What to do if you are not accepted into pharmacy school

So you opened your small light envelope containing a single piece of paper that informs you of the the worst possible news you could imagine:  “Thank you for your interest…Unfortunately, due to the high volume of applicants, we are unable to grant you acceptance at this time.  However…”  You feel crushed.  Your hopes and dreams of working behind a pharmacy counter, starting your career making decent income fades into the wind.  At first, you are in shock, and maybe in denial.  But sooner or later, the hurt begins to set in.  You start panicking, unsure of what your next steps are.  You feel ashamed to tell your family or friends about the news, and maybe you even come up with plans or excuses to tell them.  You may feel all of those hours spent studying for the PCATs, or hours in the library studying to get A’s in organic chemistry or biology feel wasted.  What do you do?

Well, first of all you should gather yourself and your thoughts and take a little time off to put everything in perspective.  You’ve worked hard, and deserve a little rest and relaxation whether you were accepted or denied into a pharmacy program.  Spend time with your loved ones..family and friends.  Or even take a little mini-vacation to the beach, or a trip somewhere to get your mind off of things, and decompress.  Tomorrow is a new day, and there are plenty of options and strategies you can employ.

When you return from your little time off, ask yourself whether pharmacy is for you.  Meaning…do you love the pharmacy industry, or are you doing it for the money and job stability.  If it’s purely for the job stability, you may or may not be disappointed.  Pharmacy isn’t the easiest job profession.  It is stressful.  The work schedule may not suit your lifestyle, and you may have to work with difficult colleagues and customers/patients.  Eventually, it may wear you down if you don’t enjoy the work or what you’re doing every day.  Think about it.  You have to wake up early in the day to get to work for the next 30-40 years or so depending on when you want to retire.  If you don’t enjoy the work, sooner or later, it will become more difficult to get up to work every day as you get older.  Make sure you actually enjoy the pharmacy profession before you decide to fully pursue it.  Otherwise, there are many other professions that provide decent income and good job stability.  Try to find one that you actually enjoy doing, and are a little passionate about.

So, you do enjoy this profession – what now?  If you’re grades or PCAT scores aren’t high enough compared to other applicants, it may be very difficult to get accepted.  However it depends on the school, and you may be able to check with each pharmacy program to see what their minimum requirements are, and if your grades and PCAT scores meet the criteria.  You may even contact the pharmacy program on whether an academic counselor is available to discuss your situation.  They may advise whether you should repeat classes that were under-performed, or re-take the PCATs if your score is below the average.   If you’re academic record is good enough to get into pharmacy programs, then perhaps you should apply again.  Maybe you didn’t apply to as many schools previously, and hoped that you could make it into your dream college, or go to a school in your dream city.  Well, life can be very brutal, and we can’t always have what we want.  Perhaps you should expand your options.  You may consider applying to more pharmacy schools to increase your chances.  The number of pharmacy schools have increased significantly in the past decade, so there are many seats available…meaning there are more openings which is a plus for potential students.  Remember, the PharmD program is temporary and flies by quickly; it will last at 4-6 years or less (depending on whether you apply to an accelerated program).  Since everyone’s situation is different, in the end it will be up to you to see whether you feel your grades and scores are good enough if you apply to more programs, or whether being a pharmacist is even worth it in the long run compared to pursuing another profession.

One last note, you may consider working or volunteering in a pharmacy setting if you haven’t already done so.  At the very least, you’ll have a better understanding of what a pharmacist does every day, and whether it’s what you want to do for the rest of your life.  Good luck.

What people say when I asked why they want to be a pharmacist

Throughout your journey to becoming a pharmacist, many people will ask you the same questions over and over again, “Why did you go into pharmacy,” or “Why become a pharmacist.”  They may be friends or family members, your dates and future spouses, teachers, coworkers, etc.  You will more than likely be asked this common question during pharmacy school interviews as they would probably want to know how you think and process things, and if that sort of reasoning and passion fits into the type of student they are looking for, or desire representing their school.  I’ve heard many reasons in their decision, and therefore I’ve compiled a couple popular ones (in no particular order), as well as my perspectives on their reasons, factoring in where I see the pharmacy career is evolving towards in the future.

