Going through pharmacy school it can be a major challenge to determine what path to take following graduation. Here, a pharmacy student who has found an area of interest discusses five reasons she wants to become an infectious diseases pharmacist.
Authored By: Erin Mays, Pharm.D. Candidate
As a rising second year pharmacy student I have been thinking more and more about post-graduate career paths. Finishing up my first hospital rotation at the time of composing this article, I have found great enjoyment in using my clinical knowledge to help decide what treatment plan is best for a patient. Combine this with an attraction to the role of pharmacists in clinical practice as part of a healthcare team, and I have come to the conclusion that pursuing a post-graduate year-1 (PGY-1) pharmacy practice residency will likely be necessary to achieve my current career goals.
At this point it would be easy to stop thinking past PGY-1 training, but as I have been exposed to different therapeutic areas and specialties, I cannot help but think more about what type of pharmacist I want to be some day. In thinking about this question, the one area that seems to fascinate me the most is infectious diseases.
There is one clear day that oriented me in this direction. It was the day “Beyoncé of Infectious Disease” (or so the upperclassmen favorably referred to her) delivered our first lecture on antimicrobials. Witnessing her celebrity status first hand and observing her wealth of antibiotic knowledge left an impression on me. I vividly remember leaving the auditorium thinking, “Wow, that stuff was so cool.” Then, it all kind of clicked for me and I saw a pattern. Microbiology had been one of my favorite undergraduate classes, I had selected antibiotics for every research paper or presentation so far in pharmacy school, and now this!
Since then I have sought to find out everything I can about infectious disease pharmacists and the role they play in a clinical setting. While of course things can change in time and there is no way for me to know if I will actually end up becoming one, here are five reasons why at this time I want to become an infectious disease pharmacist.
1. The excitement of working in the field of infectious diseases
A PGY-2 pharmacist completing his infectious disease specialty residency recently explained to me why he was so attracted to infectious disease above any other specialty. Rather than just focusing on a drug and its effects on a patient and their disease state, infectious disease adds an entire third dimension to medicine – the agent causing the infection! This added layer makes each patient case that much more complex and unique.
Additionally, infectious disease requires critical thinking and often involves detective work. The smallest detail in a patient’s history (for example if they were recently scratched by a cat ) can be the major clue to figuring out what kind of infection a they have. As someone who cannot get enough of mystery novels and detective TV shows, this kind of career enthralls me.
2. The positive impact you can have on other people
The reality of infectious diseases is that they can effect anyone. Even someone in excellent health can fall victim to an infection.
Being a specialty in which drug therapy decisions can save lives, there are opportunities for infectious diseases pharmacists to greatly impact a patient’s life and they can witness the positive result of their work too. I can imagine a college athlete coming in with a Staph infection that requires medical attention. The pharmacist on the team helps pick the drug best for the patient. Two weeks later there have been no complications and the patient is back out on the soccer field helping their team win. That sounds like extremely rewarding work.
3. The job market outlook is bright
Clinical infectious disease specialists possess a very unique set of knowledge and skills. The need for people with this training continues to grow.
The Joint Commission’s Antimicrobial Stewardship Standard was put into effect on January 1st , 2017 . One of the elements of performance within this standard includes “Drug expertise: appointing a single pharmacist leader responsible for working to improve antibiotic use.” Due to this, the particular skill-set of pharmacists who have specialized in infectious disease will likely be sought after by the many hundreds of hospitals, critical access hospitals, and nursing care centers seeking to comply with the standards.
Second to this point, infectious diseases pharmacist positions are out there, contrary as to what some rumors about clinical pharmacist specialists may cause you to believe. While browsing around in my research, I came across the Society of Infectious Disease Pharmacists (SIDP) Job Postings . No need to figure out a filter to use on Indeed or Monster, the multiple pages on this website list many of the current available jobs for infectious disease pharmacists. There was even one in Louisville, Kentucky, my hometown and a city I would possibly like to move back to one day! When I saw all the current available positions across the country, it made the possibility of becoming an infectious disease pharmacist seem even more feasible.
4. There will always be new challenges and long-term battles to wage
Antimicrobial resistance is one of the biggest headlines commonly seen in the news regarding infectious diseases. While very concerning, it can actually be seen as a positive for the purposes of this article. Thanks in part to antimicrobial resistance, I know that I would not be dealing with the same agents or guidelines for my entire career as a future infectious diseases pharmacist. In fact, this year the World Health Organization published a list of “priority pathogens” that lists 12 families of bacteria for which new antibiotics are desperately needed . These problem pathogens seem like they will be an issue for a long while to come and as someone who wants to be consistently challenged in my career, this pressing issue just further draws me in.
5. Because I am already hooked!
As I mentioned in the introduction, I was first drawn to infectious disease when I realized I actually enjoyed listening to the lecture, and liked having to learn the material (as was sometimes not the case with other pharmacy topics).
A good piece of advice an undergraduate advisor gave me once around the time when I was deciding what college major to pick, was to think about if you were forced to study something for an entire day. Ask yourself: What would you choose to study to make your day not completely boring? For me today the answer to this question seems clear.
While some students may find it daunting to differentiate between the generations of cephalosporins or memorize all of the classes of antiretrovirals, I cannot seem to get enough!
After my first exposure to infectious disease in the lecture hall I sought out an internship in an infectious disease clinic, where I am able to counsel patients on their HIV and Hepatitis C medications as well as assist on designing treatment regimens for these patients. I continue to do my own outside research, and that is what led me here to IDstewardship, a website with so many great resources for pharmacy students like me.
Last, you can definitely believe I will be registering for the infectious disease elective my third year of pharmacy school, and am looking forward to learning even more from the “Beyoncé of ID.”
As I said above, there is no way of knowing what my future career as a pharmacist will entail. While right now I could listen to my professor talk all day about fluoroquinolones and aminoglycosides, that could very possibly change in the future.
Thinking about my past and looking towards the future I would recommend for those going through this process to continue to do your own research and seek out opportunities in areas of pharmacy that you are interested in. If you walk out of a lecture and have the same feeling I did about a certain topic, you know that “this stuff is so cool” feeling, take note!
I am lucky enough to have found an aspect of pharmacy that I am passionate about. I cannot wait to see where it takes me in my future career!
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