The Transition

I, like a few of my peers, decided to become a compounding pharmacist and took a job in an independent compounding pharmacy.

Although the various fields of pharmacy practice offer their own unique rewards and challenges, I think all new pharmacists share some common experiences as they begin the profession.

One of the hardest things about progressing from pharmacy student to pharmacist is taking on the burden of responsibility that accompanies the transition.  I was lucky. After earning my GED credential, I was fortunate enough to get admitted to Pharmacy School and as a student, and then a pharmacist intern, you are surrounded by professors and preceptors that guide you and answer your questions.

You have the freedom that comes with not being expected to know everything; after all, you’re still just a student.  But once you trade your Intern name badge for a shiny new one bearing the title PharmD, you are suddenly thrown into the role of drug expert.

Patients, prescribers, and technicians look to you to answer their questions about everything from side effects to pharmacy law.  For me, this was both a gratifying and an overwhelming experience.

On the one hand, I enjoyed being able to put the things I had learned in school to good use, and it was rewarding to be viewed as the authority on all things pharmacy; but on the other hand, I didn’t have all the answers, and this initially terrified me.

I was lucky enough to begin my career in a pharmacy with several kind and experienced pharmacists who helped me by answering my constant questions, reassuring me on a regular basis that I wasn’t a terrible pharmacist.

When I think about it now, I realize that I must have been an incredible menace, but none of them ever complained!  I am immensely grateful to UIW for teaching me to use drug references like Facts and Comparisons and USP. These books were and still are indispensable tools in my practice.

Once I relinquished my belief that I should know everything about every medication, I stopped feeling guilty for not being able to rattle off the half-lives of the different salt forms of testosterone. I discovered that I had been taught to easily find the answer to this and to any other drug question I might encounter. 

I also have made much use of Dr. Linns peripheral brain.  On his advice, I started jotting down important pharmacy tidbits in a lab coat pocket-sized notebook when I was a student. I still carry the book in my lab coat pocket to reference it when I cant remember something, and add clinical pearls to it as I gain in knowledge.

Through my own experience and conversations with other pharmacists, Ive learned of another challenges faced by recent graduates-the difficulty of keeping pace with the rapidly changing world of pharmacy. 

While in school, your professors present you with the latest and greatest drugs to come to the market. You participate in journal clubs where you learn about the most current drug studies from the most respected journals, and you are constantly in an academic environment in which studying and learning about the practice of pharmacy is your job.

Once you begin your pharmacy practice, you are removed from that environment, and kept constantly busy with the daily duties of a pharmacist-checking prescriptions, counseling patients, and a hundred other things that have to be done in order to keep operations running smoothly.

Add to this the astonishing number of drug studies and new drugs that are released each year, and it becomes a daunting task for the pharmacist to keep from becoming obsolete.  Although we were warned about this prospect by our instructors, I was still surprised by the effort required to stay abreast of pharmacy developments after graduation.

I do feel, however, that my time at The University of the Incarnate Word helped prepare me for this task; courses that taught me how to decipher and evaluate drug studies transformed the reading of journal articles from a tedious chore into a worthwhile and enjoyable endeavor.

If I could offer any advice to the pharmacy student, it would be to go beyond the required 15 hours of continuing education every year, as this is not nearly enough to prevent turning into an outdated pharmacist.

If your pharmacy doesn’t receive newsletters with pharmacy current events, invest in a subscription to a journal or newsletter, and make time to read the articles.  Commit to being a lifelong learner, because an outdated pharmacist does a disservice to his/her patients.

Although I found the transition from pharmacy student to pharmacist to be a difficult one, I did eventually grow into the role, as I imagine most pharmacists do.  In fact, many students may have an easier time than I did. I was older than most of the students in my class, and I had spent my whole life thoroughly entrenched in academia, either as a student or as a teacher.

I think this made my entrance into the real world a little scarier than I imagine it would be for a younger, possibly more adaptable student.  Regardless of any challenges I faced on the path to becoming comfortable in my lab coat, I do not regret my decision to become a pharmacist.

I have gained a valuable set of skills, one that allows me to improve the lives and health of my patients. I will continue learning and growing for the rest of my career, and be a small part of the amazing field of health and medicine that promises to benefit mankind for years to come.

Dr. Rachel Pittman, PharmD