Pharmacy Student

Adventures of a P4: How to Handle Money and Time on Rotations

Keaton Higgins begins his second rotation at Veterans Affairs Healthcare System in Iowa City. Learn how he manages his time during rotations, plus how to manage money when learning experiences are unpaid.


As much as I have appreciated my time during rotations so far, one thing has become clear to me: life can get pretty expensive when my full-time job as a student doesn’t provide a paycheck. Between gas money for commuting to different sites, buying or bringing lunch every day and everyday living expenses, the bills can start to add up pretty quickly when there is little to no money coming in. Another concept that has been reinforced to me early on during my rotational year is the importance of work-life balance. While some may refer to this as work-life integration or work-life blend, the concept is the same: prioritizing your time between professional and personal activities. Working in pharmacy and healthcare can quickly swing your work-life balance heavily towards the work. Long and demanding hours and extra responsibilities cause people to give up personal time to complete work-related tasks. This lifestyle can eventually lead to burnout and other health-related issues that can negatively impact careers and personal lives. People who once loved their jobs can find themselves dreading their everyday routines because of burnout and may end up leaving their career fields completely.   


Outside of the clinical knowledge that we gain every day while on rotations, developing these two important life skills – money management and time management – are crucial for successfully navigating the final year of pharmacy school.

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For the past five weeks, I have been at the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System in Iowa City completing my General Hospital rotation. This means that I have been rotating through various inpatient and outpatient healthcare teams and learning about all aspects of a hospital and the various roles pharmacists can have within a health system. The VA is unique in that it is federally funded and doesn’t function as a state or privately funded hospital does. This leads to pharmacists being utilized much differently and are given a larger role to play at the VA. Throughout the different areas that I have visited during my time at the VA, pharmacists are frequently prescribing and de-prescribing medications and oversee ordering and monitoring medication-related lab values. This lets pharmacists practice at the top of their education as medication experts and provide a greater value than settings that limit pharmacists’ abilities to do so due to state regulations.


While it’s been eye-opening to me to see how pharmacists are working within this space, the VA is also a great example of a healthy work/life balance. Most members of the different pharmacy teams don’t work late nights and they get every federal holiday off from work. There is also hardly ever a time when there is not at least one other pharmacist with them, so the workload is never unbearable for one person to handle. For me, that means I’m done with rotations every day by at least 4 PM and back home by 4:30 PM. This gives me plenty of time to prepare a nice dinner and still have time to do things I enjoy like spending time with friends, getting caught up on laundry or working on presentations for my rotation later that week. This time allows me to have a healthy work/life balance to prioritize things that I enjoy doing outside of rotations. By doing so, I stay focused, happy and recharged as I continue on my journey as a final year pharmacy student.keaton2

Another important point about work/life balance during rotations is realizing that this year is designed to help each individual achieve their respective goals as a future pharmacist. For me, this included taking a four-day hiatus from my rotation at the VA to attend a national convention in Philadelphia to present and promote the roles of pharmacists within sports medicine. As a student pharmacist and athletic trainer, this experience was incredibly fulfilling and rewarding for me, as I have been working hard during my time in pharmacy school to integrate my passions for pharmacy and sports medicine into a potential career option.

It is important to note that I was only able to attend this conference because once the opportunity presented itself, I was incredibly proactive in reaching out to my preceptors at the VA several months in advance to ask for time off to attend. Most rotational sites are lenient enough to allow for a few missed days, and luckily my case was no exception as they were more than happy to let me attend. While the goal is to get the most out of the experience during each rotation, remembering that this year is also to hone skills that are most important to each pharmacy student is critical to maximizing the year-long experience as well.

keaton1While I was fortunate enough to have my entire trip to the conference covered financially, I certainly have had to get more vigilant about my money-spending habits. Due to the almost 40-hour-a-week time commitment that is required from most rotational sites, it is difficult to find time to make money while on rotations. For at least the last five years of college, I have pretty consistently worked close to twenty or more hours a week at various pharmacies to help me stay afloat with everyday expenses. This year has been a completely different situation. I am grateful for my role with CEimpact, as I can work remotely whenever I have the time, whether that be a Saturday morning or Wednesday evening. This allows me the flexibility to work around my rotational schedule and helps me maintain a healthy work/life balance. I also work as a pharmacy intern at Hy-Vee, a Midwest pharmacy chain that allows me to work weekend shifts when I am back in Iowa City. I plan on working one weekend day per week at the pharmacy while completing rotations, and then working as many hours as possible during my bye cycle to help resuscitate my bank account after trips to Indianapolis and Washington DC.

I understand that my situation is unique and while working on a weekend is what works for me, everyone is different and understanding how to prioritize our time to be able to have an effective work-life balance is another critical skill to master while making the most out of your year on rotation.

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We’re only two cycles in and I can already tell that this is going to be the most educational and eye-opening year of my collegiate experience. It should go without saying that the clinical knowledge that we pharmacy students are gaining during this year is unmatched and invaluable, but what has really caught me off guard is how much I have grown and will continue to grow as a person and a professional during this year. Having an up-close view to understanding how important it is to develop life skills such as time management and money management will continue to serve me as I begin my career as a pharmacist in the near future.

While I have already enjoyed the ride of a lifetime during these first few months of rotations, I know it’s only going to get better from here, so I’ll hold on tight and let the adventure continue!

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