Reason 1 :  “I want to help people”

This is the selfless answer.  But it is also the most cliche and boring response you can provide to any interviewer.  It lacks originality, is boring, and too commonplace.  You can give this answer in any healthcare professional program interview, and are almost sure to make the interviewer snooze or daydream during the interview.  This answer will definitely not make you stand out from the crowd of pharmacy candidates unless you have an original way of conveying how you can help people.  There isn’t much direct patient interaction in the majority of pharmacy careers, and compared to other healthcare professions such as nursing, medicine, or physical therapy, a career in pharmacy doesn’t really compare to these other health professions to actually help people “hands-on.”  Most of the help pharmacists provide are behind-the-scenes since many pharmacists work behind a retail (drug store) counter or secluded in the hospital setting.  In the drugstore setting, the extent of “helping people” involves processing a coupon for cheaper medications or calling the insurance provider to verify the claim can go through, and the drug can be covered assuming there are problems with coverage.  This is similar to an accountant helping people with their finances and taxes.  Also, every now and then, the pharmacist may provide the customer with patient counseling points and valuable drug information such as how to take the medicine (with food or not) and what other drugs to avoid while taking the drug at the same time, or recommendations on over-the-counter products they can use for their cough without the need for a prescription.  This type of interaction is very brief and limited, as the majority of the day involves processing and preparing prescriptions for pick-up, replenishing inventory, and processing insurance claims.  In the hospital setting, most pharmacists will be working in the basement or some other area where they are not seen, and either looking at a computer screen to check prescriptions that are sent electronically for accuracy, compound medications, or check the drugs prepared by the pharmacy technicians before being delivered.  They also spend a lot of time on the phone with nurses and sometimes doctors to answer questions such as the accounting of lost medications, drug dosage recommendations…but mostly nurses trying to find where the medications were sent or if they have even been processed.  Very little time is spent interacting with people outside of the pharmacy, unless there is an outpatient pharmacy (similar to the retail setting), or during rounds if the hospital offers a clinical pharmacy practice.  However, a clinical pharmacist position is very limiting in terms of “helping people” also because pharmacists cannot  prescribe or treat patients independently without a medical doctor’s supervision, and are pharmacists are probably limited to stating information to the medical team that can easily be found in an online drug information website.  Every now and then, they may get an interesting question, and some states may even allow limited prescribing similar to a physician assistant under the direct supervision of a licensed prescriber/doctor, but if you want to help people “hands-on”, it may be a better option to pursue a degree as a  medical doctor or a nurse if direct patient care and “helping people” hands-on are your number one reasons.

Reason 2:  “I want to have a good career”

The more self-centered answer, but one that may reveal blunt honesty.  Also a response that not many people will provide during an interview because it gives interviewers an image of what you want from the school (self-centered), rather than what you can do for the school, the community, and others (selfless).  Selfless is always more appreciated than self-centered by most.  However, this isn’t a post about interview strategy, but more on analyzing the validity of the reasons.  Pharmacy is a solid career if you can land a job, and has a lot of benefits such as a good salary, job stability, work/life balance, respect, and opportunities to learn and understand things.  I give the nod to pharmacy over medicine in terms of work/life balance at a younger age since you can immediately have a lot of time devote to having a life outside of your job, and immediately after graduation as opposed to a career as a doctor.  Medical doctors have to endure years of training in school;  after graduating, they may have to earn enough money to pay back mounting loans with compounding interest unless they have wealthy parents or supporters who will pay for the cost of tuition.  After graduation, other life events will need to be considered such as buying a house, having a family, and other expenses.  Certain medical specialities offer a rewarding salary after training is complete, and may allow one to pay off those higher loans a lot quickly in comparison to general medicine.  This may come in your mid to late thirties, or forties…whereas a pharmacist can enjoy a good salary, perhaps not as high as a medical doctor, in their mid twenties.  Pharmacists have respect from the community, but maybe not as much compared to medical doctors in the healthcare setting because medical doctors oversee the treatment of patients.  With the growing number of pharmacy schools being accredited in the past ten years, as well as the growing class sizes for existing schools, the job opportunities may not appear to be as plentiful as they once were more than a decade ago.  Signing bonuses and school loan reimbursement benefits are harder to find, and graduates are having a more difficult time in certain urban areas finding a position because of the higher competition compared to years prior.  If you are able to find and keep a full-time job as a pharmacist, I believe it can lead to a long and rewarding career.

Accelerated PharmD or Traditional PharmD?

