A pharmacy student's guide to fourth-year excellence


You're in the home stretch, and now's the time to go all out.

Charity StrothersMany students view fourth-year rotations as an opportunity to catch their breath, a chance to relax before the real battle, the NAPLEX. This couldn’t be further from reality. You’re in the home stretch, but now is the time to make a concentrated effort.

While weekly examinations, staying up all night to study, and a nonexistent social life are almost things of the past, there is still work to be done. Fourth-year rotations can provide extremely valuable experience in networking, branding, and learning. Generally speaking, you will get out of your experiences only as much as you have put in. Going through the motions will result in mediocrity. For optimum results, you will need to excel.

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There is no special formula to excelling on rotations. Each site will be different, with unique responsibilities. Preceptors’ requirements will differ, depending on their individual experiences and personal expectations. However, some simple things can put you on a path to excellence.

Be on time

At the core of excellence are the basics. Many preceptors expect very modest things of pharmacy students. Arriving on time is undoubtedly at the top of every preceptor’s list.

Make the effort to show your enthusiasm by being prompt. Assume that “on time” means “late” and “15 minutes early” means “on time.” If you are running late or think you will run late, notify your site. A simple phone call will suffice.

Some preceptors may not find e-mailing desirable. At your first meeting with your preceptor, ask about the preferred method of communication. Make sure the preceptor has your contact information, in case it is needed later. This is your only opportunity to make a first impression, so make it count.

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Look professional

You have arrived on time and you are practicing promptness. Now it’s time to address attire.

Professional attire is such a broad term. On the first day of rotations it’s best to stick with attire that aligns with your institution’s professional dress code. Ask what your preceptor views as professional and appropriate for the environment in which you will be working. As a rule, never wear something that you wouldn’t be comfortable wearing to court when you stand before a judge.

Your attire can be seen as a direct reflection of how you feel about the people you will work with and environment you will be in. If your clothes are wrinkled and your overall appearance is not polished, it will send the wrong message.


Get involved

Engage in the activities taking place around you. Be inquisitive and ask lots of questions. Be observant; if something seems ineffective or inefficient, speak up. This shows your site that you are interested and committed to making the most of your experience. Prove yourself to be ambitious, outgoing, and cooperative. Know your strengths and weaknesses, and be prepared to work on them. Those are qualities employers look for when selecting employees.

Journal club and patient-case presentations are often considered the most difficult assignments on rotations. I will be the first to admit that they can be very intimidating. However, preparation is key. The earlier you receive your assignments, the more time this will afford you to ask questions, gather information, and feel a sense of readiness.

Give it your all

Be respectful and accountable at all times. If you’re asked something you don’t know, respond honestly. More important, learn to find information quickly. Decide what you expect to gain from the experience, set objectives, and if you need guidance, request it.

If you haven’t set out to be lazy or slack on the job, you have nothing to fear. Never let any question remain unanswered or any task undone. Do your due diligence. Make a commitment to each and every patient. When you do, you will see things fall into place. The most significant component of excellence on rotations is your own effort. 

Charity Strothersis a 2016 PharmD candidate at Hampton University School of Pharmacy, Hampton, Va. E-mail her at cbstrothers@vwc.edu. 

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