How hard is it to become a pharmacist? What challenges await in schools for pharmacists? Here, a newly graduated pharmacist discusses this topic.
Authored By: Kaitlyn Loi, Pharm.D.
[Last updated: 19 June 2016]
Before matriculating at the University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy I honestly had no concept of how hard pharmacy school would be or what it was about pharmacy school that would be so difficult. At face value, I figured I would be memorizing drugs and studying for exams constantly for 4 years, but that was about it.
Now that I have successfully completed pharmacy school as of May 2016, I would like to share my experience. While not everyone will encounter the same challenges during pharmacy school, the following is my list of the top 5 hardest things about pharmacy school…
1. The heavy course load
The hardest academic transition of my 20 years of schooling has been the transition from undergraduate courses to pharmacy courses. My first semester of pharmacy school consisted of 19 hours of lecture a week between Pharmaceutics, Pharmaceutics Recitation, Pharmaceutics Lab, Immunology, Pharmacy Practice in Health Care, Pharmacy Practice in Health Care Recitation, Pharmacology, and Medicinal Chemistry. This course load would average 1-3 quizzes/exams a week most weeks, not to mention the various assignments, lab practicals, and presentations to top it off.
If you’ve been accepted into pharmacy school, chances are you’ve kept fairly high grades in undergraduate courses, sometimes (or many times) without trying your hardest. Personally, my pharmacy courses shared little resemblance to any course I had taken before in terms of both didactics or assessments.
Having a good understanding of your learning style and study habits will help with the transition, though they may be different and/or change depending on the course. Find what works for you as early as possible and don’t be afraid to ask for help early if you are struggling.
2. Time management (or worse, a lack thereof)
There are unfortunately only 24 hours in a day and when lecture/studying take up a significant chunk of it, time management can be a huge issue for pharmacy students. I struggled with this most of all during pharmacy school.
It is common to struggle with this. Combining it with the other activities beyond academics that pharmacy students are involved in can make it even more challenging. It is rather ubiquitous that pharmacy students are also involved student organizations, have family responsibilities, hold part-time jobs and/or participate in research, division/intramural sports other extracurricular activities.
Staying organized and being as realistic as you can with your time can help you not get too overwhelmed. I recommend using some sort of calendar and putting absolutely everything you can on it. I used Apple Calendar for all of my exams, practicals, meetings, shifts, bills, and due dates. I know people who like Asana, Google Calendar, and pen/paper agendas.
While it is commonly easier said than done, managing your time well can prove essential for a pharmacy student.
3. Tuition, housing and other pharmacy school costs
I attended pharmacy school out-of-state, but at a state school, which meant the cost of pharmacy school tuition for me averaged roughly $29,000 per year. Even working 2-3 jobs and with the help of my parents and scholarships/grants, I still ended up having to take out a series of loans to pay for tuition. (Note for this figure here: books, rent, utilities, gas, parking fees, subway fares, general sustenance and other bills not included!)
If you are considering or starting pharmacy school, it will probably be one of the biggest, if not THE biggest, investment you ever make. Most pharmacists leave school with well over $100,000 in debt . Further, it is not that uncommon to leave with $200,000+ in student loans.
I always recommend visiting student financial services in person if you are struggling with making sense of the different types of financial aid available for students. Also, you should pursue scholarships for pharmacy school. Scholarships for pharmacy students can take little time to apply for yet provide substantial economic assistance.
4. A “bad” rotation (introductory/advanced pharmacy practice experience [IPPE/APPE])
Most pharmacy schools use a lottery system for introductory and advanced pharmacy practice experiences. Since it is a lottery, you may not always get the first pick for the internship you want.
While for the most part, I adored all of my IPPEs and APPEs, I cannot say that all of them were my first choice. I am a firm believer in the “you get back what you put in” philosophy and going in with a good attitude and a couple goals can make all the difference in any internship.
Make no mistake, getting stuck with an IPPE or APPE that you do not want can be frustrating. So if you end up dreading the start of an internship you did not want, try to make the best of it, and use it as a learning experience to help you find out/confirm your professional interests. Try everything once, and you’ll never have any regrets. After all, it’s only for a few weeks – you won’t be there forever.
5. Staying physically and mentally healthy
Not neglecting my health during pharmacy school was definitely a challenge, and by health I mean all aspects of it – mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, etc. Knowing your body is important and your brain will simply not function at its best if the rest of your body is in shambles.
For me, learning how much sleep deprivation, caffeine/junk food, and studying I could take before needing a break was huge. I shake my head every time I think about how long it took me to start using the gym at school and before I finally learned how to cook!
Despite what time restrictions you have, always make it a priority to take time for yourself, even when faced with some of the biggest challenges of your life.
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