Becoming an Infectious Diseases (ID) Pharmacy Fellow is a great way to prepare to be a successful ID pharmacist with strong scholarly skills in academic, industry and clinical settings. The following text offers tips on how to be a strong candidate when applying for ID pharmacy fellowships.
Authored By: Susan L. Davis, Pharm.D. & Michael Veve, Pharm.D.
One of the best ways to learn about post-graduate training opportunities for pharmacists is to talk to people who are ‘in the know’. For those interested in becoming a pharmacy fellow, two important groups of people to speak with are: (1) pharmacists currently completing pharmacy fellowship training and (2) the pharmacists who direct pharmacy fellowship programs.
In this post, a current pharmacy fellowship director and pharmacy fellow discuss how to prepare and apply for a pharmacy fellowship. In this case it is for an infectious diseases (ID) pharmacy fellowship, but most points can also be applied to other fellowship specialties.
The following is an unedited transcript of a conversation between Henry Ford Hospital / Wayne State University Pharmacy Fellowship Director Dr. Susan L. Davis (referred to as SLD herein) and her current fellow Dr. Michael Veve (referred to as MV herein). You can learn about their fellowship program here.
SLD: So Veve, looking back, what do you think was the most important thing you did to prepare to be my, or I guess anyone else’s, ID fellow? [note: Veve did his PGY1 residency at my hospital, so we have been working together for 2 years at the time of this conversation]
MV: Honestly, I started preparing for fellowship before I started my PGY1 residency. I was involved in outcomes research as a pharmacy student and had great mentorship on where to go from there. So I was very research-oriented and thinking fellowship since Day 1.
SLD: I think that is something I would look for in a candidate, too. Not so much that you put in a lot of time or knew early on, but more about what you got out of your early experiences. In YOUR case, you were maybe a little shy about showing it…
MV: Okay, I do not know if I was shy…
SLD: …at least for a while. But you had scholarly and career goals in mind consistent with this fellowship program. You knew that although playing with spreadsheets and medical records all day sometimes sucks, the results can be worth the effort.
MV: When I had first met you, I was still pretty green – but I agree for the most part. I have been lucky to work with people who have showed me what strong research can actually do for patients and population health. These experiences helped spark my interest and abilities, and that is how I knew what I wanted to be “when I grew up”.
SLD: So as a student and a PGY1, how did you find activities that would help you develop project management and analytical skills? I think having a solid base in more than just clinical skills is one of the reasons I don’t have to hassle you (much) now.
MV: Trying to maintain the drive and continuously improve upon myself has helped me develop a strong foundation in research methods and project management skills at the same time. I cannot emphasize strong mentorship enough, and I read a lot of papers, stats books, watched YouTube videos- you name it-both then and now. This has helped set my own personal goals on how to design research that can improve patient care.
SLD: I think your goals are really important to me as a program director. They are consistent with my own research mission and what my program can provide you. I remember when you were a resident looking at fellowships (I would have been devastated, well, severely disappointed if you had chosen to go elsewhere, btw) you easily saw how ID fellowships are all a little different. Even within our own group at Wayne State, we have a few distinct flavors of research focus. What are some of the other fellowship characteristics that were important as you weighed where would be a good fit?
MV: What I love about my job (as a trainee) is the ability to have both a clinical and academic impact on patient care. I have opportunities to contribute in antimicrobial stewardship, ID consults, and at an administration level. But I mainly work on development of my own research skills, including how to mentor junior trainees, and that allows for an ideal learning environment. That is the same kind of thing I want to do when I graduate, so it was a must for me.
SLD: Good points. Fellowships should be at 80% research focused. The specific program may give you experience in the lab or the hospital, or other setting. In our case, the rest of your time is divided between teaching and supporting stewardship. It works for you, but would not for everyone. The length of the program may make a difference, since you are with me for 2 years. And if you had done a PGY2 residency first, maybe that would not feel as useful.
MV: I personally did not think PGY2 training was necessary for my career intentions.
SLD: Others would argue that. And we both know you would not have thrived without at least the PGY1 first.
MV: But the clinical focus now, although small, helps me see how our research is relevant, and this eventually will guide my independent research.
SLD: And we are blessed to be in a health system that values research as much as the university does. You also have some interesting coursework at the university – or at least mostly interesting?
MV: The public health coursework explains methods behind why we do what we do with statistics and study design. It has helped me on our projects and the public health aspect significantly overlaps with the type of research we do.
SLD: So what mattered for you were the research scope, clinical versus lab experience, coursework available, and having a fabulous program director who lets you get away with murder as long as the work gets done. I’m going to guess that you also consider the same things that mattered during residency. For example, you are the only fellow based here, but there are a bunch of residents to socialize with…
MV: …not always a benefit…
SLD: You are in a large urban teaching hospital. The patient population is varied and interesting. Detroit is culturally diverse. Lots of opportunities for work-life balance… How is that working for you?
MV: I try to socialize when I can, and Detroit is such a great city with lots to do. But I am extremely work-oriented, which is normal for fellows. It has been nice getting to know residents and classmates over the years, some of which I know will be lifelong friends. But having a great work-life balance is not really what it is about for me right now. You probably hate that comment but it is the truth. Hey, I make it work.
SLD: Very true. Your inability to say no to research opportunities is one of the reasons we work well together. But it is obviously more than that. You, like my previous fellows, are a big part of my work life and therefore my life. I think it is so important that we have similar work styles. I like to joke around a little at the same time as we bust our butts on projects, manage the minion army, put out fires on service… If you did not communicate in a collegial and friendly way, I do not think we could be productive. Which brings me to my last point. Communication and developing rapport with a program director starts with your first inquiry. Contacting program directors early can be a double-edged sword. Contact them when you are still a student, and you might give a weirdly aggressive impression. Or you could get some great advice that sets you up as a top candidate a year or so later. It is a risk, and the words you use matter. A hurried email is often a poorly worded one that can come off as demanding or arrogant. What else have you heard me complain about from emails?
MV: Haha. A lot. Using impersonal verbiage, being way too pushy or (even creepy) immediately come to mind… These are surefire red flags. I would try to be genuine and not overdo it. Otherwise, you’re coming off as insincere.
SLD: Ooh, or staring with “Hey Susan” or “Dear ‘Mrs’ Davis.” That is a deal breaker. I do agree it is a little odd when someone starts quoting my CV at me. But showing at least some familiarity with the program directors work is totally appropriate.
So I think that covers our big issues for preparing for a successful ID pharmacy fellowship search. Here are the summary points:
- Talk to preceptors, faculty and your professional network and learn about programs
- Find activities to build your project management and analytical skills
- Do a residency first, not necessarily PGY2
- Know the differences between programs (focus, mentoring style, facilities and resources) and how they relate to your goals
- Do not send creepy emails
We hope this was helpful to anyone looking to apply for a pharmacy fellowship. You can find information about our program and many others on the American College of Clinical pharmacy website [here] and the Society of Infectious Diseases Pharmacist website [here].
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