Pharmacy Student

Adventures of a P4: Preparing for Rotations + Staying Connected

Keaton Higgins reflects on events and opportunities that have shaped his pharmacy career. He also shares how he plans to stay connected while on the road.

My time during pharmacy school has been interesting, to say the least. My P1 year was spent much like many of yours – adjusting to new surroundings, trying to digest a difficult curriculum, and making new friends I would hope to lean on throughout the next four years for support and encouragement. One thing I enjoyed my first year of pharmacy school was the high amount of free time that we were given. I used this to my advantage and attended extracurricular activities and explored many different areas of interest at an early stage of pharmacy education.

One of my favorite events I attended was a lecture presented by Sandra Leal at our College of Pharmacy Building. This was impactful because Dr. Leal talked about tools and skills that helped her excel throughout her career which she has utilized as both a pharmacist and entrepreneur. At the time, Sandra was also the president-elect of the American Pharmacists Association (APhA). To have the opportunity to learn from and interact with such an influential individual was inspiring and motivating to me. This made it even more meaningful when I had the chance to reconnect with Sandra during this year’s APhA Annual Meeting in San Antonio.


Another event that I was able to attend during my P1 year was Legislative Day at the state capitol in Des Moines. While I felt like a chicken running around with my head cut off and oblivious to almost everything that was being discussed regarding PBMs, Provider Status, and other topics that I had little or no exposure to at that time, this was my first time seeing and understanding the power of advocating for our profession. A few of us lucky students were invited into a private chamber with a legislator to have a meaningful conversation with her about some of the issues that were impacting our profession. Returning to Legislative Day this year, I was able to leverage this experience from my P1 year and was able to guide younger students through the day hoping to instill the importance of advocacy in them, just as others had done for me when I was in their shoes. Because of a connection that I had fostered in previous years with pharmacist and state legislator John Forbes, a group of students and me were able to go on a tour culminating on top of the State Capital Building!


A final event that sticks out in my mind during my P1 year that has had a significant impact on my time in pharmacy school is when I “attended” the Midwest PharmaCE Expo hosted by the Iowa Pharmacy Association. The reason I say “attended” is because I technically snuck into the event without being aware that I needed to register. Whoops. I wanted to go to the PharmaCE Expo in Des Moines because a particular speaker was scheduled to present at the event. This speaker’s name was Adam Martin – AKA The Fit Pharmacist. If the name did not give it away, Dr. Martin is a successful social media pharmacy influencer in the niche of fitness. With my background in sports medicine and fitness as an athletic trainer, I knew I had to jump at the chance to meet Adam when he was in Iowa. While connecting with Adam has been one of the most beneficial decisions I’ve made – I’ve been a guest on his podcast, designed graphics for his social media platform, and published an article on his website – the resulting “consequences” of me attending this event without registering were even more fruitful.

The Monday after returning from the Midwest Pharmacy Expo, I received a message from Kate Gainer, the CEO of the Iowa Pharmacy Association. My thoughts were Woah – “this is either going to be really good, or really bad.” Kate shared that I shouldn’t have been able to attend the meeting without registering but was kind enough to chalk it up to a good learning opportunity.

I appreciated Kate’s follow-up and personal connection and while this may seem like a negative event, IPA hired me to be their Executive Intern this past summer. I learned a lot, attended a great pharmacy conference (that is worth paying for!) and everything worked out for me in the end. My time spent as IPA’s Intern and all events that I have been able to attend because of the Association have deeply instilled a passion for advocacy and practice advancement in me.

Just as I was riding high after these events during my P1 year and looking forward to capitalizing on these newfound experiences, I had to pack up with my other fellow students and was sent home by a little thing known as the COVID-19 pandemic. Forced to adjust to Zoom University and the cancellation of every in-person event in the near future, we students (and nearly everyone) were seemingly left on an island to fend for ourselves. Going from “pharmacy is a small world - it’s not what you know, it’s who you know!” to staying home and watching recorded lectures all day was a tough transition to take on.

However, I choose to believe that there is a silver lining to any seemingly negative situation, and that showed to be true as the pandemic raged on. Utilizing the connectivity of social media and LinkedIn, I was arguably able to meet many more people than I would have if not for the push towards virtual meetings and work-from-home environments. People were no longer inaccessible due to location or time zone. A flexible work/school environment provided more opportunities for people to schedule thirty-minute calls throughout their day. This allowed for me to expand my network across the nation. This also made it easier to follow-up and stay connected with individuals that I met at previous meetings or webinars and build strong relationships with them.IPAExecInternLastDay

Now that we are returning to in-person events and “normalcy” after two-plus years, how does this impact our ability to stay connected when our lives feel busier than ever? As I begin my yearlong journey through rotations in May, I find myself pondering a similar question: while the next year will require me to relocate to four different cities in three different states for five weeks each, plus visiting Philadelphia, Las Vegas, and Phoenix for national meetings, how will I stay connected to my network and leverage those connections to maximize my experiences over the next twelve months?

On the surface, this seems like an overwhelming situation – isolated in new cities across the country for weeks at a time. But ironically enough thanks to COVID, I know that I will be relying on different resources to stay connected to my friends, family and colleagues for guidance and support. First and foremost, I am thankful to have such a strong support system built up from my time in pharmacy school. I have met some of my closest friends and I’m confident that we will lean on each other throughout rotation. As I’ll be traveling to so many new places, this will provide me with the opportunity to meet many new people face-to-face while exploring new areas. By utilizing social media, I will be able to connect with many of my new friends as we continue our journeys. Finally, I will be very grateful for The Pharmacy Network, the community of pharmacists, student pharmacists and pharmacy technicians serving as an invaluable support system throughout my travels. The Pharmacy Network is an excellent way to stay connected and provides a community of knowledge, experience, education, and opinions for all types of pharmacy professionals.

One of the first things that were drilled into my head as a student pharmacist was the immense importance of building a strong network of meaningful relationships. As I have progressed through my time in pharmacy school, I am beyond grateful for the opportunities that have been provided to me to build a strong network. I am even more grateful for the doors that have been opened for me (or kicked in) because of the relationships that I have made. As I begin my journey, I know that I have a lot of connections that I can count on to make my final year as a student unforgettable.


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