Things I Wish I Knew About Pharmacy School

kerr_things_i_wish_i_knewIf you’re anything like I was as a high school senior, you don’t know a ton about the profession of pharmacy. Sure, you might know the gist of what pharmacists do, but you might not truly understand how expansive the world of pharmacy is now and how much more immense it grows every day, or exactly how a pharmacist fits in as a member of the healthcare team. Because of this, you may not know about what a pharmacy school has to offer its students, aside from its curriculum, in order to prepare them for whichever career path they decide to follow.

When I was going through the college admissions process, I focused more on the the overall feel of the university and the broader-spectrum details of the pharmacy schools, since I did not know what to expect one I actually entered the professional phase. Although I worked as a pharmacy technician for a few years before entering college and thought I had a good understanding of the profession of pharmacy, my knowledge about the profession was constrained to my limited job experience. I truly did not understand the world of pharmacy whatsoever, and knew next to nothing about the innumerable opportunities. In looking back on my ignorance in searching for a pharmacy school, I realize now that though I understood the larger details, I was, in a way, jumping in blindly and hoping for the best.

Thankfully, my blindfolded leap into Duquesne’s pharmacy program turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. I could not be happier with the School of Pharmacy, and truly believe that it is a perfect match for me. I hope to tell you a little bit more about what I’ve learned upon entering my professional phase so that you can be somewhat more informed about what happens than I was, enabling you to ask better questions from admissions departments of any school you visit and make a more informed decision.

One phrase you will quickly grow tired of hearing upon entering pharmacy school is that pharmacy is a small world. Though trite, this could not be more true. Networking is essential for any pharmacy career path you choose to follow, and it is important to begin building relationships as soon as you can. One great way to do this is through joining student organizations. At Duquesne, the majority of pharmacy students wait until beginning their professional phase to join professional organizations specific to pharmacy. This is partly because many of them do require annual dues that may be pricey, and also because the organization’s events and activities may necessitate some exposure to the coursework of the professional phase. Duquesne has a total of 16 pharmacy organizations, the majority of them being student chapters of local and national organizations. This also means that there are a substantial amount of opportunities to gain leadership experience. When visiting different pharmacy schools, make sure to ask how many professional pharmacy organizations a school offers, how involved the students are within them, and maybe some major events that they participate in each year. Being involved as a student is incredibly important not only for networking but also for building experience and developing valuable skills that you will need as a pharmacist.

An important aspect of a career as a pharmacist, especially if you choose to enter the retail setting, is that of engaging with the community. Pharmacists are the most accessible healthcare professional — if someone has a medical question, many times they can simply call or visit their local pharmacy and speak with the pharmacist without having to make an appointment or pay an additional fee for their time and information. Because of this, pharmacy students learn things such as point-of-care testing, such as blood pressure screenings and lipid panel assessments, as well as how to immunize, in order to serve the community to the best of their abilities. However, classroom practice is not enough for pharmacy students; in order to become well-versed in these techniques, extensive practice on patients is required. While it is possible to learn these skills on assigned rotations, the Mylan School of Pharmacy takes this education a step further by providing numerous opportunities to get out in the community and serve real patients while perfecting the skills of our trade.

One large-scale event that the pharmacy school organizes each year is the Health Fair in Market Square day. During this event, the Mylan School of Pharmacy fills up Market Square in downtown Pittsburgh with tents featuring a variety of screenings and educational booths. Every student organization sponsors a booth, and the majority of the students enrolled in the program, as well as the faculty, attend the event to provide these screenings and services to the public, free of charge. It is a fantastic way to interact with the community, and help those who may just be passing through Market Square for lunch by providing them with information and screenings to benefit their health. Through these types of experiences, we are able to practice the Duquesne mission of “Serving God by Serving Others.”

One factor that plays into this is the relationship that students develop with the faculty. Although class sizes in the professional phase are fairly large with having 160 seats in the program, it is easy to get to know professors on a personal basis through participating in events such as these. Those faculty members who practice clinically are fantastic resources for hearing real-life examples of the information we learn in class, becoming engaged with the community, and can serve as wonderful mentors if they practice in the area in which you are interested pursuing. If community or clinical pharmacy is not your area of interest and you are prefer the research side of the profession, the Mylan School of Pharmacy has a plethora of knowledgeable professors who conduct research, and openly encourage all students to become involved. Some professors even invite students to jointly publish papers on their research, which is an excellent CV booster. No matter what area of pharmacy you’re interested in, Duquesne’s program is sure to provide you with all of the resources you need for success; all you need to do is take initiative and take advantage of them.

One final thing about the Mylan School of Pharmacy that I was unaware of before entering the professional phase was the emphasis the administration department places upon hot-button issues in the pharmacy world. For instance, each year the PY2 pharmacy students take a trip to Washington, D.C. to speak with our legislators in the House and Senate, and advocate for a pressing topic called “Provider Status.” This bill, if passed, will further advance the profession of pharmacy and open doors to enable pharmacists to become more integrated into the healthcare team, and may eventually expand our roles as healthcare professionals. The Mylan School of Pharmacy sees this as a valuable opportunity for its students to become directly involved with advancing their profession, and thus gives us the opportunity to do so. Additionally, the PY1 students must complete a seminar on chemical dependency. This is a day-long seminar in which professionals from across Pittsburgh educate the students on the substance abuse epidemic, and what our role is as future pharmacists in combatting this issue. Finally, during the PY3 year, the pharmacy school offers a number of different concentrations students can choose from—such as geriatrics, pediatrics, and acute care, among others—in order to learn more about the field they wish to enter and better prepare them for residencies and future jobs.

Overall, I feel that the School of Pharmacy provides its students with substantial opportunities for becoming involved, and excellent ways to prepare for future career paths. However, there are many other pharmacy schools with a lot to offer their students as well. Finding a university that clicks with you is tough; finding your niche within a pharmacy school may be even harder. However, with some additional knowledge about the professional phase and what opportunities the school can provide for you, your decision may be made a little easier through knowing the right questions to ask.

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