Featuring: Nicole Cernaro, PharmD, PGY-2 Pediatric Pharmacy Resident
By: Urooj K. Malik, PharmD Candidate c/o 2024
Nicole Cernaro is a PGY-2 Pediatric Pharmacy Resident at St. Peter’s University Hospital located in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She recently completed her PGY-1 pharmacy residency from St. Peter’s University Hospital as well. Nicole earned her Doctorate in Pharmacy from St. John’s University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in May of 2022. During her time at St. John’s, Nicole was involved in numerous organizations such as the Student Society of Pediatric Pharmacy and Relay for Life which led her to find her career path within the pediatric patient population.
Why did you choose to pursue a PGY-2 residency in pediatrics specifically?
For me personally, I’ve always loved pediatrics. I came into school knowing I was interested in working with this patient population. When I was a freshman in college, I volunteered at a few children’s hospitals, which really sparked my interest in pediatrics. Also, throughout pharmacy school, I always felt more interested learning the pediatric topics that were covered in our curriculum. I continued to love all my pediatric rotations during my APPEs in my final year of school and similarly enjoyed the pediatric rotations going into my PGY-1 residency as well. I wanted to pursue a PGY-2 where I trained in pediatrics specifically because I felt it would be very beneficial for my professional career development and my career goals to get extensive training in pediatrics. This training will expand my critical thinking skills and clinical knowledge in pediatrics. Ultimately, I do want to become a pediatric pharmacist, and this will put me on the best track to achieve that goal.
How has the transition been from ending your PGY-1 residency and starting your PGY-2 residency?
As of now, I am currently still in the orientation period for my PGY-2. But if I were to compare the transition from entering as a student in pharmacy school to starting a PGY-1 residency versus the transition from ending a PGY-1 residency to a PGY-2 residency, the transition has been a whole lot smoother and a little bit easier. This is because in the initial stages, there has been a lot less stress for me, especially because I stayed at the same program for both my PGY-1 and PGY-2. So, for me, I’m already familiar with the EMR, my team, and the preceptors’ expectations. I’m also not tasked with doing a lot of the additional onboarding requirements. Since I am staying the same program in the same state, I am not required to take any additional licensing exams at this time. I’m already a licensed pharmacist and have gone through a year’s worth of experiences as a pharmacy resident. My confidence is a lot higher now than when I was coming in as a PGY-1 resident after graduating. Overall, I would say the transition is going well during the orientation period.
What are some similarities and differences between applying for a PGY-1 residency versus a PGY-2 residency?
In terms of similarities, the process and timeline when it comes to deadlines for application is mostly all the same. The PGY-2 application process follows the same format as PGY-1 applications and uses the same system but essentially, you’re adding on your PGY-1 experience. A difference worth noting is that a PGY-1 residency is typically more general but when applying for a PGY-2 residency, you are picking a specialty of interest. Due to this, I would recommend making sure your CV, letter of intent, and other experiences during your PGY-1 all reflect the specialty you are applying for if possible.
Summarize your time as a PGY-1 resident at St. Peter’s University Hospital.
I recently had a reflection week at the hospital for my PGY-1 and was told to name three key words to describe my year as a resident. I described my year as tiring, rewarding, and collaborative. I feel those three words sum up my time as a PGY-1 accurately. I felt as though my residency had a good balance and I was able to get a vast number of experiences. I partook in clinical rotations but also had the opportunity to be involved in special projects if they came up such as procurement of a drug or managerial and leadership projects. I had the opportunity to be debriefed on each specific situation at hand which I felt was a really great experience. I had a well-rounded year between working on two research projects, going on the scheduled PGY-1 rotations, and gaining great management experience.
What would you say was your biggest achievement as a PGY-1 resident?
My biggest achievement during my PGY-1 residency was presenting my case-controlled study research project for Pharmacy Research Day and winning the research competition. I then had the opportunity to compete against the entire hospital during our Hospital Research Day. My research was about identifying risk factors for urinary tract infections secondary to extended spectrum beta-lactamases in the pediatric population.
What does a typical day in the life look like for you as a PGY-2 resident?
As I mentioned earlier, I am still in the orientation period of my PGY-2 but can describe what a typical day looks like at this time. In general, your typical day, whether you’re a PGY-1 or PGY-2 resident is similar. Specifically, for me, orientation is a little different because I’m currently training in the NICU satellite pharmacy right now. So essentially, my mornings are reserved for staying there and training. I’m currently learning about order entry, compounding, and TPN order entry. Then usually in the afternoons, I’m either still NICU training or I’m in different orientation meetings. Also, because I was previously here for my PGY-1, I am participating in the PGY-1 orientation and helping the new residents orientate in certain areas. My afternoons would consist of any of these three responsibilities in addition to other projects I am currently working on, beyond orientation. Once the orientation period is over and I begin clinical rotations. Mornings will start with doing patient workups before rounds. Then, I would meet with my preceptor, and we’d go over patients together before going to rounds that take place mid-mornings to early afternoons. Later in the afternoon is typically reserved for any patient follow-ups, meetings, and other projects and assignments that need to be completed.
What do you love most about your job?
The people I work with. I feel as though I work in a very supportive environment. I know this especially because I’ve already spent a whole year here as a PGY-1. My preceptors are all so supportive and really allowed me to develop so much in my first year. So, I know they’re only going to continue to support me in my growth as a pediatric pharmacist. Another thing I love about my job is the patient population. The pediatric population is so special and a unique population to work with. I never had experience working in the NICU and now training in the NICU satellite pharmacy is giving me a crash course on the NICU patient population and their medications, which I think is so interesting to learn about.
What advice do you have for pharmacy students trying to pursue a career pathway as a PGY-2 resident?
I believe you have to find what you’re passionate about because doing both a PGY-1 and a PGY-2 is not easy. I think finding what you’re passionate about helps in the long run when it comes to mental health and career fulfillment. Another piece of advice I have is that as a PGY-1, you will be extremely busy. So, if you plan on pursuing a PGY-2, be sure to start your preparation early! Remember, you are balancing your workload and rotations as a PGY-1, preparing for midyear, and working on your PGY-2 application all at the same time!
What did you utilize or wish you utilized more during pharmacy school that you would advise others to as well if they wanted to pursue a PGY-2 residency in pediatrics?
I do want to mention that there really is no “one size fits all” to any of this because there are a multitude of different pathways to take to become a resident and to specialize. But one thing I didn’t do during pharmacy school that I think could have been a good experience was being more involved in organizations on a national level. Though I was involved in the Student Society of Pediatric Pharmacy organization at the university, I wish I tried to become more involved in the national organization also known as the Pediatric Pharmacy Association. I would also recommend getting involved in a publication whether that’d be a newsletter or collaborating with faculty on a project. This is a great way to strengthen your professional medical writing skills. Lastly, if you’re interested in conducting research, get involved as early as you can!
On behalf of the Rho Chi Post, we would like to thank Nicole for sharing her residency experience with our newsletter!