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Postgrad Residencies Put Careers on Fast Track

by Cindy Mehallow Contributing Writer

Pharmacy residencies accelerate development of advanced professional skills through rigorous education and training under the guidance of a preceptor. Typically lasting a year and offering a stipend, residencies are conducted in hospitals, community pharmacies, managed-care settings and clinics. These intense learning opportunities are equivalent to 3-5 years of actual pharmacy experience, according to Anne Burns, group director of practice development and research for the American Pharmacists Association.

Upon graduation from pharmacy school, students can enter a first-year pharmacy practice residency, or PGY1, which concentrates on direct patient care and practice management. Students who want to focus on one area of pharmacy practice can opt for a second year of specialized residency, or PGY2.

What It Takes

Program directors look for highly motivated, well-rounded individuals with good communication skills, solid grades and some clinical experience. "Book knowledge with practical application at the bedside are the key elements," says Mort Goldman, Pharm.D., assistant director of pharmacy for pharmacotherapy services for The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, which conducts four pharmacy residencies. Those applying for a specialized residency should have some experience in that practice setting.

Since residents are often regarded as change agents, residency program directors value applicants with proven leadership abilities in pharmacy school or in a chapter of APhA's Academy of Student Pharmacists. "Advances in pharmacy often occur at pharmacy sites which have residency programs," Burns explains. "The residency environment is conducive to innovation and change. A well-administered residency program can facilitate changes that staff pharmacists want to make but don't have time to."

Get the Most From Your Residency

  • Set Goals: All accredited residency programs ask residents to set goals at the beginning of the year. Be realistic, and reevaluate your goals as the year progresses.
  • Plan Carefully: When considering a specialized residency, schedule related experiences early in your first year. That way, you'll know if the specialty is right for you before the midyear application deadlines for PGY2 residencies, says Susan Staggs, PharmD, a pediatric pharmacist at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital in Nashville. For example, Staggs completed a pharmacy practice residency at the Methodist Healthcare-University Hospital in Memphis and then a specialized residency in pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
  • Ask for What You Want: If there's a skill you want to learn or a practice area you're interested in, speak up. When Staggs asked for some pharmaceutical industry experience, her residency director at Methodist Healthcare-University Hospital arranged for a paid, two-week stint at a major pharmaceutical company's corporate headquarters.
  • Publish: Choose a research project with publication potential employers look for publishing credits.
  • Get Involved: Join committees at your college or in local, state or national professional organizations. Such involvement shows prospective employers you're interested in advancing the pharmacy profession. During her residency, Staggs joined the Pediatric Pharmacy Advocacy Group, which impressed an interviewer who was active in the group.
  • Model Your Mentor: Carefully study and emulate the preceptor's communication style and interactions with health-care peers. "In our business, the ‘how we do it' is at least as important as what we do," Goldman says. "Relationship building is extremely important."