Photo Credit: Anthony Peters, flickr

There are many reasons to pursue post-graduate training after pharmacy school.
If you want to be specialized in any clinical specialty, then you will most likely need to do one. If you would like to pursue administration, then the Health System Pharmacy Administration (HSPA) residency will put you on the quickest track to management. Maybe you haven't quite found your niche yet and want to explore other options? Or maybe you want to narrow to narrow your interests, but are sure you want to work in a hospital with patients. Residency training serves to build on the knowledge and skills learned in pharmacy school. The first year - postgraduate year one or PGY1 - is usually more generalized and the second year - postgraduate year two or PGY2 - is usually more specialized (cardiology, emergency medicine, oncology, etc...).

Both the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) and the American College of Clinical Pharmacy (ACCP) recommend that by the year 2020, all pharmacists in direct patient care roles possess residency training. I think this will be our future. The job market is also getting tighter and people need to differentiate themselves from other candidates. The roles of pharmacists are evolving and becoming a bigger and more integral part of the patient-care team so more training makes sense. I believe this will be similar to how the RPh degree turned into the doctorate PharmD. Until the year 2000, pharmacists were not required to have a doctorate in pharmacy to practice. Someday, residency training will likely be a normal step of training.

Anyway, I you've made your decision to pursue a, how do you get there? First of all, there are many great resources out there that already tell you how to apply. I actually designed one of them for my employer so check out the website pages of the programs you want to apply to.

Here are a few that are good:

1. American Society of Health System Pharmacists - this is the foundation for all of the accredited health system residencies. The PhORCAS system through ASHP is actually the centralized application system where you will submit your materials.

2. American College of Clinical Pharmacy - this page gives a great overview of what a residency is, how to choose, a list of residency sites, and the application timeline.

3. The Digital Apothecary - a great PDF timeline

Each year, a record number of applicants apply to residency programs. And while some programs are continuing to add new pioaitions, the process is still competitive. After you decide to pursue a residency, there are a few things that can help you get ahead of the game.

Differentiate yourself
Ask yourself what sets you apart from other students? What have you done that is different, unique, or special? Any publications? Leadership or mentoring roles? Special projects? Extracurricular activities? A lot of applicants are going to have excellent grades so you need to do something other than that to set yourself apart.

Leadership roles are important
Even if you haven't had a traditional leadership role in pharmacy school (class president, student government, etc...), think of a time you've stepped forward. Did you organize a fundraiser? Have you led a project? Organized an Alumni or school social event? When I was on the residency selection committee, I was amazed ar the emphasis some reviewers put on leadership roles. Non-pharmacy roles are good too. I think many of my husband's opportunities in medicine have resulted in his unique leadership experience prior and during Med school.

Letters of Recommendation
Just like leadership roles, recommendation letters can have a lot of weight and be the thing that puts your application in the interview pile. Put some thought into who you can ask. If you know someone who has graduated from that program or is a former colleague of someone on the residency committee (and you have a personal or professional relationship with them), then ask! Leaders in the fields, teachers or preceptors you've worked with on special projects, and school faculty members are also good. I will say, the people who came in with a strong letter of recommendation from someone we knew almost always got an interview.

Go to Midyear
Stopping by the booth and talking to a preceptor, manager, or current resident goes A LONG way. In our committee meetings, people would speak up if they had met the candidate. It will also help you decide if you want to apply to that program. Are the residents happy? Engaged? What did you think of the program director?

Make the deadline
Yes, this is a no-brainer, but all of your information needs to be submitted if you want a chance at an interview.

Research your safe schools too. Sometimes those may even be a better fit for size and location. Big programs aren't for everyone and some people get swallowed whereas they would absolutely shine and step up to their role if they were in a program with just one or two residents.

Embrace the subjectivity
I was on a selection committee, and though we had a point system and several reviewers for each application, there was still a degree of subjectivity. Something that might have impressed one reviewer might be overlooked by another. What does stand out every time is presentation, completion, professionalism, and those things that differentiate you. And if you don't hear back, don't be afraid to have a colleague or teacher make a call for you!

One more thing:
So what if you are late to the game? Maybe you just decided that you want to pursue a residency and feel behind. We interviewed many people over the years who didn't decide until Midyear that they wanted to do a residency. And they were great candidates - maybe even better because they knew what they wanted at that point and were very passionate and determined. Make connections, get your applications in on time (usually the beginning of January), and you will be fine.

nd if you have any questions or need help with programs, please feel free to email me at!

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PracticeJoanna Simmon