Pharmacy schools are meant to prepare you to take your certification exams and give you the skills to be a pharmacist in any setting. However, there are skills pharmacy school will not teach you and that pharmacy students should seek to develop & refine themselves. Here, a 2016 pharmacy school graduate discusses this topic.
Authored By: Kaitlyn Loi, Pharm.D.
For new pharmacy school grads the summer brings exciting times. You finally get to travel, see family and visit friends – all the while celebrating your recent accomplishment and not spending time worrying about pharmacy school! Well, it’s not all fun and games though, you do also have to prepare for the NAPLEX as you start a new chapter in life as a pharmacist.
As a 2016 pharmacy school graduate I am now enjoying my summer and making the transition from student to new practitioner. During this time of transition and reflection, I am realizing that some of the most important skills I have acquired over the years were not acquired from pharmacy school, but rather I had to develop and fine tune them on my own.
It is a fairly safe bet that professionalism, clinical knowledge and problem solving skills will all be developed and cultivated during pharmacy school. So what will pharmacy school not give you?
Here are 5 skills I have identified that I have had to develop through my own means and that pharmacy students should seek to develop, as they inch closer and closer to graduation. These skills are likely to prove invaluable to your career and are things many mentors will advise you require your attention.
1. How to network
Pharmacy is a small world. This is a sentence pharmacy students will hear time and time again during school. While school events and student groups will provide opportunities for networking, you will not actually be given instructions on HOW to network. That part you will have to figure out on your own.
Through practice and getting advice from peers or mentors, networking skills can be developed.
Additionally to this point, networking does not stop at scheduled events planned for this purpose. You are networking any time you interact with a colleague, coworker, or even complete stranger! Many of my strongest connections have been obtained through part-time work and friends of friends. After all, pharmacy is a small world.
2. How to honestly self-reflect
In pharmacy school, students’ performances are assessed what feels like every week with grades. In the real world, however, there are of course no grades. Many times outside of school formal feedback will only occur once yearly during a performance evaluation and even then the utility of such information is often limited.
Being able to continuously self-reflect and self-improve based upon personal performance and awareness is important, and students should start early by regularly seeking out feedback from preceptors and peers, even when grades are not involved!
Note that pharmacy schools often attempt to place self-reflection activities into their curriculum, but let’s be honest, the self-reflection skills needed to foster true professional development are not going to be gained by completing brief, mandatory, low-impact assignments.
3. How to budget
I was born a Cancer, in the year of the Monkey from two immigrant refugee parents. Given my challenging background, I somewhat naturally developed a knack for money, figures and finances. So much so in fact, that my major before being accepted into pharmacy school was accounting.
Even with this background, I cannot say pharmacy school (or any schooling for that matter) adequately prepared me for what I needed to know about how to budget money both personally and for one’s patients or company.
Many of us know pharmacists who have struggled with finances, often a result of living beyond their means and accruing credit card or other debts. It is important new pharmacists see the warning signs and recognize the importance of developing financial management skills. Otherwise, you may have a new BMW and new waterfront condo, but also 3 jobs to pay off your commitments.
If you have opportunities to attend financial advice sessions during school, you should try to do so. Interestingly, one pharmacist has made it his mission to help other pharmacists with their finances. His name is Dr. Tim Ulbrich and you can visit his website www.YourFinancialPharmacist.com.
4. How to work as a team (i.e. emotional and social intelligence)
Truth be told, like many pharmacy students, I initially did not enjoy group projects in school. As a first-year student I used to think I would work much more effectively and efficiently on my own.
This mentality soon changed. After collaborating on a couple of great presentations and research projects my P2 year, as well as in student organizations, I realized how great it is to be able to “divide and conquer.” I also learned teamwork is complex and goes beyond just assigning everyone a task.
Many centers for higher learning in healthcare are now developing activities focused on interprofessional education and team-based learning. Pharmacy students are supposed to get exposure to this during experiential activities (i.e., IPPEs, APPEs) and some schools have elective courses which incorporate team-based learning activities.
My point with this skill is that while you will get exposed to working in a group during school, what you will get in school is unlikely to be enough. Learning to work in a team requires emotional and social intelligence that you can honestly never truly achieve, but only continuously to strive to achieve.
This means you will likely need to be self-driven if you want to become a great team-player that can be empathetic, creative, fair, honest, communicative and productive.
5. How to maintain a healthy work-life balance
During pharmacy school, students’ time management skills will be tested like never before. While meeting deadlines, maintaining good grades, and building a good CV are all important during school, your work as a pharmacist will likely suffer if you aren’t feeling fulfilled in your personal life as well.
Spending time to make sure you have the skills to live a balanced life will only help your professional success! Since this is all relative, pharmacy students will not find a class where this skill is taught. It’s up to students to develop a good work-life balance early on in their careers.
This is a skill that challenges pharmacists across the spectrum, from PGY1 residents to practicing pharmacists.