Are you Pre-Med and trying to figure out what career in healthcare suits you? Are you trying to figure out whether your future holds medical school, PA school, nursing school, physical therapy school, pharmacy school, research or another field of healthcare? If so, our SheMD Women In Healthcare Series is FOR YOU!
During senior year of high school, we had the opportunity to shadow a profession and present a project about our experience in lieu of final exams. I had decided years prior pediatric medicine would be my chosen path. My father and I were talking about medical school and residency right before senior project began and he said to me “Have you considered looking into pharmacy?” I paused, and without even thinking, the words “You mean count pills?” flew out of my mouth. If working in a drugstore counting pills was to what he was referring, I had zero interest. To be honest, I didn’t know anything about pharmacy—as a career, the training, or what the profession entailed, retail pharmacy included. I decided to humor my father and shadow a hospital pharmacist, a career option I didn’t know existed. Those three weeks were enlightening and I enjoyed my time, but my heart was set on becoming a medical doctor.
I entered college as a pre-med major with every intention of taking the MCAT and going to medical school to become a pediatrician, but continued to educate myself on the field of pharmacy. As junior year of college approached, it was time for me to declare which path I would take for professional school. I made list after list regarding the pros and cons of becoming a physician or pharmacist: both professions would enable me to help others, earn a professional doctorate degree and participate in direct patient care following residency training. While pediatric medicine was still on my heart, the option of clinical pharmacy fascinated me as I had read some articles about residency-trained pharmacists who specialize in various areas of medicine and round as part of the medical team. I could offer my expertise on medications while directly helping the patient, teach pharmacy and medical students and residents on various medication topics and also learn from the entire medical team. The next day I signed up to take the PCAT. Since many people are not aware of the training or the other career opportunities available in pharmacy, I have a few tidbits to share!
Pharmacy school is an additional four years beyond undergraduate, and the degree we earn is the Pharm.D. (caveat: a handful of six year professional programs exist, but this is no longer the norm as schools are modeling their programs similar to how dental and medical schools are an additional four years beyond undergrad). Many programs integrate pharmacy and medical students in classes such as anatomy and physiology, which I thought was really interesting and fun. Training is heavily focused on all aspects of medication, including pharmacology, therapeutics, pharmacokinetics (movement of drugs within the body; think vancomycin and aminoglycoside dosing and monitoring) and pharmacodynamics (how the drug affects the body).
The entire fourth year of school is spent on nine different experiential rotations (how this block is structured may vary by school). My advice is to schedule a wide variety of rotations to experience as much as you possibly can. I knew I would be applying for residency, so I chose to complete additional clinical rotations as my electives. During this time, those who want to complete a post-graduate year-1 (PGY-1) residency are applying and interviewing. Our Match Day is the same as medical and dental students!
Our residency program structure is two years: PGY-1 is a general residency and PGY-2 year is spent in a specific specialty. Residency-trained pharmacists are the pharmacists who traditionally round with the medical teams. Primary responsibilities include looking at each patient on service and evaluating the medications, checking and recommending labs and drug levels, providing dosing recommendations (renal, hepatic, adjustments based on drug interactions, etc), educating the team as needed, patient counseling and being available to the team for any questions 24/7. Clinical pharmacists precept medical and pharmacy students and residents, lecture during grand rounds/noon lecture/morning report, participate in research and present the research at national meetings, provide nursing education, publish articles and sit on hospital committees. Some pharmacists also apply for fellowship in a specific area after completing two years of residency.
Many clinically trained pharmacists become board certified in a specific area (I am a Board-Certified Pharmacotherapy Specialist, or BCPS) through the Board of Pharmacy Specialties (BPS). Currently there are 12 different specialty areas, and some pharmacists are double board certified. Each specialty has their own requirements to maintain certification; for example, as a BCPS pharmacist, I have to complete and pass 120 hours of BPS-approved education every seven years, or I can sit and retake the exam every seven years. I also have to complete law and patient safety continuing education for our state board requirements (requirements will vary by state).
If you are interested in pharmacy, do your research. There are many career opportunities outside of retail, hospital and clinical pharmacy. Management, drug information, informatics, pharma, research, business and academia are a few areas and may require two years of residency. Find a couple of mentors to interview, shadow and speak with to see if pharmacy is the right career path for you. While I knew retail pharmacy was not a good fit for me, seeing what an impact I could make on not just patients, but on my entire team has been so fulfilling (and, you may find you truly enjoy working in a retail pharmacy!). As part of a comprehensive medical team, my experience is the patient truly receives the best care possible as all disciplines work together to create and execute their care plan. As one of my favorite attendings used to say, “it takes a village!”.