One of the most common question I receive from future pharmacy school students from all over the world is where they can earn an accelerated PharmD degree.  This is generally a more rigorous type of PharmD program because students have to condense material from what normally takes 4 years into a 3 year period.  You can imagine less breaks between semesters in order to cover more classes in less time.   In the traditional model, students can be eligible to apply to pharmacy schools at least two years after high school when completing pre-requisites before even obtaining a bachelor’s degree.  They may also apply to pharmacy schools if they already have a bachelor’s degree, but will have to complete the PharmD program in four years.  Therefore,  the traditional program can be as little as from six (at least 2 years of pre-requisite plus 4 years of pharmacy school), to as long as eight years (4 year bachelor’s degree plus 4 years of pharmacy school) of time spent after high school depending on whether you choose to apply before after meeting pre-requisites (at least 2 years) or after obtaining a bachelor’s degree (at least 4 years).  If you graduate within six years after high school, the average person may start practicing as a licensed pharmacist at the age of 24, and at the age of 26 if entering pharmacy school directly after obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Both 24 and 26 are relatively very young in the grand scheme of things and in life.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median pay of a pharmacist is $121,500 in the United States.  That is not bad but most new pharmacists out of school could learn less due to lack of experience.  The BLS reported the lowest 10% earned approximately $86,790.  However, how much you earn also depends on what type of pharmacy career you’re entering.  Inexperienced retail pharmacist can start at a pay more than other types of pharmacy careers such as hospital in case money is very important to you.  For a graduate in their mid-twenties, this salary can provide a very good quality of life depending on where you live.  For example, earning $86,790 may allow you to buy a decent car or home , and pay of your school loans in St. Louis, Missouri or Raleigh, North Carolina…but it may be difficult to save any of it if you live in San Francisco or New York City where the prices for goods, services, and homes are considerably higher, and your dollar may not take you much further (more about your paycheck will be talked about later on).  Whatever you have after paying taxes and benefits (insurance, 401 deductions) is what you have leftover to pay for all of your expenses that include rent, mortgage, electricity bills, car, gas, auto insurance, groceries, traveling, eating out, car repairs, gifts, clothes, movies, etc.  Not much huh?

Having said that, let’s get back to the discussion between the accelerated and traditional programs.  Most of our emails are concerning what schools offer accelerated programs.  You can check our list here.  We update the list based on our awareness of such a program from notifications or feedback from the public; if you find one that isn’t listed  or should be removed from our list, please let us know at:  info@pharmdprograms.org or contact us.  From the inquiries we receive, it seems logical to think that most people want to graduate in a year or so less than the traditional programs.  One can only assume, but I think the top  reason one may consider this is as follows along with my Pros and Cons for the reason:

  1.  They want to get on with life quicker which requires an income and earning a good living.  They want to hurry up and enjoy their lives with their earnings by traveling, buying a house or car, or even helping themselves or family out of a financial problem (loans, mortgage, etc).

Pros:  I think this may be the top reason why people want to finish early.  This is similar to students who want to finish a bachelor’s degree in less than three years.  Money is important, and people need money.  I think if you’re in need of money quick so that you can pay off a loan or help a family member out, a year less in pharmacy school will get you started early.  The extra year in pharmacy school may not save you too much money (or at all) in tuition costs, but it will save you on the interest on a school loan so that you can start paying it back sooner, and will save you the costs of living (room and board).  If you have a spouse and kids, you’ll obviously benefit from graduating a year earlier and earning a paycheck so you can start putting bread on the table.

Cons:  Outside of the need to graduate earlier for financial issues or helping out others, If you’re looking to start your life a year early for the sake of enjoying your life and traveling and spending, it may not be worth it in the long run because you’ll most likely never have that pharmacy school experience again where you can learn, network with other pharmacy colleagues and professors, and enjoy being a student without the struggles and stresses that come with life. Life outside of school is considerably harder and more stressful than being a student because of bills, family obligations, mortgages, finding babysitters for your kids, going to work every day for eight hours with maybe two weeks of vacation a year…and this for until you retire in your 60s (unless you win the lottery or receive a generous inheritance).  The current retirement age is 67 according to the social security administration in order to receive full social security if you were born on 1960 or later.  Assuming you begin work as a pharmacist at the age of 26, you would work for at least 41 years!  What is an extra year of school compared to the next 41 years of labor? Is there really a difference between the ages of 26 or 27? Plus those years in an accelerated PharmD program may not be as easy and enjoyable considering your vacations may be shortened, the classes proceed quickly, and most of your time will be dedicated to studies.  Unless you have financial issues, and you need to start working sooner to earn an income, I would recommend staying in a traditional pharmacy school program because being a student is a lot more fun, easier, and enjoyable than being a working pharmacist for the next 40+ years.  Being a pharmacist isn’t easy…and 40+ years of it can be tough over time.  More on what a pharmacist goes though day to day will be talked about in a later post.  It also takes more effort to make friends outside of school compared to being in school. Because you work all day and everyday, your free time to build a network of friends  becomes increasingly difficult, especially after you start a family due to the lack of time and energy.  In school, you are surrounded by so many people all the time and almost every day, and you’re opportunity to make friends and network with others is a lot easier in a school environment.  There are also other intangible benefits you may receive while staying in school longer such as participating in pharmacy organizations and other events which will equip you with information, education, and other opportunities.

