Professional Advice / Opinions:

Breaking the Mold

By Beatrisa Popovitz, Staff Editor,

Why does that pharmacist have to be two and a half feet higher than everybody else? Who the hell is this guy? “Clear out everybody I’m workin’ with pills up here. I’m taking pills from this big bottle and then I’m gonna put them in a little bottle! That’s my whole job. I can’t be down on the floor with you people. Then I’m gonna type out, on a little piece of paper. And it’s really hard.”

—Jerry Seinfeld

            We’ve all been there. You’ve got an insurance company on hold on one line and a doctor on another, 20 prescriptions lined up to be typed, the phone ringing off the hook, and a patient at the drop-off window in shock and disbelief that it will take some time for their prescription to be filled despite it being “right there in your hands”. The American public often has a  misinformed view on what the professional work of a pharmacist actually entails. Most patients identify their pharmacist as the person in a white lab coat behind a raised counter at their local pharmacy, but pharmacists are transplanting themselves into institutions and establishments far beyond the local pharmacy counter. They have been progressively contributing to the scientific progress of healthcare, and have been promoting and aiding in the overall health improvement of countless patients.

As the healthcare industry is evolving, and many changes are taking effect under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the pharmacy profession continues to expand Vast numbers of PharmD candidates are taking an avid interest in diverse areas of pharmacy practice and many are even considering residencies and fellowships post-graduation. The pursuit for residencies and fellowships is currently buzz worthy amongst our PharmD candidate peers and recent graduates. Many organizations, such as  Rho Chi Society, are hosting events focused around  gaining student involvement in considering the once uncommon pharmacy career paths.

Interestingly, pharmacy residencies in the United States were originally termed internships and actually began as early as the 1930s, with the intention of training pharmacists for the management of pharmacy services in hospitals.1 Today, the term residency expands beyond hospitals. According to the American Society of Health System Pharmacists, a residency is an organized, directed, postgraduate training program in a defined area of pharmacy practice.1 Pharmacy residencies are offered in a variety of practice settings including hospitals, managed care facilities, and community pharmacies. They are typically two years in duration, with the first year exposing residents to a more generalized area of practice and the second year tailoring to a particular specialty in pharmacy (e.g. pediatric medicine, infectious disease, ambulatory care). Institutional residency accreditation is attained through the American Society of Health System Pharmacists, and prospective PGY residency candidates can access the nationwide residency directory on their website to become familiar with institutions involved.

Students are often misinformed and interchange the terms residency and fellowship. Although they are not mutually exclusive, the two terms are not quite the same. In comparison to residencies, fellowships are postgraduate programs designed to prepare participants to become independent researchers. They are highly individualized programs that vary in duration of time and are most often run by accredited pharmacy schools, specialized healthcare institutions, pharmaceutical companies, and academic health centers. .1 Above all, students are more familiar with fellowships for pharmaceutical companies in various areas of pharmaceutical industry affairs. Similar to the American Society of Health System Pharmacists, The American College of Clinical Pharmacy also has a website that offers a nationwide directory of fellowship programs as well as residency and other post graduate programs available for pharmacists.

Furthermore, St. John’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences has fostered an environment for students to gain access to resources in regards to various areas of pharmacy practice, including the aforementioned postgraduate programs. The advent of a new and unique student-run peer mentoring program enables interested students to learn about expectations for the application process and the work involved for such programs. This is done in a creative way, which also bridges the gap between PharmD candidates in the P1 through P4 years.

In addition to residencies and fellowships, there are many other opportunities for pharmacists to work more closely and share their knowledge with other health care professionals. Under new health care reform, pharmacists are increasingly playing a greater role in preventative healthcare. Pharmacists in the U.S. are already authorized to administer vaccines. Pharmacists are also becoming more involved in medication therapy management  (MTM) services for patients suffering from chronic diseases. This is done to help improve therapeutic outcomes, reduce medication adverse effects, and ensure that patients are properly monitoring their medical condition.

Aside from being granted the power to immunize patients and being able to run MTM programs, pharmacists can host “brown bag” events in their local communities. Brown bag events enable patients to have all of their current prescription medications and OTC products reviewed by a pharmacist, often times checked against pharmacy history profiles. These events allow pharmacists to identify any potential medication misuse, adherence issues, drug interactions, or duplicate therapy. Events like these enable pharmacists to address any medication-related questions patients may have, and allow pharmacists to make therapeutic recommendations when applicable.3

In addition to playing an active role in healthcare management in the local community, pharmacists have been able to offer their expertise internationally in conjunction with “Doctors Without Borders” missions. Once one earns their Pharmacy Doctorate degree, opportunities are bountiful. The road to acquisition is not an easy one but taking advantage of the abundant resources and opportunities can help pave the way towards becoming future health care leaders in society.

Initiation from the scholarly level is an increasingly popular and practical way to further our pharmacy profession in the medical world. Events on our campus such as “Vascular Valentine” and the S4Gift/Rho Chi co-hosted “Bone Marrow and Organ Donation Counseling Registration series” are gateways for pharmacy students to become more readily  involved in bestowing their medical knowledge to others in the community. The latter is particularly unique in that it enables health care professionals and healthcare students to become educated in the processes of bone marrow and organ donation, and to find ways of spreading awareness for donation amongst members in local and national communities. Similar organizations and events can be found on pharmacy school campuses nationwide.

Student pharmacists  have and will continue to make footprints on the moon of healthcare. Recently, a St. John’s student has tried to gain recognition for pharmacists as healthcare providers. 4 Passion and the power of the pen united student pharmacists and pharmacists across the nation to help make a change in our country’s history, as over 25,000 signatures on an online petition may soon warrant an official response by the Obama administration to legally acknowledge pharmacists as health care providers.4 This just goes to show how far we have come as health care professionals, the vast extent to which the role of pharmacists has evolved over time, and how we will continue to improve health care in the future. Mahatma Ghandi once spoke the wise words, “As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.” In essence, be the change you wish to see in the world, and as a world of opportunity awaits you, you can start breaking the mold today!


  1. “Definitions of Pharmacy Residencies and Fellowships.” American Society of Health System Pharmacists, n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.
  2. “Health Care Reform Legislation Would Expand Access to Pharmacist Patient Care Services.”APhAFoundation. N.p., 17 Sept. 2009. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.
  3. “Request A Brown-Bag Check-up.” Request A Brown-Bag Check-up. Institute for Safe Medication Practices, 2013. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.
  4. Yap, Diana. “Provider Status: White House Petition Hits 25,000 Signatures and Growing.”American Pharmacists Association. American Pharmacists Association, 9 Jan. 2013. Web. 20 Mar. 2013.
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