While many people are enjoying the seasonal changes as they begin to decorating and preparing their homes for a busy holiday season, most pharmacy students around the nation are starting to feel like things are just heating up. With the halfway point of the semester right around the corner, students in the didactic portions of their curriculums are feeling the mounting pressure of midterm exams. However, many final-year pharmacy students will feel a new type of pressure while trying to decide the next steps in their careers, and their first step after a rapidly approaching graduation day.
The change of seasons is an unofficial mark at the beginning of the next recruiting cycle for final-year pharmacy students. This may include interviewing for straight-to-profession retail positions, beginning the competitive process of securing a fellowship or preparing for ASHP’s Midyear Clinical Meeting and the match process in hopes of obtaining a highly sought-after residency. Balancing these decisions with the day-to-day requirements of rotations can easily become overwhelming for students that aren’t prepared to set themselves up for success early on in the process. For me, this process began even before my final year of school started, and I would highly recommend students that who have goals of obtaining residencies or fellowships follow a similar game plan to help them maximize the opportunity of success in obtaining their ideal first post-graduate position.
Going back almost a year to November 2021, my classmates and I were in the process of setting our preferences for our Advance Pharmacy Practice Experiences, or APPEs for short. Each pharmacy school can handle its selection process differently, but the University of Iowa and many other pharmacy schools, submit hierarchical preferences for various required and elective APPEs which are then processed in a program in hopes of matching students to as many of their preferred sites as possible. However, with more students than available sites, this makes the process highly competitive. This leads to students developing different strategies in hopes of obtaining their desired schedule.
The first of two overarching strategies that guided me in my process was spending a significant time reflecting on pharmacy school up to that point and using those positive (and negative) experiences to help me decide what areas I wanted to learn more about in terms of future career options, and what areas that I couldn’t see myself working in. Using this information, I prioritized all of the potential rotations that I definitely wanted to learn more about in the first half of my schedule, and I reserved the second half of my schedule for rotations that were less critical to my own career decisions. This strategy has allowed me to focus and learn more about potential career paths in hospital management, the pharmaceutical industry, community pharmacy, and association management all before the end of 2022 and also before the recuriting window deadlines. This has helped me in my decision-making process and in whittling down the list of areas that I will be applying for the following year.
The second strategy I used was trying to be intentional with my off-block or bye-cycle. I wrote about how I was planning to spend my off-block in last month’s blog in greater detail, but essentially, it’s five weeks off from rotations that students can choose to spend however they please. With that in mind, while I was setting up my preferences last year, I knew that I wanted to have my bye cycle somewhere close to this time of year. I did this knowing how hectic this time can get with applications, interviews, and recruitment while having the additional time and a lack of required projects from an APPE rotation. I initially preferred to have my bye during this current cycle in October but was ultimately given it a month earlier (remember when I said the process can get competitive?). In the end, it still worked out for me, as I was able to spend plenty of time researching potential residencies by utilizing ASHP’s Residency Directory, and various fellowships by searching online for more information. I also spent a significant amount of time during my bye cycle (and throughout school) reaching out to pharmacists that have either completed residencies/fellowships that interested me or were currently holding roles that intrigued me. These conversations have been critical in helping me make these early career decisions that will have a lasting impact on my professional life. By doing these things, I was able to put together a comprehensive list of potential options that I wanted to pursue and learn more about them. This list will benefit me as I can now focus directly on requirements specific to these programs, instead of trying to sift through an overwhelming list and risk missing important deadlines and information.
With that being said, there are many varying deadlines depending on if you were pursuing fellowships versus residencies, with industry fellowships in general having the earliest of all deadlines. I have classmates that are currently in the process of interviewing for various industry fellowships, and many of them will know if they have secured a position even before December. However, even within residencies deadlines can vary. Many programs that will be attending ASHP’s Midyear Residency Showcase have deadlines for applications in December or January, but some (typically combined PGY1/PGY2 and PGY2 programs or straight-to-profession job openings) require students to sign up for ASHP’s Personal Placement Service in order to apply and interview for their positions. These programs also have earlier deadlines that students need to be aware of if they are interested. As you can see, it can be pretty confusing around this time of year with so much information coming at students and decisions that need to be made that will have lasting consequences on our careers. Having a strong support group and an even stronger WHY will help you navigate through these pressure-filled moments.
This all might be bringing up a good question you may be asking – what’s my plan for next year?
The short answer is… I don’t know.
But I feel okay with that answer – for now.
As I sit here typing from my Airbnb in downtown Washington DC, I have truly and honestly hit a crossroads in my life. I have just kicked off my Cycle 5 APPE rotation with the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) with an emphasis on Executive Leadership. As I mentioned earlier, part of the reason that I didn’t get my bye cycle during this rotation was because of how important I knew this experience was going to be for me and my own personal journey.
Throughout my time in pharmacy school, and particularly during this past year, my true passions for pharmacy leadership, advocacy, and supporting the advancement of our profession have been consistently strengthened and reaffirmed. Before heading out on my 16-hour trek to our nation’s capital, I attended my first in-person Iowa Pharmacy Association Annual Meeting combined with the invaluable conversations I had with so many pharmacy leaders in our state and all other moments that IPA has allowed me to grow as a person and a professional, I cemented my desire to work within a space that allowed me to continue to support our pharmacy profession. However, I am still planning on attending ASHP’s Midyear Meeting and visiting with potential Community-based Administration and Leadership programs. The majority of my rotational experience with APhA this month will be a chance for me to weigh the pros and cons of applying for association management fellowships for next year. Then once I return to Iowa and begin my rotation with a progressive community pharmacy in November, I hope to use those experiences, as well as my time in Las Vegas for ASHP, as my final opportunity to decide on my steps after graduating. However, this will probably be a daunting process with deadlines quickly approaching.
This is a unique time for many final-year pharmacy students, myself included. This is most likely the first time that we are facing decisions that will directly and drastically impact our careers. This is the first time we have significant paychecks and benefits to consider in our decision-making process. It can also be the first time that many of us are considering moving to new areas of the country and starting our professional lives without the people that we grew to love and rely on during pharmacy school and perhaps even longer than that. While the fall season can bring on so much change that’s loved by many, it can also be the start of a change that can be challenging to some, especially us as students. That change can be overwhelming at first, and that’s okay. Because just as the leaves begin to change and overwhelm us with their beauty, we too can see this change as the amazing next step in our journeys through life.