The APhA Annual Meeting and Exposition is …

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“Sometimes you get to sing parodies of Disney songs with your friends.”

Six years later and I still cannot explain it. I always tell people, “Trust me. You just have to go.” Read on, though, as I endeavor to elucidate the APhA Annual Meeting and Exposition experience from the perspective of a new student pharmacist, an APhA–ASP national officer candidate, an APhA–ASP national officer, and a new practitioner. I will share what brought me there and what brings me “home” every year. 

The first meeting: You just have to go

People may try to explain to you what the APhA Annual Meeting is like, and they will inevitably come up short. If you are lucky, in your first year of pharmacy school, you will be strongly advised (coerced?) to attend. I encourage you to take that path; you never know where it may lead. 
Walking into my first meeting rendered me awestruck. I was surrounded by thousands of people brought together by a common profession, and everyone was someone like me or someone I could become. What I could not have realized then was that this moment was going to change the entire course of my life. The same could very well be true for you. 

Walking through the convention center for the first time, you notice that it is APhA Central, that everyone is smiling and laughing, and that some are making sure to greet you as you pass. For a first-timer, it can be a lot to take in. Somehow, though, it is nothing but energizing. More importantly, it is crucial to your development as a practitioner. As a student, it is easy to get caught up within the four walls of your school or college of pharmacy. At that point in your career, you generally have not yet gained a global perspective. This all changes at the Annual Meeting. You see the immense variety of practice settings through the eyes of those practicing in them, and the world is suddenly spread out before you.

One of the favorite parts of my first meeting at APhA2011 in Seattle was the APhA–ASP Opening General Session (OGS); it remains a favorite now. This is where we meet the National Executive Committee (NEC) for the first time as they dance, sing, or otherwise perform for the audience’s amusement. It is a real production with lights, music, stage decorations, etc., and it’s the first view of the scope of work students do across the nation as patient care project awards are 

I specifically remember admiring the NEC and hatching the idea that I could do that one day. You may find you have similar aspirations! The majority of the meeting was a bit of a blur. I quickly moved from session to session, taking a few breaks to sightsee, and spending quality time with my chapter to celebrate successes. All too soon, the meeting was over, and I was on a plane back to Arkansas eager to do and be more within APhA and the profession. 

The second meeting: Taking a chance 

After APhA2011, a drive I had not felt in some time consumed me, and all of us who attended came home motivated and inspired. In the weeks that followed, I became our chapter’s Policy Vice President and started plotting to run for regional office, with an ultimate goal of running for national office. I will spare you the long version of the story (come find me if you want to hear it!), but I ended up not holding a regional office and threw my hat in the ring for the office of APhA–ASP National President-elect. I figured then, and stand by it now, that the worst that could happen would be that I would meet people, make connections, and get my name out there. 

Surely you have heard that pharmacy is a small world. It is tiny. Contacts are vital, and this was a huge opportunity. So I ran for APhA–ASP National President-elect a year after my first meeting, against the most candidates they have ever had. Thankfully, I work best under pressure, because I was certainly feeling it! 

Running for national office is like running a marathon (I’m guessing). It becomes essential to have a team who will help take care of you and campaign for you. I had a simple poster and some badge ribbons (money does not win elections), and I had a supportive chapter, including two fellow students and two advisors who went above and beyond every day to ensure that I was doing okay. 

Coming into the campaign, you need a vision for the Academy, the Association, and the profession. It is equally important to solicit the vision of the members whose vote you hope to earn. If you choose to pursue national office, remember to be yourself at every stage of the way. It does not guarantee victory, but I assure you that is how my campaign was successful, and it certainly made it easier to be the president my peers elected.

Attending as a national officer

As an attendee at each Annual Meeting, you get a glimpse of the extraordinary work that other students are doing. As a national officer, you see it in infinitely more colorful detail, help steer that work, and reward chapters for their successes. This is one of the perks of being an APhA–ASP NEC member. Attending Annual Meeting as a national officer is exhausting in the most delightful way imaginable (bonus: I lost weight both years). 

Sometimes as a national officer you do goofy dances for OGS. Sometimes you get to sing parodies of Disney songs with your friends. Every time, though, you get to spend a week with people who have become your family and host the biggest family reunion anyone has ever seen. If you find yourself on the NEC, be prepared, as the end of Annual Meeting brings a sadness I cannot adequately explain. So tremendous is the honor of serving fellow student pharmacists in this capacity that it is tough to let go. 

What follows is membership in a special group of people who have all been there. We call ourselves the 
“Has-beens,” and you will see many of us at the student events because, well, let’s face it, old folks like to relive their glory days. What can I say? 

New practitioner life

After that bittersweet final meeting as a student, everything changes again. Pharmacy school ends, and new practitioner life begins. I dare say there has never been a more important time to show up for Annual Meeting. No longer being part of a student chapter is kind of weird. It can leave you feeling a little bereft, to be honest. This is when you have to tie a knot in the end of your rope and hold on. You have to cling a little more tightly to your connections, all while passing licensure exams and starting residency, fellowship, or work. 

As much as participation as a student energizes and provides direction, participation as a new practitioner is a life line. You need it at this point. You have the benefit of the New Practitioner Network (NPN) that works tirelessly to keep us connected to the Association and one another, as well as helping us plug into opportunities within the practitioner academies. 

At my first meeting as a new practitioner, I was relieved to still have official duties as a former national officer. I was even more grateful for the new practitioner events that brought me into contact with people I knew as a student and allowed me to make some new friends, as well. It has helped me stay connected and involved on the New Practitioner Advisory Committee (NPAC) and in the APhA House of Delegates (if you’ve never sat in the House near the past speakers, I recommend it). The NPN hosts educational sessions that meet you where you are in your new practitioner life. 

This year at APhA2017, the NPN offered presentations on finances, career transitions, and management skills, to name a few. We also continued hosting New Practitioner Meet-Ups to greet new friends, visit old ones, and hear inspirational words from APhA Board members. I stayed super busy in San Francisco with NPAC and House of Delegates obligations, but definitely made time to get together with my new practitioner family. As you approach graduation, you can look forward to this, too! You will always have a home in APhA, and all new practitioners eagerly welcome you.

See you in Nashville!

You now have nearly a year to prepare for APhA2018 in Nashville, TN. I cannot emphasize enough the importance and enjoyment of attending. Explore Nashville, attend as many sessions as possible, and meet as many people as you can. 

Connections mean everything; taking that opportunity and attending APhA2011 connected me to the people who would ultimately lead me to the career I now enjoy. Buy the ticket and take the ride … you never know where APhA2018 will lead for you! 


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