Sure, earning a PharmD prepares pharmacy grads to obtain their license and get a job. But will the degree open doors to the opportunity they really want?
In their quest for plum positions, heftier paychecks, exposure to state-of-the-art practices and other perks, approximately one in seven pharmacy grads takes a step beyond their degree and opts for a postgraduate residency, says Anne Burns, group director of practice development and research for the American Pharmacists Association (APhA).
Two Residency Options
Combining rigorous education and training, residencies accelerate professional growth by developing advanced skills under the guidance of a preceptor. These intense learning opportunities are often equated with three to five years of pharmacy experience, Burns says. Typically lasting a year and offering a stipend, residencies are conducted in hospitals, community pharmacies, managed-care settings and clinics.
Fresh from pharmacy school, students can enter a first-year pharmacy practice residency, or PGY1, which concentrates on direct patient care and practice management. Students who want to focus on one area of pharmacy practice can opt for a second year of specialized residency, or PGY2.
What It Takes
Program directors look for highly motivated, well-rounded individuals with good communication skills, solid grades and some clinical experience. "Book knowledge with practical application at the bedside are the key elements," says Mort Goldman, PharmD, assistant director of pharmacy for pharmacotherapy services for The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, which conducts four pharmacy residencies. Those applying for a specialized residency should have some experience in its practice setting.
Since residents are often regarded as change agents, residency program directors value applicants who have demonstrated leadership abilities, perhaps as an officer in their pharmacy school class or in a chapter of APhA's Academy of Student Pharmacists. "Advances in pharmacy often occur at pharmacy sites which have residency programs," Burns explains. "The residency environment is conducive to innovation and change. A well-administered residency program can facilitate changes that staff pharmacists want to make but don't have time to."
Max Out Your Residency
Follow these tips to get the most out of your residency:
- Set Goals: All accredited residency programs ask residents to set goals at the beginning of the year. Be realistic, and reevaluate your goals as the year progresses.
- Plan Carefully: When considering a specialized residency, schedule related experiences early in your first year. That way, you'll know if the specialty is right for you before the midyear application deadlines for PGY2 residencies, says Susan Staggs, PharmD, a pediatric pharmacist at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital in Nashville. For example, Staggs completed a pharmacy practice residency at the Methodist Healthcare-University Hospital in Memphis and then a specialized residency in pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
- Ask for What You Want: If there's a skill you want to learn or a practice area you're interested in, speak up. When Staggs asked for some pharmaceutical industry experience, her residency director at Methodist Healthcare-University Hospital arranged for a paid, two-week stint at a major pharmaceutical company's corporate headquarters.
- Publish: Choose a research project that has publication potential -- employers look for publishing credits.
- Get Involved: Join committees at your institution or in local, state or national professional organizations. Such involvement shows prospective employers you're interested in advancing the pharmacy profession. During her residency, Staggs joined the Pediatric Pharmacy Advocacy Group, which impressed an interviewer who was active in the group.
- Model Your Mentor: Carefully study and emulate the preceptor's communication style and interactions with healthcare peers. "In our business, the ‘how we do it' is at least as important as what we do," Goldman says. "Relationship building is extremely important."
- Attitude Makes the Difference: "Students need to go into a residency thinking not in terms of how many hours a week they're working, but in trying to maximize every available opportunity," Burns says. Staggs agrees, adding, "Maintaining a positive attitude can help you get through the hardest of learning experiences."