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Words of Wisdom for Students Preparing to Apply for Residencies: Perspective from Recent Graduates

Monday, August 20, 2018  
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Andrew Bever, PharmD1; Terrence Caldwell, PharmD1; Victoria Gray, PharmD1; Hayat Hassen, PharmD1; Abby Meyer, PharmD1
PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, UPMC Mercy Hospital; Pittsburgh, PA

I would dare to say that each resident’s experience is very unique. We hope that the commentary below helps to inform your thought process as you begin a stressful, yet rewarding time

Resident One: Early Stages of Planning
My best advice is related to the early planning stages. Push yourself to think critically about the type of personal and professional life you wish to pursue. What does your life look like in 5 or 10 years? Where are you in the country? What type of work will inspire you moving forward? What experiences can help you continue to grow? These are some of the most difficult questions that we grapple with as individuals. Nonetheless, you have to begin having these conversations. Try journaling over a period of time or picking a close friend or family member to field these questions. I fully understand that this might sound silly. However, an understanding of yourself allows you to (a) evaluate whether or not a residency program is right for you (does it help you reach your future goals?) and (b) determine what type of program you hope to pursue (i.e. urban versus rural, close to home or right next door, large versus small program, etc.). 

Once you have reflected on these questions and have a working understanding of what your future looks like, use it to your advantage. There are hundreds of programs in the residency directory. Do not look at every program. Find programs that fit your interests and start to make a list. Reflect on your choices over time and prioritize what aspects from above are most important to you. Revise the list. Ask questions. I can’t stress this enough: no one knows you better than yourself – trust that.

Resident Two: Mentors in Pharmacy 
 The best piece of advice I can offer regarding residency preparation is to seek out a professional mentor to assist with your post-graduation career plans. I found this to be the most beneficial step in preparation of securing a pharmacy residency. A mentor should be someone you feel comfortable confiding in and whose opinion you trust. My mentor was there to support me throughout the entire residency preparation process – from choosing which programs would best fit my career goals to post-interview reflection. It is never too late to ask for guidance – residency is a big commitment! It is important to keep in mind that while a mentor may provide insight on various steps of the process, after the match, you will be the resident. That being said, be sure you are confident in your decisions and are staying true to yourself.

Your mentor could be:

  • A pharmacist practicing in your area of interest
  • Your favorite professor
  • A family member or friend who is knowledgeable about the residency process
  • Your preceptor or boss

 Assistance a mentor can offer:

  • Recommendations- what to look for in a program
  • Proofread and review your CV and letter of intent
  • Write you a letter of recommendation
  • Mock interviews
  • Connections to programs









Resident Three: Attending Midyear
During my rotations, I talked to many preceptors and residents about the benefit of attending the ASHP Midyear Clinical Meeting (or “Midyear” for short). The most important advice I received and want to pass along is that attending Midyear could be very beneficial if you are well prepared. It is very important to prepare for the conference beforehand if you want to get the most out of it. I gathered a lot of information and learned about the programs before attending because I wanted to make sure I address any question that cannot be answered via the program’s website. Also, preparing beforehand helped me lessen any issues that may arise during the showcase because I knew exactly which program to go to and what questions to ask. 

Items to bring along: 

  • Up-to-date CV 
  • List of programs
    • Create and review organized notes to determine which program you will want to devote your time to during the showcase
    • Write out a list of questions that is specific to each program
  • Schedule of all events and showcase (map) - this can be accessed via ASHP app
  • Business cards - make it simple and professional! My personal advice is to not include a picture

Resident Four: Not Attending Midyear and Interviews
During the residency process, it is important to understand what Midyear is and what Midyear is not. Once a student understands that, it will reduce a lot of anxiety, worry and unnecessary work during an already stressful P4 year. As a resident who did not attend Midyear, I found myself with much more time to prepare my applications, gather letters of recommendations, and write my letters of intent way in advance by going to smaller, local residency showcases since I was only looking locally. When I was a P4 student, a panel of residents explained that Midyear is not so that you make an impression. It isn’t the time to impress the RPD or residents, but instead to see if you are really interested in a program that is not in your local area. It is to see if you fit! What I mean by fit is mostly a personality fit: do you like them and do they like you. You will be working with them for a year or two, so it is a commitment for both you and them. When looking at it from that perspective, students can be themselves, because the program that they will match with will be totally that- a match! 

For me personally during the interview process, I was looking for a place where I could not only learn, but actually become friends with the people I worked with. I was looking for a place where the preceptors enjoyed teaching and being at work. The interview process is not only for the interviewer, but also for you- the interviewee. This mindset brings the pressure off of you to try to over-perform but instead to be natural. Think of it as residency program speed dating! You would want to be in a program where you can be yourself (professionally, of course) and develop as a pharmacist. This relieves most of the pressure and it allows you to focus on the questions being asked, without the anxiety of being perfect.

Resident Five: Your Rank List and Match Day
Going into residency interviews, I had learned as much as I could about the programs by talking to current residents at the programs, looking over their websites, and reading brochures I had received during midyear. My goals for interview days were to (1) fill in any remaining blanks I had about the logistics of the program and their offered rotations and (2) figure out if I was a good fit personality wise with the program directors and preceptors. What comes after the interviews is for some the hardest part of the entire process: creating your rank list. Some people decide purely based on a pro-con list containing factual information about each program and others choose to take a more gut-feeling based approach. I found myself in the later category and ended up ranking based on the feelings I had after leaving each interview. Creating your rank list is about trusting yourself and asking hard questions about if you think you could be happy and grow as a pharmacist in a program. If the answer to either is no, you should consider seriously if you should rank that program because once you put a program on your rank list and hit submit, there is always a chance you could match there, whether they’re your number 4 or 40. Ending the entire process with Match Day is both terrifying and exhilarating. Everyone chooses to process a match or no match in a different way but I think it’s important to remember that, either way, Match Day goes for you, you will have a wonderful career as a pharmacist. 

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