By: Sarah Adly, PharmD Candidate c/o 2024
Applying to advanced professional pharmacy experience (APPE) rotations can be a daunting experience. After all, this is the last opportunity most pharmacy students have to deeply explore their interests. But not to worry! As someone who was in your shoes a year ago, I will let you in on some helpful tips for choosing APPEs that will diversify your experience. When I was ranking sites last winter, I sought guidance from my mentor, who gave me advice that indisputably changed my life: there are application-based APPE rotations separate from the ones listed on Core Elms. These particular APPEs have been like gold mines to me, which have helped me deeply experience various realms of pharmacy, including ones that I had not been exposed to previously.
What makes application-based APPEs unique?
Application-based APPEs give students the opportunity to explore non-traditional sectors of pharmacy which can help to guide their career pathways. These sites can expose students to multiple fields of interest, including the pharmaceutical industry, medical writing, policy reforms and research, and so much more. It is important to fully immerse yourself into these niche areas of pharmacy when you are given the chance; being on APPE rotations is the best time to gather real-world experience and apply what you have learned over the previous six years. Personally, these unique experiences have provided me with the time and place to network and broaden my skill set. One application-based APPE I had was one with the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) located in Arlington, Virginia. During my time with NACDS, I was able to hone my presentation and advocacy skills during my topic discussion on Empowering Health and Wellness: The Vital Role of Pharmacists. This experience also provided me with other transferable skills such as time/project management and effective communication. I am currently completing another APPE at Bristol Myers Squibb, where I have grown much more familiar with ways to identify gaps in practice for healthcare providers. . During this rotation, I have also been working on a project regarding ulcerative colitis that has really pushed me to develop my research and data-collection skills. This period has also given me the opportunity to have one-on-one meetings with fellows, managers, and directors within the company in order to discuss career paths and their current projects. . Overall, these two application-based APPEs have offered me the chance to not only grow as a student pharmacist, but to develop a clearer understanding of what I want to pursue in the future as well.
Where do I find these application-based APPEs, and what are the requirements?
In Core Elms, under the document library, there is a file titled “APPEs Requiring Applications Outside of the Lottery.” This is a document that contains important information about application-based APPEs, including descriptions and links/instructions to apply. For most of these application-based APPEs, you will need to submit a curriculum vitae (CV) and letter of intent. Some sites may also require 2 to 3 letters of recommendation and/or a cover letter. For your CV, you should put your most recent work, leadership, research/publications, and volunteer experiences from the last 2 to 4 years. Some of these application-based APPEs require an interview in which you may be asked to expand upon experiences on your CV, so make sure that you can speak in depth about everything you include. Your letter of intent should include your thoughts on what you will gain by completing the rotation as well as its impact on your future career. For letters of recommendation, it is a good idea to ask various supervisors like professors, employers, pharmacy mentors, etc. Make sure to look at deadlines and ask for recommendations well ahead of time, as you would like to be respectful of everyone’s time. I suggest reaching out at least 8 weeks prior to the due date. Also, consider sending them your CV as well as your interests so that they can be specific in your letter of recommendation. Some programs may require applicants to submit cover letters, which is a concise letter that showcases your passion and qualifications. You should mention the positions you are applying to and how you discovered these positions, highlight your relevant experiences and transferable skills, and explain why you are interested in the specific company. Make sure to show that you researched the company by discussing their mission and how it may align with your goals. In any letter that you submit, make sure that it is free of any grammar and spelling errors, and always sign off appropriately.
What should I expect regarding interviews for APPE sites?
As mentioned before, some of these applications require an interviewing process. If that is the case, dress professionally, practice with a mock interview, and get comfortable using the STAR method. The STAR method is a technique used to answer behavior-based interview questions by illustrating a specific situation, task, action, and result. A common question I was asked by interviewers was, “Can you give an example of a conflict you faced with a team member and explain how you resolved it?” In your answers, the setting of your example can vary; for instance, the conflict can be one from work or from school. Just be sure to be concise while making sure you hit all the points emphasized in the STAR method. I have also received “out-of-the-box” questions such as, “If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?” For these types of questions, it is important to know that they do not care so much about the particular animal, but rather your rationale. All in all, just remember to present yourself authentically and explain your answers fully!
When should I expect a response about my application?
Certain sites will state when they will make their decisions by on their website, however some will not give you a specific date at all. With that, I would say the best action plan during this waiting period is to check your emails frequently. Be sure you check your spam as well! I had one of my determinations go to my spam – luckily for me, they emailed again, but that will not always be the case.
What if I get rejected?
This is bound to happen if you apply to multiple APPEs, as these sites only accept a few students per period and have a large pool of applicants. Do not let these decisions bring you down or lower your confidence. Whether or not you get accepted, this whole process will serve as valuable practice for the future as you apply for jobs, residencies, or fellowships. Use this as a way to learn and do some self-reflection on what you think you could improve on in the future. Also, although this is a rather cliché saying, it definitely holds true: remember that everything happens for a reason.
Okay, I got accepted! What should I do next?
Congratulations!This next step is VERY crucial: make sure to accept and thank the site’s APPE committee via email within the timeframe they give you to do so. During this time, the site may also ask you when you would like to schedule this rotation. If this is the case, check the Core Elms document library for your year’s APPE schedule. If this is a site you really want to complete prior to fellowship or residency season so you can add it to your CV, try fitting it before Period 4 or 5 for fellowship and Period 7 or 8 for residency. Additionally, please email your experiential coordinator and let them know the following information: confirmation of your acceptance, the period in which you and your site agreed upon, the domain of the site, and the name/contact information of your preceptor. For the domain of the site, this would entail if the site fell under elective, advanced community care, ambulatory care, general inpatient, or focused inpatient. You should also check and see what the requirements are for your year. For my year, we had to have two faculty and two patient-focused electives out of the four electives.
Final thoughts on trying out something new
If this sounds like a lot, it may be, but I promise you it will help immensely with your project management skills, and you will not regret stepping out of your comfort zone. To be frank, I never pushed my limits much during school, but applying for the NACDS has been one of the best choices I have made for myself! I truly do not regret this decision one bit. I am incredibly grateful for these opportunities as well as for my mentor, who gave me the advice to explore more outside of my bubble in the first place. I encourage you all to do the same, as you never know where your journey will take you. Try to explore the non-traditional paths! Good luck with everything, and have a great year!