An Interview with Dan Zlott, Pharm D. Candidate, Class of 2007 University of California, San Francisco

by Cathy Sivak
An Interview with Dan Zlott, Pharm D. Candidate, Class of 2007 University of California, San Francisco

A passion for science, math and healthcare lead to the pharmacy profession, student leadership and plans to fight cancer

July 25, 2005

The valedictorian of his high school class, Dan Zlott earned letters for academic competition as well as traditional athletic letters for tennis and basketball. His interest in science and math led him to follow in his father's footsteps to become a pharmacist.

Dan completed his pre-pharmacy coursework at University of the Pacific. He made the UOP Dean's Honor Roll and was a member of the Honors Program, was a student advisor and resident assistant and became active in the American Pharmacists Association Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP). In addition to his school activities, as a 2nd year student, he served as an assistant teaching assistant for microbiology and worked as a pharmacy clerk at a privately-owned community pharmacy. While at UOP, he also explored his interest in computers, serving as a technician for a private business and as a student technology assistant in the UOP Office of Information Service and Resources.

A transfer to the Pharm. D program at the University of California-San Francisco has led to Dan's further activity with APhA-ASP at the school chapter and national level. He currently is the president-elect for the national APhA-ASP. Dan is also involved with other pharmacy organizations, including the American Society of Health Systems Pharmacists (ASHP) and Kappa Psi (a pharmaceutical fraternity). In addition he has continued hands-on training as a pharmacy intern and consultant. Dan also serves as a member of the admissions committee as well as being part of the schools' Student Leadership Group and the Committee on Educational Improvement. He is the recipient of the UCSF Student Leadership Award.

Dan's professional goals include getting involved in cancer research. "I hope to play a part in developing new, more effective, treatments to cancer with fewer side effects," he tells PharmacySchools.com.

Education Information & Advice

Tell us about your Pharm. D education and your educational background leading up to the Pharm. D program.

I knew I was interested in pharmacy right out of high school. I looked at various undergrad programs and decided on the University of the Pacific, since it had both a pharmacy school and an undergrad program designed to prepare students for pharmacy school. My major was pre-pharmacy. I attended UOP from 2001-2003. I didn't finish my degree at UOP, although I acquired enough units to graduate with a degree in chemistry/biology.

I then entered pharmacy school at the University of California, San Francisco. I will graduate with my Doctor of Pharmacy degree in 2007. I am currently very involved with the American Pharmacists Association Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP). I have the great privilege of serving as the national president-elect. I have also been involved with many other pharmacy organizations, including the American Society of Health Systems Pharmacists (ASHP) and Kappa Psi (a pharmaceutical fraternity). At UCSF, I am also an orientation counselor, as well as a peer advisor, so that I can help new student pharmacists as they are adjusting to life in pharmacy school.

How did you decide to study pharmacy? And how did you find a school?

I have always been interested in math and science. I also like the idea of being able to do research. Pharmacy seemed to be the perfect profession - lots of math and science, and also many opportunities to do research. Pharmacy was also attractive to me because it is a health profession. The idea of being able to help people while pursuing my interest in math, science and research was very attractive. I learned about the profession of pharmacy from my father, who is also a pharmacist.

What factors should prospective students consider when choosing a school? Are there any different considerations for those who know that they want to specialize in the field of pharmacy?

Students that are interested in pharmacy school should have a strong interest in science, since that is a major component of pharmacy school. Math and science aptitude alone are not predictors of success in pharmacy school, however. Many people apply to pharmacy school after completing a degree that is not science related. It is important to have a desire to help people, either by interacting with them directly or through more behind the scenes work such as research or in administration.

One nice thing about pharmacy is that there are so many different career options to pursue. For the most part, no matter what you are interested in doing once you graduate, there is something that you will enjoy within the profession of pharmacy.

How has your previous education contributed to your success in the Pharm. D. program?

My experiences in high school gave me a strong educational background for my pre-pharmacy coursework. I would highly recommend all students interested in pharmacy school to take as many AP/IB classes and exams as possible, especially those classes related to chemistry, biology, and physics. Because of my strong high school background, I was able to take full advantage of my pre-pharmacy classes, which in turn, prepared me for the more rigorous coursework in pharmacy school.

