Establishing a working relationship between the pharmacy preceptor and the pharmacy student is essential for a successful experience. In this article, a pharmacist with significant experience serving as a pharmacist preceptor provides 5 questions pharmacy preceptors should ask their students to assist in establishing a functional preceptor/student relationship.
Authored By: Timothy Gauthier, Pharm.D., BCPS-AQ ID
[Last updated 16 October 2017]
When a pharmacist has a new pharmacy student come join them for an internship or rotation it can be an exciting time, because it is an opportunity to make a new connection and have a positive impact on someone’s future. However, mixed with this excitement can be some anxiety and hesitation, as experienced preceptors are well aware that not all interns easily fit in with their practice and busy schedules can make it difficult to establish a good connection.
Over the years I have been lucky to serve as a preceptor for well over 50 pharmacy students and receive education on how to improve my abilities as a preceptor through programs offered by organizations such as the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. Looking back, there is no doubt that not every student/preceptor experience has been what either the student nor I had hoped for, but for the most part it has gone well and I have been able to make changes to my methods through learning from my mistakes.
One theme that I have taken away from being a preceptor to pharmacy students is that the more interested and engaged an intern is, the more productive and enjoyable the experience is for both the intern and the preceptor. To foster engagement, I have become a firm believer that it is essential to invest at least a small amount of time at the very beginning of the rotation (i.e., some time in the first 3 days) to establish a baseline.
In the spirit of seeking the formation of healthy professional relationships, five questions pharmacy preceptors should ask their pharmacy students are provided here. As the preceptor asks these questions they should be ready to steer the conversation so as to keep it on track and prevent wasted time talking about superfluous things (yes, students can have a tendency to rant and get off track). It can also be helpful to give the student notice about what the questions are a little bit ahead of time (e.g., at least 10 minutes), so that the student can consider how they would like to answer. The question and answer for these 5 questions should be able to be completed in less than 10 minutes.
1. Can you tell me a little about yourself?
There is no need to get the student’s entire life story, but having an idea of who they are and where they are coming from can be very helpful.
To benefit the student the preceptor can take note of expressed likes, dislikes, and past experiences. When it come time to give assignments a mindful preceptor will see that there are ways to tweak plans so that tasks are more in-line with the students interests and educational needs. This can translate into a more productive learning experience for the student.
On the side of the preceptor it can be beneficial to know about the student’s past experiences, because you can use their skills to your advantage. For example, I once had a pharmacy student who was also a registered nurse. She was able to teach me a great deal about the different types of IV access lines, while I was able to teach her about catheter-related bloodstream infections and home infusion antibiotics. Had I not found out about her existing skill-set, that would have been a missed opportunity for us both.
2. What are your plans for after graduation?
As practicing pharmacists, we are much better positioned than pharmacy students to understand what challenges they are likely to face in whichever pharmacy practice area they ultimately land. By taking this into account, pharmacy preceptors can help set students up for future success.
If a student wants to pursue a career in hospital pharmacy for example, give assignments that will help them to better comprehend how to approach answering common questions they will be asked as a hospital pharmacist (e.g., dosing antibiotics in renal impairment). Many times there is overlap between practice areas, so giving assignments that hit on material relevant to the preceptor’s practice and student’s future area of practice is fairly simple. Students will typically appreciate efforts to dovetail their learning experiences with their future goals and this can further strengthen the preceptor/student relationship.
On this topic of post-graduation plans, preceptors should be cautious not to push the residency path too hard. I have heard too many stories of students becoming extremely anxious and stressed after a preceptor made them feel if they did not pursue a residency they were ‘wasting their PharmD’ or ‘not going to be a real pharmacist.’ Residency is not for everyone.
3. What is one drug, drug class, or disease state do you want to learn more about during this experience?
This baseline question helps orient the preceptor to what the student is looking for out of the experience, but also can serve to make it easier for composing assignments.
For example, if a student says they want to learn more about community acquired pneumonia (CAP), the first week give them two drug information questions about CAP, the second week have them do a journal club on CAP, the third week have them create a patient information flyer about CAP, then the last week have them do a formal case presentation about a CAP patient. The student will appreciate that the preceptor took their educational needs into consideration and this approach can also make the preceptor’s life easier because the student will likely be prepared for their CAP case presentation after doing all of those earlier assignments!
4. Do you understand my expectations of you during this experience?
The answer to this question is going to be “yes” the majority of the time, but giving the student the opportunity to indicate they understand things helps them take responsibility for their experience.
If a student answers “no” to this question, find out what they do not understand and then use the interaction to update the way you provide the expectations to the students. As you update your approach to setting expectations you will reduce the work for yourself later, because you will be developing a more functional system.
5. Have you ever done a personal mission statement?
If you have never done a personal mission statement this may seem like an odd question, but for someone who is a pharmacy student, having them do a personal mission statement can have a profound effect.
If a student has not done a personal mission statement, offer them a couple of hours to complete this assignment or another similar one. This is not something that the preceptor should be reviewing afterwards, as this is usually a very personal activity. I will bet that most students will be very grateful for the opportunity to complete this activity and it will serve them for years to come.
Being a pharmacy preceptor is an incredibly rewarding opportunity that all pharmacists should try to take advantage of. As pharmacy preceptors take on new students, hopefully these simple questions can assist in setting up the experience for success.
Additional Resources For Pharmacy Preceptors
- Pharmacist Letter Preceptor Training and Resource Network
- American Society of Health-System Pharmacists Mentoring and Preceptor Development
- American Pharmacist’s Association Preceptor Training
- American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy Experiential Education Webinar Series
- Check with your local college of pharmacy’s experiential education department
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