- Take as much as possible out of every rotation, regardless of your future plans. No one knows for certain what direction a career path will take. You may not think you will benefit from a particular rotation now, but you never know when some experience or piece of information will be useful to you. I will most likely never work in retail, yet my community rotation at Guidepoint Pharmacy in Brainerd was one of my best.
- Forget the clock. Preceptors notice which students are counting down to quitting time and which are prioritizing their learning. If it’s 5:05 pm and a code is called, go with your preceptor to the code. Don’t miss a good learning opportunity because quitting time was 5 minutes ago.
- Interact with other professionals at the rotation site as often as possible. Some of the best experiences I’ve had on rotations were with physicians or nurses who took me under their wing for a day or an hour and taught me something I could not have learned from a pharmacist.
- Say “yes” to requests and opportunities. If there is a chance to give an extra presentation, do it. If a physician asks for a consult on a drug list, do it. If a surgeon asks if you want to pull out a chest tube, do it (that actually happened to me). You never know what you will learn or the opportunities that may follow when you give that initial “yes”.
- Treat the year as one long job interview. Because the world of pharmacy is so small, it is almost guaranteed that whatever job or residency you apply to in your fourth year, your potential employer will know one of your preceptors and will contact that person for a recommendation. Your fourth year is like your debut into the world of pharmacy. It is a huge opportunity to make contacts that could be formative for your career. It is therefore essential that you make a good first impression and relentlessly protect your reputation.
- Forget your grades. As long as you’re getting good evaluations from your preceptors and making good progress toward graduation, don’t spend any time worrying about your transcript. No preceptor wants to hear from a student who is upset at receiving a B+ instead of an A. There is wide variation in the way preceptors grade their students. Some hardly ever give anything less than an A while others can recall for you the few students who have ever earned A’s from them. It may not seem fair, and maybe it isn’t, but take the long view. Those who burn their bridges eventually find themselves trapped on the island.
- Turn off your cell phone when you get to the rotation site and don’t turn it on again until you leave or go on break. Compared to the others this is a somewhat specific piece of advice, but it is meant to highlight a more general principle of professionalism. I’ve heard stories of students texting during a presentation given by the preceptor or playing phone games throughout the day. I am not going to sugar coat this. This is completely and unarguably unprofessional. If it was your job, it would be grounds for termination.
- Recognize that you are still a student. I’ve heard several students say that fourth year is the year you “pay to work.” To me this implies that coming out of third year we are capable of operating on the level of a pharmacist and that we have little to learn. In my own case, this could not be further from the truth. In fact, fourth year was my best learning year yet because daily, hourly, and even by the minute I’ve been challenged by new opportunities to take my book knowledge to the next level and apply it to real situations.
- Recognize that you will always be a student. Fourth year is the year you get to take the helm and still have the captain of the ship to back you up. This is a remarkable and rare opportunity. It will never happen again quite the same as is does during the fourth year. Still, beyond graduation it is essential for your growth and for the safety of your patients that you continue your learning in a deliberate and goal-oriented way. Continue the mentoring relationships you have already formed and seek out others. Then become a mentor so that you are challenged to be the teacher. There is no better way to learn.
- Do it for the patient, not the preceptor. Of course, you should look to your preceptor for guidance, feedback, and learning, but when self-evaluating your performance, the question should be “Am I doing what is right for the patient?” more than “Am I fulfilling the requirements of my preceptor?” In most situations the first question is a higher standard, and it will be the question you will take with you as you graduate into the profession.
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