You are active in several pharmacy-related organizations as a student. Tell us about your experiences with these groups.

Throughout my pre-pharmacy and pharmacy programs, I have been very active in APhA-ASP. I can't say enough about this organization. APhA-ASP has given me many of the experiences outside of the classroom which have assisted my development as a professional. APhA-ASP offers everything from career development information (to help you decide what area of pharmacy might suit your personal goals), to leadership opportunities. I am blessed with the privilege of serving as the national president-elect of APhA-ASP. If you are considering pharmacy school, I highly, highly recommend that you look into joining APhA-ASP. The experiences you gain will help prepare you for pharmacy school, and will give you an advantage over other students applying to pharmacy school.

What can Pharm. D students expect as part of student membership experiences?

One of the things that I always tell my fellow student pharmacists is that you get out of it what you put into it. I believe this is true of not only APhA-ASP, but any pharmacy organization. You can get just about anything you want out of your membership in an organization, depending on how much you want out of it. You can do as little or as much as you'd like. I've yet to talk to someone who regrets getting involved with a pharmacy organization, but I've talked to many people who wish they would have taken the opportunity to be more involved while they were preparing for pharmacy school, or were in pharmacy school.

How can prospective Pharm. D students assess their skill and aptitude?

There are several good measures of aptitude - the first being the prospective student. Most students know their own academic strengths and weaknesses. There are also the standardized tests (i.e, the SAT II, GMAT, PCAT, etc.), which will give students a better understanding of their abilities compared to their peers.

What can students applying to Pharm. D programs do to increase their chances of being accepted?

One of the best things a prospective student can do is to educate themselves about the profession of pharmacy. Admissions committees like to see that a student has done some background research on the profession that they are interested in joining; plus, the information that you gather might come in handy during an interview. Another thing that admissions committees often look for is community service, and if it's related to pharmacy, even better. Finally, when you go to your admissions interview, committees are looking for people who are comfortable speaking to others, and who are genuine. If you are not comfortable speaking in front of others, it's a good idea to look into a public speaking course.

In retrospect, what do you know now that you wish you knew before pursued your Pharm. D education?

I wish I would have known how much fun pharmacy school is. Pharmacy school is a lot of work, but it's also very enjoyable. I expected to my classmates to be the stereotypical group of nerdy students who had panic attacks when they were separated from their textbooks. I was shocked to discover how much fun student pharmacists are. My class regularly gets together for BBQs or a birthday party, or even a quick softball game in the park. I would say that my time in pharmacy school has been the best part of my educational experience, both academically, and personally.

You & Your Career

Tell us about your pharmacy career choice. When did your interest in the field of pharmacy start?

My interest in pharmacy began in high school. My father is a pharmacist, so I have been exposed to pharmacy school all my life. Once I started thinking about what I was wanted to do after high school, and where I was interested in going to college, the decision was simple. I sat down, thought about the thing that I enjoyed, my academic strengths and weaknesses, and my career goals. Once I added everything up, pharmacy school was clearly the best option for me.

What steps have you taken as a student to launch your career?

Since the profession of pharmacy has so many amazing career opportunities, the first thing that I did was look at all the different fields that are available to Pharm. Ds. From there, I found several areas that I am interested in, and I have been pursuing opportunities to gain more experience in those areas.

Another very important thing that I feel is essential to launching a career in pharmacy is getting involved in the profession. Professional organizations are a great place to network and meet people, make new friends, and of course, connect with employers. In addition to the networking opportunities, I think that most student pharmacists would agree that the leadership and professional skills that they learned through professional involvement are very useful to them in their career.

How available are internships and other hands-on training experiences? Any tips for landing?

Internship availability depends on your location. Some areas simply have more access to student pharmacists, which means that it could be harder to find an internship in those areas. In general, though, it isn't that hard to find an internship. All it takes is a little bit of time, a pen, and some paperwork. As far as landing an internship goes, I think it is important to demonstrate interest in the profession. Employers like to see that student pharmacists are active within their profession. I can't emphasize enough the importance of getting involved, not just for landing an internship, but also for your professional development.