 

 

Are board of pharmacy specialty certifications worth it for pharmacists?

The Board of Pharmacy Specialty (BPS) certifications are considered to be the mark of achievement for pharmacists in specific clinical specialities. State pharmacy laws do not mandate the obtainment of these certifications to practice pharmacy, but they are preferred and desired by most employers and even patients.

The organization that oversees these certifications, the Board of Pharmacy Specialties (BPS), was created in 1976 and has certified over 21,000 worthy pharmacists in their desired specialties (2). BPS is an independent, non-partisan organization that objectively tests and certifies interested pharmacists.

BPS certification is considered an important statement of an individual’s competence. Certified pharmacists are viewed as the most qualified to deliver a high-level of healthcare(2). There are currently eight specialties that BPS offers: ambulatory care pharmacy, critical care pharmacy, nuclear pharmacy, nutrition support pharmacy, oncology pharmacy, pediatric pharmacy, pharmacotherapy, and psychiatric pharmacy.

In order to adequately prepare for each exam, candidates should become familiar with the current content outline for their specialty that is posted on the BPS website (www.bpsweb.org). Candidates should also thoroughly study any relevant textbooks, journal articles, and other texts that are referenced in the content outline or related to the content outline. For each application, the fee at this time for first-time American and Canadian applicants is $600 U.S. dollars. The fee is $685 U.S. dollars for first-time non-American and non-Canadian applicants. For candidates who have failed a specialization examination within the past year, reduced fee of $300 U.S. dollars is available(2).

The final score of the exam will determine whether the candidate passed or failed and ultimately, whether they receive the certification or not. The minimum passing score is 500 and the maximum score is 800. A candidate’s report will be sent electronically about 60 days after the close of their testing window. Candidates can access these scores by logging in to their MyBPS account.

Candidates considering tackling their BPS certification examinations should be serious and dedicated to putting in the required time and effort. At the very minimum, two months should be devoted to studying for the exam(1);  however, more time for preparation. may be needed to successfully pass the exam. Unfortunately, the exams are quite expensive so a no-nonsense approach is necessary when studying and preparing for them.  There are specific windows for registering and taking the exam each year, so be sure to check the BPS website for more information.

Some argue that the outcome of board certification is not worth the extreme effort needed in order to successfully receive certification. Yet patients seem to greatly value BPS certified pharmacists with 95% of patients rating board certification important or very important(3). As patients demand a higher level of quality care, board certified pharmacists may become more and more necessary.

There are many other benefits that are part of successfully receiving a BPS certification. Most employers look for certified pharmacists during the hiring process since these certifications create greater employer confidence(1). The extra knowledge that candidates must learn in order to receive a BPS certification almost guarantees a higher level of patient care and a higher percentage of positive outcomes.

Certified candidates have more opportunities for growth since they are capable of taking on collaborative drug therapy management positions(1). They may have a higher level of competence and current updated knowledge than other candidates that have not received a BPS certification. This, in turn, allows for more opportunity for promotions through avenues such as prescriptive authority, monetary compensation, and management roles.

Other health care professionals highly regard certified pharmacists, which often leads to other professional opportunities. Overall, these candidates are highly recognized in the pharmacy profession and individuals that receive these certifications are often considered a step above other pharmacists.

1. American journal of health-system pharmacy: AJHP: official journal of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists react-text: 50 67(14):1146, 1150-1 /react-text react-text: 53  ·  /react-text react-text: 54 July 2010.

2. Board of Pharmacy Specialties (BPS). “Fall 2016 Candidate’s Guide”. https://www.bpsweb.org/wp-content/uploads/16072-BPS-Fall-2016-Candidates-Guide.pdf

3. Haines, Stuart T. “Does Board Certification Really Matter?” Pharmacotherapy 34.8 (2014): 799-801. Web.

Famous Pharmacists in History

Famous Pharmacists in History

If you’re considering a career in the field of pharmacy, you may be interested to know that the job does not always involve counting pills and printing labels for customers. As many people who have chosen this career path would confirm1, this important vocation offers countless opportunities to positively impact the lives of others. In fact, a pharmacist acts as a crucial link between patients and their health care providers. 

In addition to being an intensely gratifying line of work, the pharmacy profession has also produced a wealth of fascinating individuals. These famous pharmacists have accomplished some truly notable deeds. In some cases, their achievements were related to their original vocation of choice – while in other instances, they were not. The following are a few examples of famous pharmacists in history.

