With another semester starting in a few days, I wanted to write out a few of my thoughts on pharmacy school. For those who aren't in pharmacy school and for those who are. Disclaimer: I'm not a blogger. I've never really written anything and I haven't taken a writing class in two years. That being said, I'm reflecting on my first year and a half of pharmacy school. Everyone has a different pharmacy school experience, and may have different perceptions and opinions, and this is okay, actually good, but here's what I've learned.
1) Pharmacy school is not a walk in the park.
Really. I havehorror stories of late nights and IVs of coffee. But for those who don't know much about what is involved when enrolled in pharmacy school, I'll start here. Now don't get me wrong, every program is hard and has their own struggles. I'm not saying that pharmacy school is the hardest degree to get out there.
But: We take 7, 8, or even 9 classes a semester. Most students come home from school exhausted, and then have to go straight to studying or to work. Our curriculum is fast paced, so even when we have a 40 minute break in between classes, we don't have time to just sit there on Facebook. This past semester we usually had at least 2 exams a week. There was no "I just have to make it through this week and then I can relax more next week."
Nope, every week was rough for me. I was so busy trying to study that I found it hard to rationalize taking half an hour to go exercise even when it would've been more beneficial for me to burn off my stress. On top of this, most students have leadership roles in professional organizations that demand their time after school. We also take part in volunteer activities such as DEA Drug Take Back and speaking at local schools.
2) Despite all of that, I truly enjoy pharmacy school.
The majority of my courses are a part of the therapeutics curriculum. This is the bulk of what we learn about medications - from what receptor in the body they act on to possible side effects and how to manage them. For example, this past semester I took Endocrine & Women's Health therapeutics and Cardiovascular & Renal therapeutics. I learned about diabetic medications that I never even knew existed. The thyroid gland, although a small part of our body attached to our trachea, affects the body in a large way. Levothyroxine is a medication that's commonly dispensed to patients who have hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism can cause a wide variety of symptoms from hair loss to cold intolerance to fatigue. I love learning about all of that. Knowing why I'm actually dispensing a certain medication to a patient is exciting. It shows me that I'm learning and becoming a competent pharmacist. When you learn so much in a short amount of time, you might think you don't retain a lot of it. You do though. I promise. It's all there.
3) We are NOT big pharma.
We are just as angry as you about the Epi-Pen shortages, that the shortage results in raising them to incredulous prices. We're just as concerned about the reports of NDMA (a human carcinogen) found in certain anti-hypertensive medications that millions of Americans are on, leaving them to believe their medications aren't safe to take. So then they simply don't take them, raising their blood pressure once again to levels that are dangerous and unhealthy.
Believe it or not, most of us don't go into the field of pharmacy for the money. (There are a few terrible pharmacists that we might see on the news, but this isn't every pharmacist in the world.) As one of my professors likes to say, during all of our interviews, we all said that we wanted to go into pharmacy to help people. This might sound like the most generic answer on the planet, but it's honestly the truth...at least for me. I know that many pharmacies will spend a lot of time on the phone talking to insurance companies to reduce prices or talking to doctors to get prior authorizations or a therapeutically equivalent drug that's much cheaper for our patients.
Unfortunately, besides when people pay in cash, we don't make the prices. Pharmacists get a bad rap sometimes and we're honestly just here to help you remain healthy and manage any comorbidities you might have.
4) Your biggest strength is being able to lean on your friends.
Of course in reality, we all individually have our own strengths. Although, I've found that in pharmacy school, it's impossible to get through without reaching out to your friends when you need to. I'm extremely lucky to have the friends that I do. I've maintained friendships with those whom I went to high school and college with. All of these friends have either graduated or have gone on to some incredible graduate schools. My friends who have jobs are so gracious and I can't be more grateful than I already am for them. They send me care packages filled with food, relaxing face masks, and encouraging notes. They're always a phone call away and are there for me at the drop of a hat. They help me keep my sanity and encourage me to keep going.
Then there's the friends I've made in pharmacy school. We remind each other of assignments due, share chocolate at the library during late nights, and usually when I'm free to do something outside of school, they're free too. My pharmacy friends know exactly what I'm going through since they're going through the same program. My roommate and I have a great relationship and we frequently try to cheer each other up. And we are good at waking each other up for those 8 a.m. classes.
5) Really nice pens make a great care package gift.
Personally, I like to take notes on my laptop and then print out the slides after class and rewrite my notes on them to study from. I know students who write out their own study guides or take notes in class using pens. For me, using different colored fine-tip pens make studying a little better. I know those who NEED to use a certain pen because that's the only one that they'll ever write with. Breaking open a new pack of pens (yes I know it might be sad to those who don't understand) is one of the great joys that I, along with maybe some other pharmacy students, experience. If you're thinking about sending a care package to a pharmacy student, ask them if they're like me and have a favorite type of pen to write with. Other great ideas include: coffee (any form: Starbucks gift card, coffee grounds, k-cups), chocolate (or for those weirdos that don't like chocolate, a different sweet treat), tissues (for those long nights where stress crying ensues), coffee, post-it notes, Cheez-Its/goldfish, highlighters, and oh wait, did I mention coffee?
6) Anxiety and depression in pharmacy school is not abnormal.
This is the most serious topic I'll talk about. It's not just pharmacy students; it's medical students, nursing students, and in general, students over-all. We're told to get perfect grades, have a job, get involved in the community, join professional organizations, volunteer, and still find time to connect with people through having a social life. Oh, and throw sleep in the mix too. Don't get me wrong, these are all very important in becoming a well-rounded person, BUT, I don't think that students should feel ashamed when they need to quit their job so that they can keep their grades up. A lot of pressure is put on students. All students. Personally, I've struggled with anxiety for most of my life and school really makes this go up and down.
I want to be open and honest because this is a serious problem in today's society. Even though I didn't think I needed it, I tried to start counseling. When I had finally opened up to the idea, I reached out to my school's counseling services. They didn't have anyone - no one was able to see me. They said I wouldn't be able to see anyone until next semester. 4 months. So, why would I want to go somewhere that turned me away? This is still an ongoing problem where resources aren't being devoted to these services and schools aren't equipped to help so many students. Anxiety and depression is becoming more common.
So please, please, please don't be afraid to reach out to someone if you're struggling. Whether it just be talking to a friend or parent, or counseling or medication is needed, do what's necessary to help yourself. There's still such a stigma around mental illness, and people who reach out for help should not to be looked at as any different. As pharmacy students, we know all about the medications that are used to help with depression and anxiety, but that does not mean we don't struggle with this ourselves.
7) If you can, while in pharmacy school, get a job working in the field of pharmacy.
This is something that's strongly encouraged and we hear about it all the time during pharmacy school. Maybe some of us roll our eyes at this because how are we supposed to work on top of all the studying and extracurriculars we participate in. Yet, I've found this to be good advice. I got my job working at Danwins Pharmacy while in my first year of pharmacy school. Since I've been there, I've learned so much. My boss pushes me to do everything I'm legally allowed to do as an intern. Even as I head back to school after winter break; for example, my boss is having me write up procedures for our blister-packing system that can be followed by future interns while I'm away. I'm able to counsel patients on the drugs that I'm learning in pharmacy school, further putting into practice what I learn. For those who know their limitations, and can't handle both school and work, that's perfectly okay too.
I have many more thoughts I could spew out on the page, but I don't want to ramble. I know this list is kind of all over the place, but I just wanted to write about a few topics that might shed some light on what I'm doing in pharmacy school right now and maybe some advice to students thinking about pharmacy school.