Hands-on training is another topic all together. Most U.S. schools of pharmacy participate in several patient care projects. These projects are a great way to get hands-on experience with patients. Many schools routinely hold health fairs at which they offer health screenings. These screening are done by student pharmacists, which offers another great opportunity to obtain hands-on experience.

What do you enjoy most about your hands-on experience so far?

For me, the best part of the hands-on experience is the ability to take the things that we learn in the classroom and put them into practice. The best part of my day is when I have the opportunity to speak with patients and educate them about their medications. I know that by simply instructing patients on correct use their medications, I am helping to improve their lives.

Who are the biggest inspirations for your career?

There have been several people who have been inspirational to me in my career, the first being my father. Whether he meant to or not, he exposed me to the profession of pharmacy. I saw the great opportunities that pharmacists have to make an impact on patients' lives. Another inspiration to me has been Dr. Alex Varky. Alex is my role model; he was the APhA-ASP national president when I was a second year student at UCSF. He encouraged me to run for national office within APhA-ASP, and my career will never be the same. Finally, my Dean, Dr. Mary Anne Koda-Kimble, has inspired me in my career. She is a truly great pharmacist, and has accomplished many, many things. I hope I can contribute half as much to the profession as she has.

What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?

I hope to participate in research/clinical trials with cancer medications. Our current understanding of cancer and what causes it is so small. Cancer is a disease that can destroy people's lives, and sometimes our treatments for cancer can cause just as many health problems as the cancer itself. I hope to play a part in developing new, more effective, treatments to cancer with fewer side effects. I also hope to teach in the future. I believe it is important to give back to my profession, since it has given so much. I can think of no better way to do that then to help impart knowledge and wisdom to those who will carry the profession of pharmacy into the future.

Do you feel that is important for someone to be passionate about the field of pharmacy in order to be successful?

I don't think it's essential, but I can't imagine that a career in pharmacy would be very enjoyable if you weren't passionate about the profession. In order to be successful in a career, you have to consistently maintain a high level of performance. I think it's hard to offer your best when you are apathetic about what you are doing. I would also hazard a guess that those people who have truly demonstrated innovation and ingenuity in pharmacy and those who have helped to push the profession forward have been extremely passionate about pharmacy.

Based on your experience as a student and as an active member of APhA, what are some of the trends that you see in the field of pharmacy which could help students plan for the future?

Pharmacy is moving away from product delivery. This means that in the future, pharmacists will do very little actual handling/preparing of medications, the traditional view of pharmacists taking pills from a big bottle and placing them in a smaller bottle. In the near future, pharmacy will be about interacting with patients on a one-on-one basis to help them better manage medication use. Some innovative pharmacists are already offering these services, called Medication Therapy Management Services (MTMS), and I expect MTMS to become integral to the practice of pharmacy.

What other advice can you give to prospective students thinking about an education and career in the field of pharmacy?

One of the best things you can do if you are considering a career in pharmacy is to find pharmacists and talk to them. Talk to a pharmacist at a community pharmacy such as Walgreens, Rite-Aid, CVS, etc. Talk to a pharmacist who works in a hospital. Talk to a pharmacist who teaches at a pharmacy school near you. Talk to a student pharmacist. Talk to as many pharmacists in different areas of pharmacy practice as you can. This will give you a better understanding of the profession of pharmacy, and you will be better equipped to make a decision about whether or not pharmacy is a good career for you.

Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself, your career goals, or the profession that would be interesting or helpful to others aspiring to enter and succeed in the field of pharmacy?

I have been around pharmacy all of my life. The last four years, I have been a student pharmacist. I have yet to have a moment of regret over my decision to join the profession. Pharmacy truly is a great profession, with the freedom to pursue almost anything you can think of. Your career opportunities within the profession are almost limitless, and you are only bound by how far you want to take your career.

Editor's Note: If you have more questions for Dan Zlott, click here to e-mail him.

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