During my pharmacy school days and years after, I’ve talked to many pharmacy school students at my program, and from many others at other schools I met from clerkship rotations or conferences about their pharmacy school experience. One theme I recall were the regrets that some students expressed after coming to pharmacy school. These regrets vary based on their interest, background, and the pharmacy school they chose. Some of these issues may be of use to future pharmacy school students to consider so that those pursuing this career could view all of the angles and possibilities when making the best decision possible.
Many pharmacy school students in their senior years expressed some uncertainty about their job prospects. According to an article in PharmacyTimes, there were 72 pharmacy schools in 1987. In 2014, 130 pharmacy schools were accredited according to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP). The rise in pharmacy schools and graduates will mean more competition for limited job openings, unless the number of vacancies available due to retirements or new opportunities match the number of job seekers year after year.
Pharmacy schools have evolved to incorporate clinical decision making into their curriculum. This is evidenced by the trend from a Bachelor’s of Science in Pharmacy towards the Doctor of Pharmacy as the standard in today’s pharmacy schools to become a pharmacist; this may be due to the complexities found in drugs, diseases, and different aging populations to manage. Additionally, the availability of opting for further board certifications in various specialties administered by the the Board of Pharmacy Specialities (BPS) allows pharmacists to attain further recognition in patient care. However, pharmacists are not trained to diagnose patients in the same way as medical doctors, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners are. They are trained as dispensers of prescriptions for the most part as opposed to prescribers (although some states allow clinical pharmacists some prescribing authority with limited scope under the supervision of a license patient care provider). Therefore, for pharmacists interested in the clinical aspects of patient care such as diagnosing and treating patients, many pharmacy students have expressed frustration in the limited scope of their clinical involvement; they are being confined to reviewing or advising on medication regimens for complex patients such as vancomycin dosing for renally impaired patients, or managing nausea and vomiting for chemotherapy patients, and checking INR levels for anticoagulation patients. Some students believe from their clerkship experiences that clinical pharmacists are not generally thought as being part of the essential “core” of a patient care team, and will always need to fight and earn their place in the team to be respected. And they’ll have to earn their place again each time a new team or leader is implemented which makes things even more difficult. Therefore, many pharmacy students and graduates believe that pursuing a degree as an MD, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner as opposed to a PharmD is a more preferred route for those interested solely in patient clinical care.
One last example expressed by pharmacy students include being “stuck” in the traditional retail pharmacy setting. Because a lot of pharmacy students take on much debt to finance their education, they are also quick to accept a position in a traditional retail pharmacy immediately after graduation, and forego a chance at furthering their knowledge in other areas of pharmacy. Such opportunities would be available in a paid post-graduate residency or fellowship program which could open doors to other opportunities beyond a job in a retail pharmacy. A lot of hospitals look for residency experience for those who lack any type of hospital experience on their resume, especially for limited and competitive positions. This may also be the best time to pursue a residency immediately after pharmacy school as their knowledge of pharmacy will be very fresh on their minds as opposed to someone who took a position in retail after graduation, and decided to pursue a residency and enter a new industry after many years in the retail setting.