July 13, 2005
Jill Bates is completing the third professional year of her pharmacy degree studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and has started her clerkship rotations with a position at the Food and Drug Administration in Washington, D.C. She is on track to receive the Pharm.D in 2006.
A high school teacher before embarking on her pharmacy education, Jill already holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Eastern Illinois University, where she majored in Zoology with an emphasis in Biology, as well as a master's degree with a concentration in Biochemistry and Biophysics from Northern Illinois University.
Before applying to pharmacy school, Jill tested the waters. She landed a job as a pharmacy technician, and used the pharmacy technician certification coursework as a primer. As a pharmacy student, Bates serves as the current student chapter president of the Illinois Council of Health-System Pharmacists and is involved on a national level with the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHSP). As a result of her activities with the state and national organizations, she was a recipient of ASHSP's $2,500 Student Leadership Award for the 2004-2005 academic year.
Tell us about your Pharm.D education.
My Pharm.D. education has molded my character in the sense that it has helped to develop professional skills, something which I believe is crucial. For example, my public speaking has improved, the way that I handle stress has dramatically improved and my time management has been refined.
How did you decide to study the field of pharmacy
I have always geared my professional goals toward a service-oriented profession. For my professional situation, pharmacy is a career change from my previous experience teaching high school students. For as long as I can remember, I have either aimed to teach or be involved with healthcare.
After teaching high-school students, I realized I wanted to advance my scientific knowledge while maintaining a service-oriented career. I attended a career fair, which offered an overview of career opportunities in healthcare, and a two-hour discussion which outlined the pharmacy profession. I began to seriously consider pharmacy as my future career, as it seemed to encompass everything that I was looking for in a career.
Before I attended the pharmacy lecture, I was under the impression that a pharmacist's daily job responsibilities consisted solely of "lick, stick and pour." But then I learned that pharmacy was moving in a direction that was much more patient-centered than previously, a major factor influencing my selection of the profession of pharmacy as a career. Furthermore, I discovered that pharmacists were maintaining a more clinical role than previously within the profession. Upon realizing these facts, I was 95% certain that pharmacy was the right profession for me. It encompassed everything that I wanted in a career, service-oriented, scientifically-based, and to be successful it requires life-long learning.
But to be certain, I applied for a pharmacy technician job. Prior to beginning work, I studied for and passed the pharmacy technician certification exam. I enjoyed the material and found that I was very comfortable with it. I began working as a technician and enjoyed it; I found patient interaction extremely rewarding. This positive experience was the final influence that solidified my decision to pursue a career in pharmacy.
How can prospective Pharm.D students assess their skill and aptitude
The answer is considerably different in modern pharmacy practice than it was in pre-pharmaceutical care times. Today, the skill sets necessary to be an effective clinician are focused more on humanitarian skills: excellent interpersonal communication; effective listening and comprehension skills; time management; and a service-dedicated attitude. In addition, it is important that one can accurately interpret scientific data, effectively comprehend medical literature and writing, and attain higher level cognitive skills. These skills differ from previous societal perspectives on the profession, as they are not mechanically-focused skills.
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
There are a multitude of things that a prospective pharmacy student should take into consideration for their situation. For most students, geographical considerations may automatically shorten their prospective college list. In addition to general needs, one must consider the schools themselves. I would inquire as to how established the pharmacy program is, not as a deterrent, but simply because a newer program would have different characteristics and vice versa. I think the curriculum is extremely important to look at. Does it have an obvious emphasis? If so, are you interested in the area of pharmacy the curriculum emphasizes? Finally, I would visit the schools and talk to current students. This will give you a more thorough understanding of the college and should prove helpful in making a definitive decision.
Coursework will vary from school to school. The best way to obtain information with regard to this is to talk to as many current students as possible. In addition, faculty can be very helpful in obtaining coursework information. Internships are also a variable in school selection; however, there are many internship opportunities available to students nationwide. Information regarding these opportunities can be obtained through professional pharmacy organizations and through the companies/ organizations offering the positions.
I would probably not generalize and say that there is a particular type of person that is best suited for pharmacy school. However, I will mention that successful completion of pharmacy school requires dedication, perseverance, motivation and hard-work. As such, if a person is applying to pharmacy school because they believe that a pharmacist makes a decent salary, than I would caution this person against applying for solely that reason. Pharmacy school is too large of a commitment to be justified solely by that train of thought.
