You matched to a program while others didn’t, that is something to be proud of and is something I always tried to remember, especially when I didn’t match in Phase I. I was so truly grateful to be a resident that I didn’t mind driving 2 hours a day commuting, I didn’t mind working 60ish hours a week or working every other weekend. Even my most challenging month where I literally woke up at 4:30 am each day and did nothing but eat, sleep, pharmacy, even then I was grateful and I didn’t want to waste the year. My point is residency is kind of like a roller coaster ride…some parts are fun, some parts are scary and challenging as hell, but it will be over before you know it, so buckle in and enjoy the ride.