Hubert H. Humphrey

Hubert H. Humphrey’s accomplishments have been well-documented – and for good reason. The American Pharmacists Association even extends an award2 in the man’s name. This former pharmacist who went on to enjoy a highly successful career in politics – first, as a U.S Senator for the State of Minnesota, and then, as Vice President of the United States under Lyndon B. Johnson from 1965 to 1969. Humphrey followed his father into the pharmacy profession, and he worked as a pharmacist in the drugstore that his father owned in South Dakota. Some of the most notable accomplishments of his political career included chairing the advisory council for the Peace Corps, chairing the Civil Rights Council, organizing an antipoverty program, and working with Congress to enact Medicare and the Voting Rights Act3 .

Charles Alderton

After attending college in England, Brooklyn-born Charles Alderton obtained his training in medicine at the University of Texas. He then worked as a pharmacist in a drug store in Waco, Texas4. The drug store in which he worked also had a soda fountain, which was the place that Alderton observed customers growing bored with the traditional soda flavors of the time period (the late 1800s). That observation inspired the pharmacist to create a carbonated drink with a flavor that smelled similar to all of the various fruit syrups used in the store to make sodas. The result was a beverage that remains highly popular to this day – which is known as Dr Pepper (the original period after the “Dr.” in the drink’s name was eventually omitted)5.

Agatha Christie

When you consider her history as an apothecary’s assistant, it is no small wonder that Agatha Christie experienced great success as an author whose crime novels sometimes included poison as a means of murder. To say that Christie was successful is actually an understatement; after her work as a volunteer nurse during the First World War and then in the pharmacy field6, she became known as one of the top-selling authors in the world7.  

 

Benjamin Green

After he served as an airman in the Second World War, pharmacist Benjamin Green began experimenting with various substances in order to create an effective sunscreen. He initially applied a type of veterinary petroleum to his skin to protect himself from harmful UV rays during wartime. Later, he added other substances to develop what would ultimately become the basis for the suntan product manufactured by Coppertone8.

Luke Howard

Londoner Luke Howard was a pharmacist who became famous for his meteorological work in the 1800s. After establishing a pharmacy of his own in Fleet Street, he partnered with scientist William Allen to start a pharmaceutical firm. Howard later became known for creating some of the cloud names9 that are still in use to this day. Howard has since been referred to as the “Father of Meteorology”10.

A career in the pharmacy field may be one of the most personally gratifying career choices you could make. Helping consumers to get the medications they need is an invaluable service. If you follow the lead of some of the most famous pharmacists in history, you may even find yourself using your knowledge to benefit the world in ways that you never imagined.    

Henri Nestle

Most people are familiar with the chocolate brand, Nestle.  What they might not know is it began with Henri Nestle, a pharmacists’ assistant, before becoming the world recognized brand that people love and admire.

Footnotes:

1. Pharmacy Times, “Why I Love Being a Pharmacist: Honorable Mentions” <https://www.pharmacytimes.com/news/why-i-love-being-a-pharmacist-honorable-mentions> (accessed August 15, 2016)

2. American Pharmacists Association, “Hubert H. Humphrey Award” <https://www.pharmacist.com/hubert-h-humphrey-award> (accessed August 15, 2016)

3. Encyclopædia Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, “Hubert Humphrey, Vice president of United States” < https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hubert-Humphrey> (accessed August 15, 2016)

4. NNDB, “Charles Alderton”, <https://www.nndb.com/people/635/000207014/> (accessed August 15, 2016)

5. Dr Pepper Museum, “History of Dr Pepper” <https://www.drpeppermuseum.com/About-Us/History-Of-Dr–Pepper.aspx> (accessed August 15, 2016)

6. Science Friday, Kathryn Harkup, “Agatha Christie: From Pharmacist’s Apprentice to Poison Expert, An excerpt from “A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie.” <https://www.sciencefriday.com/articles/agatha-christie-from-pharmacists-apprentice-to-poison-expert/> (accessed August 15, 2016)

7. Bio, “Agatha Christie Biography”, <https://www.biography.com/people/agatha-christie-9247405> (accessed August 15, 2016)

8. The New York Times, “Sunscreen: A History” <https://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/24/fashion/24skinside.html?_r=0> (accessed August 15, 2016)

9. Royal Meteorological Society, “Luke Howard and Cloud Names” <https://www.rmets.org/weather-and-climate/observing/luke-howard-and-cloud-names> (accessed August 15, 2016)

10. Royal Meteorological Society, “The Invention of Clouds: Luke Howard, The Father of Meteorology”<https://www.rmets.org/events/invention-clouds-luke-howard-father-meteorology> (accessed August 15, 2016)