Based on your experience as a student and as an active member in the state and national chapters of American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, what do you think are the most respected and prestigious schools, departments or programs
Truly, this is difficult to generalize as it depends upon the applicants' interests. Certainly, a valuable resource would be the U.S. News and World Reports school ranking; however, one must evaluate the selection criteria to ensure that it represents their interests. I will mention that when pursuing higher education, a very critical aspect can be the personalities of the current students and faculty vs. using the school's statistics and reputation as a sole determinant. Future students should visit prospective schools and talk to people there, and then assess with."Do I feel comfortable here?"
What can students applying to Pharm.D programs do to increase their chances of being accepted
Aside from good grades, a competitive PCAT score, and quality letters of recommendation, students can increase their extracurricular activities to attain skills that will be valuable to them as a pharmacist I mentioned before. For example, there are many advocacy groups and non-profit organizations that desperately need volunteer help. These opportunities could prove to be very valuable to prospective pharmacy students. In addition, many hospitals appreciate volunteer help.
Finally, students can apply to work as a pharmacy technician. This "real world" experience is probably the most valuable as you are working within the profession of pharmacy.
You are a student leader in national and regional organizations. How important is this to you, personally, and to your career
For me, becoming involved in a professional pharmacy organization has been very important on many levels. I think that these organizations elaborate on points emphasized in the curriculum and help you as a student to 'put things into perspective' regarding the profession of pharmacy. In addition, they provide a venue in which you can form and develop professional relationships. Taking on leadership positions within student organizations are also an excellent way in which a student can refine their professional and personal development and skills. In terms of which ones, this is a very personal decision. The student must reflect upon their interests and their situation.
I believe it is better to dedicate oneself to a few organizations and become extensively involved, as opposed to joining everything and spreading themselves thin. For me, I have been heavily involved on the state level with the Illinois Council of Health-System Pharmacists (I am the current student chapter president) and also on a national level with the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. These organizations offer lectures, professional meetings, retreats, and much more.
What do you enjoy most about your hands-on experience so far
So far it seems like the clerkship rotations; however, I have only been doing this for three weeks so it is difficult to say for sure at this point!
Who are your biggest inspirations for your career
I believe a student's biggest inspiration will be their mentor. A mentor is both a role-model as well as a friend. However, a mentor is more than someone that you simply look up to, like, or respect. Further, there is much more depth to mentorship than a contractual agreement could provide. I believe there are two essential components of mentorship: wisdom and trust.
Throughout my time at the UIC COP I have had the opportunity to work with amazing pharmacists and people. There have been many occasions in which I have gone to them for advice, assistance, or information and without question, these things have been provided to me. Forming relationships of the mentorship caliber is accomplished by reaching out to people, having philosophical discussions with them, offering your service and having a genuine respect for one another. A mentor is someone that you choose and it does not have to be done so formally. I challenge you to look around at all of the highly respected professors, pharmacists or friends that you currently have contact with on a daily basis and ask yourself if your mentor is among them.
How has your previous education contributed to your success
My Master of Science has provided the most contributions to my personal and professional development. This is primarily because of the people that I worked with and mostly, my thesis advisor. My thesis advisor believed in my ability and served to shape my professional and personal growth. Through observation of his astuteness, kind personality, and diligent work ethic, I learned. I will always admire him and be thankful to him for all that he has taught me.
What words of encouragement can you offer to students seeking pharmacy educations/careers
The most exciting aspect of pharmacy to me is that the current central focus of the profession is patient care (versus a product). I am excited that I will be in a role that will help many people obtain the most therapeutic benefit from their medications. Education is also a big part of pharmacy that is exciting, teaching people about the role of their medications and how to get the most beneficial effect. There are roughly 89 different options available to Doctor of Pharmacy graduates. I find it exciting that graduates have so many options!
Do you feel that is important for someone to be passionate about the field of pharmacy in order to be successful
Absolutely, this is essential. Without belaboring the point too much, since pharmacy is a service-oriented profession being passion-driven is essential to success. I believe that if you like what you do, and especially if you are passionate, you will be successful and lucrative.
Editor's Note: For information on pharmacy trends, Jill suggests prospective pharmacy students visit www.kff.org, and to be certain to review the section on Medication Therapy Management Services and the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003. She notes information on other hot issues in the field is available from the ASHP and the FDA.