The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Student Pharmacists
Pharmacy school is a time of personal and professional growth. To be successful, you need to have a vision for your future. However, balancing work, family, and school responsibilities; managing personal finances and relationships; setting and achieving academic goals; and maintaining emotional and physical well-being can prove difficult. How can you achieve personal and professional balance and success?
Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People addresses this question. I’ve adapted the “7 Habits” to assist you on your journey as a student pharmacist. I hope these habits will inspire your personal and professional growth as you join one of the world’s most trusted health professions.
Habit 1: Be proactive
Take initiative and responsibility for your life, your actions, and your success. You are the architect of your own destiny. How are you spending your time? Does it align with your goals? A proactive student pharmacist plans, reducing risk and stress by avoiding last-minute panics and night-before cramming.
Create your own experiences. Interested in a subject and there is no elective? Ask about an independent study or research opportunity. Perhaps you’ve identified a community need that APhA–ASP is well placed to fill: Bring the right groups together to create meaningful change.
Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind
Have a plan in place. It can and should change over time as you continue to learn and gain new experiences, but you must have an idea of where you want to go. Consider what kind of pharmacy you want to practice. Would you rather work directly with patients, or make decisions for a group? Do you want to pursue postgraduate training or obtain an additional certification? What steps do you need to complete, and what skills do you need to cultivate to get there?
Not sure which path to take? Be curious and ask questions! Ask professors and preceptors about their journey. Challenge yourself through a variety of coursework and extracurricular activities. All experiences hold value, even the ones you didn’t particularly enjoy. Knowing what you don’t like is just as powerful as knowing what you do like. If you start with a clear destination, you can better understand where you are now, where you’re going, and what you value most.
Habit 3: Put first things first
Spend your time on things that are most important to you. Focus first on things that are both important and urgent. This doesn’t mean ignoring all your classes to study for tomorrow’s test. There will be times you have so many things going on you won’t know where to start. Get organized and prioritize your responsibilities. Make short-, intermediate-, and long-term lists, and tackle them accordingly.
Setting priorities, having discipline, and saying no to things that are not important will allow you to live a more balanced life. Time management is a skill that takes time and practice to sharpen. Help yourself succeed by avoiding distractions so you can focus fully on the task at hand. You’ll get your work done more quickly and to a higher standard.
Habit 4: Think win–win
Always work effectively with others to achieve optimal results. This applies in school and in practice. Balance courage for getting what you want with consideration for what others want. Group projects can be challenging if everyone is focused only on what is best for themselves.
When your patients win, you win. Your job is to ensure safe and appropriate medication use. Updating a protocol, finding a more affordable alternative, or optimizing a regimen are all examples. Listen and ask the right questions to find a solution that is best for everyone.
Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood
“No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” To really help others, we need to listen to their ideas and feelings. Listen with the intent to understand, not just to reply. Perhaps you disagree with a question on an exam or don’t understand the logic behind a policy. Create a respectful and empathetic give-and-take environment by taking the time to fully understand issues and providing candid and accurate feedback.
Habit 6: Synergize
Synergizing is about bringing it all together and working well with others. Everyone who successfully completes pharmacy school will receive a PharmD. That doesn’t set you apart. What does make you unique are your extracurricular and cocurricular activities, the skills you have learned, and your experiences: what student organizations you were involved in; how you learned something in class and counseled a patient on it at work the next day; how you worked with a faculty member to implement a new program at their hospital.
We’ve all heard the aphorisms “two heads are better than one” and “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” To succeed, one must value others’ strengths and learn from them. Instead of wanting to work only with your friends on class assignments, consider random group assignments as an opportunity to learn from and about classmates. When you identify a problem in practice, work with other professions to find a more effective solution; you are more likely to demonstrate innovative problem-solving skills.
Habit 7: Sharpen the saw
Have a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual. Preserve and enhance the greatest asset you have—you! While in school, take time to do something for yourself unrelated to pharmacy. Spending your pharmacy school years doing nothing but studying, going to class, eating, and maybe sleeping may get you to graduation, but I guarantee that you won’t be your best self.
Physical improvement activities may be exercise, eating nutritionally dense foods, and resting. Cultivate meaningful social and emotional connections with others. Learning, reading, and writing can renew your mental self. Enhancing your spiritual self may include spending time in nature, serving your community, or engaging in meditation, music, art, or religion.
Enjoy your time in pharmacy school!
Nicole Asal, PharmD, BCPS, is clinical associate professor and APhA–ASP Chapter coadvisor at The University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy.