The Transitions That Medical and Pharmacy Students Face

Whenever you’re making a big transition in your life, it’s normal to feel nervous and excited or wonder “what’s next?” 

This is exactly what medical and pharmacy students go through as they prepare to transition from their undergrad studies and lifestyle into the next phase of their education. It can be exceptionally hard to figure out what to expect and how to prepare. Personally, I remember feeling nervous about how drastic the change was going to be! 

In this blog, we’re going to take a deep dive into the types of transitions that medical and pharmacy students face – and tackle the mindsets that enable you to be successful throughout this period.

Moving Out of the Undergrad Mindset 

One of the biggest things to keep in mind is that no matter how good you were at time management and juggling all of your tasks in undergrad, you’re going to have to change your habits yet again. I was struck by the number of quizzes, tests, and projects that needed to be completed during my first year of pharmacy school. Unlike undergrad, where everything seemed to be due at once, pharmacy school had me working at a way higher pace. 

Projects and tests were all over my calendar so that I had to readjust how I worked and how I viewed my downtime. While I was still able to have fun and take a breather every now and again, it was the pace, not the difficulty, of pharmacy school that surprised me. 

That’s why it’s so important to begin moving out of the undergrad mindset as well as possible. Work on this by slowly adjusting to a busier study schedule so that you are prepared for much longer days. You won’t have as much downtime as you used to - adjust your mindset to that. You also are not guaranteed the success you had in undergrad. The bar is higher and you are going to work a little harder!

Transitioning into Medical and Pharmacy School Successfully 

One of the most important parts of this entire process is recognizing that it is a transitional period. This means that your life may be in flux and hectic for a little while until you adjust to the new demands of your program.

Make sure that you are creating a realistic schedule for yourself. Don’t cut down on your sleep for the sake of watching your favorite show right when it airs for the first time. 

Instead, schedule in your downtime the same way you schedule your study time! This will make you more efficient and help ensure that you know exactly when you’ll be able to relax and when you’ll need to buckle down to work hard.

To make your transition easier, you should also spend as much time learning about yourself as possible. Do you study best alone? Do you need to schedule in group study lessons to bounce ideas off of your classmates? Does stress affect you severely?

Knowing this information will give you the opportunity to schedule your most important tasks way in advance. That way, you can avoid last minute surprises and crushing waves of stress when you’re under a deadline! 

Most importantly, fostering a mindset that is focused on an easy transition and controlling your stress levels will keep you from cramming in the end.

Pharmacy and medical school are a marathon – not a sprint

In undergrad, it was perfectly acceptable to pull a few all-nighters and get your work done. In pharmacy or medical school, you’ll need to do everything you can to avoid that. Remember: everything that you’re learning will one day help you take care of a patient.

Studies have shown that, when students try to “cram” before a big test, they are less likely to retain that information.

Ask yourself: in an emergency situation, wouldn’t you rather have that knowledge on deck? 

That’s why it’s all about treating medical and pharmacy school like a marathon, NOT a sprint.

This means that your study sessions should be well-planned, strategic, and conducted well before the exam. Slow and steady is the key here. Studying a little bit everyday for two weeks before a test is WAY more effective than studying 12 hours a day for two days before a test. 

It also means that you should be focused on building lifelong relationships with your classmates and instructors. These people will form the foundation of your support system as well as your career. So, take your time getting to know everyone so that you can all start to rely on each other.

Can you have a life while in medical or pharmacy school? Yes!

A huge misconception about medical and pharmacy school life is that you can’t have a life while you’re furthering your education. This is totally false! In fact, it’s better if you do have a life and schedule in some fun time while you’re completing your program.

I was surprised at how many parties were school-sponsored during my first year, and social events continued throughout my entire time there. 

You see, when you’re going through medical and pharmacy school, you’ll be meeting so many new people. Those people will not only be able to relate to what you’re going through, but they may also recognize the importance of having fun. 

If you know that you need to study on Saturday, you can still go out with your friends on a Friday night! Just use your self-control and don’t drink too much or stay out until 4am. No matter how much fun you’re having, you should always keep in mind that balance is needed for you to be able to do both and your priority right now is school.

So, have fun and have a life! But make sure you’re still giving yourself priorities and sticking to them so that you can be successful.

Figuring out the right balance between work and play is another integral transition that all pharmacy and medical students will have to navigate. In the past, it was possible to sleep all day after a late party. When you’re pursuing careers in the medical field, however, you’ll need to put yourself in a position where you can be efficient after the party.

Create the right priorities and focus on your education

During our undergrad years, things were laid out pretty clearly for us. If you simply attend most classes and turn in assignments by 11:59 pm, you were in the clear. Now, it’s important to figure out your reason. 

Your reason could be that you want to be at the top of your class, get into a residency in your dream city, or any other number of motivators. Knowing the reason why you want to succeed while you’re in your program is going to be key when it comes to actually succeed. 

You see, when you know your priorities and motivators, what you need to do suddenly becomes clearer.  And when things get hard or you don’t feel like pushing yourself, having clear priorities will be what motivates you to keep going.  

So, when it comes to the big transitions that you’ll experience in medical and pharmacy school, the focus should remain on you. Find out what works best for you in terms of studying, building relationships, and scheduling all of your activities and go for it! You’ll find that, once you get used to the pace, your passion for this field will help guide you through all the rest.

Transitioning to residency or practicing on your own

The first month after graduation is usually spent having some downtime (take a vacation to celebrate!). For pharmacy students, this time is also spent studying for the Naplex and MPJE and possibly moving to a new city. In my husband’s case, after he graduated med school, he had to do a ton of paperwork to get his medical license and get credentialed in a new hospital. And then moving to a new city, getting settled (all your cable, etc. set up), took a lot of our energy during this transitional period.  

This is where another mindset shift happens. You go from learning and being able to run all of your decisions by a preceptor to being the one in control!

Now you are having to make decisions about whether a medication should or should not be dispensed at this dose and if it may or may not interact with a patient's current regimen. For some, this causes a lot of doubt, and it should! You DO NOT know everything as soon as you graduate.

Know where to find the right information. Having your trusted resources handy is key to help you critically deduce if the situation is right. Remember, you HAVE NOT seen everything yet. There are going to be medication regimens that surprise you and indications that you may not initially understand. Understanding when to call and clarify, or when to know if it’s just not something you’ve seen yet, is a huge balance especially for medical residents and community pharmacists. Before you call (unless something is missing or it is blatantly obvious), make sure you’ve looked at your resources. 

Have a group of people you trust and can still ask. Make a group text! Join a facebook group! Pharmacy moms is great resource for bringing together pharmacists on Facebook too. 

So, go into this new stage with an open mindset. No matter how well you did in school and your rotations, there are going to be new things to learn. Know when to lean on others and your resources for help!

Joanna Simmon