Life as a Pharmacy Student

As of today, there are approximately 3.1 million RN’s and approximately 950,000 physicians practicing in the United States.  These are staggering numbers when compared to the fewer than 275,000 practicing pharmacists in the United States.  Through the last couple years, pharmacist jobs have appeared to be decreasing; however, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, pharmacist jobs will rise at an increased rate of 25% between 2010 and 2020.  This rate is twice the national average.  I believe this is a fantastic and exciting time to be entering into the pharmaceutical world. 

Last summer we had the opportunity to have one of the up and coming pharmacy students work with us for a couple months.  Whitney will soon be starting her final of the Doctorate in Pharmacy program.  She graciously agreed to put down in words a short synopsis of her life as a pharmacy student.   Thank you Whitney for taking the time to share your experience with us.

Life as a pharmacy student. 

As I approach my fourth and final year of pharmacy school, I finally have a moment to breathe and reflect. Born and raised on the west coast, I decided to venture out east to experience a change in culture.  Before I knew it, I found myself in Philadelphia at Thomas Jefferson University School of Pharmacy.  I quickly found myself immersed in a completely foreign culture only to be amplified by the most challenging years of my life.  I had no idea what I was in for three years ago when I began the next chapter in my life but could not be happier that I chose this career path. 

Most people do not realize the variety of career options available to a pharmacist.  There are opportunities in not only retail but also hospital, industry, long-term care, ambulatory care, academia, and contracting are just a few to name.  Pharmacy schools are structured to expose students to as many disciplines as possible guided by the students’ interests.

The first year of school was focused on laying a foundation for the pharmacology to come with courses such as pathophysiology, biochemistry and molecular biology.  This is intended to review undergraduate, prerequisite courses. Students come from a variety of background educations so this enforces the important points necessary to build the appropriate knowledge. Though this was somewhat a review, the amount of detail we were required to learn was far beyond my undergraduate coursework.  I knew school would be challenging, but for me, it was more intense than I would have ever imagined.  Our first year was also focused on basic patient counseling on over-the-counter medications and medication safety. We had at least one exam almost every week and I had no time for anything but school and studying.  We also started our first introductory pharmacy practice experience, or IPPE.  Each semester we are placed at a different pharmacy site for diverse exposure.  My first site was a small, independent retail pharmacy in the middle of downtown Philadelphia.  As first year students, our knowledge was minimal so our initial community rotation is mostly observational.  For the second semester, I was placed at an under served health center where the pharmacist’s role was focused on preventative medicine such as diet, exercise, medication reconciliation and adherence.

For the summer following our first year, we were advised to obtain an intern position at a pharmacy to accumulate hours necessary for our future licenses.  I spent my summer working at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz where I worked with pharmacists, technicians and management exposing me to the inter working of a hospital pharmacy.  Here I completed projects, shadowed pharmacists and worked alongside of technicians in both inpatient and outpatient settings.

During our second year, we began applying our basic knowledge of the body’s kinetics and dynamics to pharmacology and therapeutics.  My school was organized by organ systems (eg. Cardiac, pulmonary, etc.) including medication selection, treatment, monitoring and side effects.  We also learned compounding, bio statistics and drug information and literary review.  By the second year, I began to understand what was expected of us, how to effectively study, and manage my time so my life could have a bit more balance.  In addition, we had our ambulatory care and hospital IPPE.  My ambulatory care site was at the Mazzoni Center, which is the city’s largest LGBT wellness center.  This site consisted of a very diverse population of various racial, religious, ethnic and socio-economic statuses.  Here the pharmacist spent time counseling patients on diabetes, warfarin regimens, diet, exercise, and medication adherence.  The following summer I worked at Dominican Hospital to further expand my experience and education.

My third and recently completed year completed the pharmacology and therapeutics of the remaining organ systems including oncology, infectious disease, and psychiatric pharmacotherapy.  We also completed an immunization course as well as sterile product and chemotherapy preparation.  This was our final year of classroom work and felt like the homestretch!  My first IPPE was direct inpatient at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital where I participated in rounds with physicians and residents, interviewed patients and collaborated with the pharmacist on patient’s medication regimen.  During the following semester I was at Friends Hospital, which is an inpatient psychiatric hospital.  There I had the opportunity to spend the day at each unit such as adolescent, geriatric, and intensive adult. I even observed mental health court where both the patient and hospital are represented and sit in front of a judge regarding whether or not a patient can safely be discharged.  Our third year closed with a week long course on pharmacy law and our assignments for the next year’s advanced pharmacy practice experience (APPE). 

I am now about to begin my final year of school consisting of full time experiential rotations. We have six 6-week blocks, each at a different field of pharmacy.  These rotations are intended to give us the opportunity to really dial into what specific area we may want to go into.  I look forward to this year’s exposure and further exploring my options to determine the career that follows.
Whitney Saulsberry, Pharm.D. Candidate, 2014
Thomas Jefferson University School of Pharmacy

Please post your questions or comments for Whitney, in the comment section below.


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