Words from a Retail Pharmacist to a Prospective Pharmacist

white medication pill on blue textile

Hi my name is Jaden Richardson I’m currently a senior biology pre pharmacy major at the university of Hartford. My long term goals is too become a clinical pharmacist or potentially own my own practice one day.

Hello to all students of pharmacy, prospective students of pharmacy, and anyone else who comes across this blog who is interested in this field. Through Beyond the PhD I was granted the opportunity to speak with Dr. Melissa Sandlin, a retail pharmacist, about her career journey into the pharmacy world. Melissa attended Northern Arizona University for her undergraduate degree where she studied Biomedical Science; she went on to earn her Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) from Loma Linda University School of Pharmacy. Melissa has been practicing pharmacy since 2016 and has been working in her current position at CVS since 2020. As a retail pharmacist, she explained that a typical day can be rewarding yet challenging. She expressed that being the first face that some patients seek for medical advice is a rewarding aspect of being a pharmacist. In this role, she gets to be both an educator and a provider for her community. The biggest challenge she mentioned facing on a day-to-day basis is mustering up the strength to tell a customer/patient, “No,” to some medications they feel may be best for them. Melissa explains that, as a pharmacist, she has the ability to refuse a patient medication for a multitude of reasons, such as a belief of over-use, a belief that the quantity of the dosage prescribed is unnecessary, or that the medication would cause more harm than good for the patient. Melissa’s job also entails verifying medication orders, catching discrepancies, and utilizing the drug utilization review (DUR) to evaluate the administration and ingestion of medications. When asked, “What are the current issues in pharmacy that you believe I should be aware of as a prospective student in this field?” Melissa responded to the extensive responsibility that the world of pharmacy had to undertake during the COVID-19 pandemic. When put into retrospect of her job she described the heavy workload that retail pharmacy was faced with. This workload entailed a high demand for COVID vaccines, testing, medical treatments, added questions and concerns of the public, along with day-to-day aspects of a retail pharmacy pre-pandemic. Another topic covered we discussed was the differences between other types of pharmacy besides the retail sector. Melissa divided the field into three additional groups: inpatient, outpatient, and clinical pharmacy. As a prospective pharmacy student, the type of pharmacy that seems the most intriguing to me is clinical pharmacy. Melissa described clinical pharmacy as consulting with other doctors seeking and developing treatments for patients in a hospital setting. 

As someone interested in the pharmacy world, I had a few questions for Melissa regarding the pharmacy school application process, extracurricular activities while in pharmacy school, and steps that I would need to take to succeed in pharmacy school. With my initial concern about preparing for the PCAT, Melissa soothed my worries by reiterating that although it is an exam that should be taken seriously, many schools tend to prioritize other aspects of the application. Once in pharmacy school, Melissa stressed the importance of immediately applying to receive an intern license. She explained this process could take up to 6-8 weeks to be completed, but once it is, students can apply to places to work. Another great opportunity she suggested was becoming a pharmacy tech in undergrad, as this position does not require a pharmacy intern license. This could be used as a means of becoming more familiar with drugs used in pharmacies, specific names of drugs, and having hands-on training in a pharmacy environment. The next biggest piece of advice she gave was once someone is in pharmacy school, maintaining a good resume is crucial for success after schooling. For instance, she explained how rigorous and competitive it is to apply for residencies and fellowships, which she made abundantly clear are necessary components of landing a job in a hospital or industry. Melissa also explained that having a residency or fellowship is not always required to go into retail pharmacy. She also included that, “The world of pharmacy is small and because of that, building connections would also be a valuable asset to you”. One way of building these connections for Melissa was to attend the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) conference while in pharmacy school. My next question was, “What was the hardest year of pharmacy school and why?” She responded that the first year will be the most challenging because the course load and time management are completely different from undergrad. Melissa expressed that good study habits are necessary for grad school but setting boundaries with your work is equally as important so that someone doesn’t lose their love for pharmacy. The graduate-level classes revolve around more group work which encourages students to become more accountable. Melissa noted this as being advantageous considering that the pharmacy field tends to be very hands-on and communication based. 

Something Melissa advised is to stay on top of all deadlines. I’ll be implementing this advice during this upcoming application cycle -. whether it be for requesting a letter of recommendation or for managing various deadlines for multiple schools. Lastly, the advice that she said that will stick with me throughout the rest of my pharmacy journey: it is okay to not know everything 100 percent; it is more important to know which resources to utilize to be able to find the answers that you need. In summary, I believe this interview was very insightful and I intend to incorporate much of the advice Melissa offered along different parts of my pharmacy journey. I truly feel this helped grow my love for this field even more. 

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