During my undergraduate time as a biology major, I was always surrounded by peers going into their pre-med or Ph.D. I was in the lab for most of my free time and realized that I did not want to do experiments and write papers for another five years. My friend from a pre-pharmacy club reached out to me. I attended their meeting and started to consider pursuing a career in pharmacy. It is a career that many parents like because it usually has a stable salary and generally has less interaction with the patients than nurses and doctors.
A common misconception for a lot of people is that pharmacists are the people in local pharmacies and count pills. Part of this is true, but working as a pharmacist is actually one of the health professions with the most diverse career paths. In the hospital, pharmacists are the drug experts and usually consulted by the doctors about the choice of medication with respect to the patient’s medical record and other drugs they are taking. They calculate dosages and look at drug-to-drug interaction to optimize the efficacy in therapy with the lowest economic burden possible. Moreover, pharmacists who go into residency programs, just like doctors, are specialized in one area of medication. This can be pediatrics, geriatric, oncology, organ transplant, etc. They team up with other health practitioners, doctors, nurses, and physical therapists to find the best treatment for the patients. Aside from the clinical setting, pharmacists are often needed in the pharmaceutical industry and insurance companies. They can work in research like discovering new drugs, carrying out clinical trials, finding the best medication to reduce patients’ cost, and train sales representatives in selling new drugs. Moreover, pharmacists can work in the FDA and CDC in regulation. Whether they choose a career path in industry, inpatient, or regulation, the training of Pharm. D. candidates are important. Thus, before applying to pharmacy school, it is important to find out which program students like.
When I was working in research labs, I liked the hands-on work but often felt that the desire for me to help others was missing. I enjoyed learning about chemistry and biology. However, I did not want to go to medical school because the training time will be very long and the financial burden will be heavy. Then, my friend introduced me to pharmacy. I found that I can study what I like and I will be able to have a connection with patients to help them in person. For many of my friends applying to pharmacy school, they have experience working in local pharmacies as pharmacy technicians during their undergraduate years. There are also volunteers working in hospital pharmacies. For me, I did not have any pharmacy experience, which is actually okay as long as the applicant knows why they want to apply for pharmacy.
Much like when applying to undergraduate programs, most graduate programs including pharmacy prefer a good academic record, some extracurricular activities, recommendation letters, and personal statements. For me, I prioritized my grades first and tried to maintain a GPA above 3.8 for all four years. Moreover, there is a list of required classes for each graduate program that students must complete before graduation. These required classes are usually similar between schools, but it is also important to notice the small differences like some schools allow AP credits for certain courses and some still require the students to complete the course in their undergraduate year. The required classes for pharmacy school usually include one year of General Chemistry with lab, one year of Organic Chemistry with lab, one year of General Biology with lab, Physiology, Biochemistry, Statistics, Microbiology with lab, College English Composition, and Public speaking.
One thing to note is that for students applying from undergraduate schools in America, the graduate program usually has an approved list of classes for each undergraduate school that satisfies their prerequisite classes. Students must first double-check with the individual school website to see if their classes were listed as the qualified prerequisite before attempting to apply with classes they have previously taken. When I found that I had a few classes that might fulfill the requirement but were not on the list, I contacted the schools that I would apply to right away with my syllabus and website of the course catalog.
For some programs like UW, a Bachelor’s Degree was not required for applicants. On my interview day, I actually met a student who finished all the prerequisite classes in community college after graduating from college. If you are interested in pharmacy and want to save some time and money, checking out these programs that do not require a bachelor degree can lead you into this program at an earlier age.
I worked in two different biology research labs and one food science lab for two and half years total. I joined the pre-pharmacy club in my school for one year, and participated in planning and holding a symposium for pre-pharmacy students in my region. The symposium was a good opportunity for me to talk to other pre-pharmacy students and recruiters from pharmacy programs. As I mentioned before, many of my fellow classmates who wanted to pursue pharmacy worked as pharmacy technicians in local pharmacies to get a taste of what kind of work pharmacists do. They also volunteered in social events that supported the local community.
Three recommendation letters from college professors were usually highly recommended for most top pharmacy school programs. It is important to have at least one professor from a technical class to show the applicants’ academic capability. I asked two P.I.s to write my other two letters. They both know me quite well, and we had a good relationship. You may also to ask employers from work to write a recommendation letter. For my friends who worked in a pharmacy, they asked the manager or the pharmacist there to write a letter for them to show that their performance shows professionality and qualification for this program. In one of my interviews, one of the professors actually mentioned what he learned about me in one of the recommendation letters. Thus, it is important to make sure that the recommender knows the student well or at least has good things to say about the student. Office Hours, talking to professors after class, or answering questions in class can help the student leave a lasting impression on their professors.
Similar to a Common Application, most pharmacy schools use PharmCas as a portal for their application process. It usually opens in early July, and there is a personal statement that is required for most schools. Pharmacy programs that the student intends to apply can be added directly on PharmCas. For schools that require supplemental essays and other documents, they have a separate tab on PharmCas for students to submit there. Moreover, before the application cycle begins, PharmCas is also a good source to check different requirements for schools with the links on its website. It will display the number of years for each program and the type of admission, like rolling and early decision. For academic records, PharmCas will have the student enter the courses they took that fulfills the requirement of each school. As I mentioned before, make sure to check if the courses you enter are listed in the approved courses. If not, you should email the program to have it approve or ask for alternative ways to satisfy this requirement as soon as possible.
Before writing the personal statement, I usually read the prompt multiple times to make sure I answer all parts of the question. Your personal statement is the only way to show the recruiters who you are and how you fit into this career and their program. I worked on my personal statement for two months and had a few of my friends read it. Moreover, I asked the admitted pharmacist student I knew for feedback. For most schools, there is a career center that provides free service to students who want to work on their resume, personal statement, and mock interview. The staff there helped me with my personal statement and supplemental essay. They are professionals who know the application process well.
After the applications were submitted online, the schools reached out after at least a month or so to invite the applicants to interview with them. I received invitation emails from all five schools I applied to. The interviews required business attire and had different formats between schools. Their information for interviews can be found on their admission website and in the interview emails. I experienced a few types of them. There was the traditional interview, in which the faculty asked me a list of questions and jogged notes right in front of me. One interview was a scenario that had a prompt to read before entering the interview, and, in the interview room, there was an acting school student there performing the prompt. I responded to her and was observed by one faculty member and one student in the interview room. They wanted to see how I reacted to different circumstances and if I can act professionally. Another type of interview is called multiple mini interviews, MMIs. The students go to different interview rooms and answer the question within a short amount of time and rotate to another room to answer a different question. For some schools, they would ask students to compose a timed essay to check on students’ ability to write and think critically. The prompt I had was not hard, but writing with a pen felt a little unfamiliar after writing everything on the computer after high school. In order to prepare for these interviews, I scheduled appointments with the career center in my school. I did mock interviews there and received helpful feedback.
Pharmacy is a great career path for those who want to help patients, develop new drugs, or make changes in the health policy. Some pharmacy programs are accelerated, which finish in 3 years. The benefit to those is that the students can work earlier and start making a living. However, the four-year program will have more opportunities for summer internships to help the students find what they like in the pharmacy field. In my point of view, if students like biology or chemistry but do not want to study Ph.D. or M.D., Pharm. D. is a good option that gives you a stable job in the future and has many paths you can explore.