When I started pharmacy school, I made a decision to take advantage of every learning opportunity I was presented. Having had the chance to participate in many extracurricular activities before pharmacy school, I learned how instrumental these experiences could be in shaping a career. When the chance to attend big meetings like the APhA Annual Meeting & Exposition came up, I knew they would be expensive, but that they would pay dividends down the road. I was not wrong. The skills and insight I gained were invaluable in choosing the next step after completing school and starting a fulfilling career.
I attended my initial APhA Annual Meeting during my first year at the Oregon State University College of Pharmacy. I was the only student in my class who attended because it was across the country and the weekend before finals. Working out an alternate finals schedule was challenging, but it all paid off with what I learned at my first national pharmacy conference. Getting to know student pharmacists from all over the country was exciting, and I started a network of friends and colleagues I rely on still today. I left this meeting inspired and challenged to continue to make a difference in the lives of my patients and the pharmacy profession.
During this meeting, I also saw the many leadership opportunities that APhA–ASP offered and discovered how accessible they are. This experience inspired me to run for APhA–ASP Regional Delegate that fall. After being elected to that position, I also took on additional leadership positions, including acting as my APhA–ASP Chapter Student Political Advocacy Network liaison, Phi Lambda Sigma president, and helping to coordinate student involvement in Legislative Day at the Oregon State Capitol. Without taking advantage of the discounted rate to attend this meeting as a student and working with my professors to move around tests, I don’t know that I would have gotten involved with all these leadership positions.
As a student pharmacist, I had so many advantages I did not realize until I was no longer one. Everyone loves to help students out. Pharmacists recognize that students who show up to meetings and professional events are making a sacrifice to be there and they want to help them out. Pharmacy organizations want students to come to their meetings, so they discount the cost of attendance. Schools and colleges of pharmacy generally try to financially assist their students to attend meetings and will help move around tests or classes. As a new practitioner, finding this much support may take more work, or may just not be there. Employer support varies widely, from not at all to footing the entire bill. Take advantage of the support during pharmacy school.
My college of pharmacy did not have a formal mentor program set up, so I asked our director of experiential education for help finding a mentor during my first year of pharmacy school. Over the next 4 years, I had many formal and informal mentors, and forged relationships with professors and preceptors from whom I gleaned valuable knowledge from their many years of experience.
One of my professors offered me a chance to help with research, which led to data for a poster presentation at a national meeting, a professional reference for postgraduate positions, and mentorship that helped me secure my first position after graduation. The accessibility to pharmacy leaders for mentorship is something many students don’t take full advantage of during pharmacy school, which makes finding this relationship later in life more challenging.
Taking advantage of all that pharmacy school offers did pay off for me. A pharmacy recruiter talked to me so often at events that he offered me a job as a pharmacist. I didn’t apply for an internship with his company during pharmacy school, but he had seen me at so many meetings, he thought I had. Because of this exposure, he offered me an interview for a pharmacist position when I was a final-year student pharmacist. It wasn’t much of an interview; he offered me a job after 5 minutes.
Staying involved in professional organizations was challenging after I graduated, but being involved as a student helped with the transition. It is important to get involved in a leadership position at your school. Even if you can’t do that, be present. Go to meetings. If you have to go by yourself, still go! And network. You will be surprised at the opportunities you will get just by showing up. Take advantage of as many opportunities as you can because they will be harder to come by once you graduate.