Pursuing Residency as a Practicing Pharmacist: Is it Worth It?
December 12, 2022
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“We regret to inform you that you did not match to a position.”
Never before had I received such crushing words in an email. As a P4 who had just spent the past five months going through Phases I and II of the 2021 Match, those words were coupled with the uncertainty of what the future might hold. My hopes and dreams of residency, which I had worked so hard towards for the past four years, came crashing down. And I was left with a resounding, “Now what?”
Fortunately, I was already working as a hospital intern and was able to transition into a staff pharmacist position after graduation. My colleagues knew I had tried for a residency. Everyone asked the same question: “Will you try again next year?” This led to a very hard examination of what I wanted out of my pharmacist life. Should I still pursue residency? What were the benefits? What were the drawbacks?
I asked a lot of people for opinions. One co-worker said, “You’re already practicing. Doing a residency would be like taking a step backwards.” Others advised that there were opportunities that would open for me if I did “go back” that either couldn’t happen without a residency or would take years and a lot of luck to achieve.
Well, as is probably obvious, I decided to pursue a residency. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Benefits of doing a residency as a practicing pharmacist
I got to start from a place of experience. Instead of starting straight out of school, I was able to accrue some valuable experience that I could draw from during residency, and it made the transition very easy and much less overwhelming.
I didn’t have to worry about taking the NAPLEX and MPJE during the first few months of residency. I can’t tell you how helpful this was for my stress levels. I feel bad that my co-residents had to study after rotation and stress about exams while I got to go home and enjoy my own time.
I got to pursue career-enriching activities. There are a lot of really cool opportunities available in residency, such as teaching certificate programs, leadership classes and positions in professional organizations that you would have had to seek out on your own time (and dime). Here, they are offered and encouraged!
You’ll never in your life get more, or better, feedback on how you’re practicing. When I started practicing, I got four weeks of training and then was sent out to “sink or swim.” The only time I got feedback was when I did something wrong. Residency is, by design, a year of training by people who are there to build you up and help you gain confidence.
Finances. The paycheck cut is no joke, and you need to be prepared for a potential lifestyle adjustment. A lot of people take on big expenses like car payments and mortgages with their new pharmacist salary, and that reduction in salary in residency is something you need to prepare for. Fortunately, programs tell you upfront exactly what your stipend will be for the year so you can plan accordingly.
You’ll have to do homework again. I know, I know. You thought you were done staying up late to write topic discussions for APPEs. Residencies love topic discussions, journal clubs and PowerPoint presentations. At least there’s no tests or grades, right?
A lot of people will assume you’re an intern again, but by October people start assuming you’re a pharmacist again. So it’s not really that bad.
Some tips if you’re considering a residency after having practiced
Keep yourself competitive. Having experience is an attractive quality to some programs, but is that all you’ve done since you graduated? Keep active in organizations — with your pharmacy school, your work and your community.
It’s a myth that your pharmacy school grades no longer matter. The weight of your grades varies by institution, but it’s still considered even after you’re licensed.
Speaking of licensing: If you’ve been licensed for less than a year in your home state and are looking at out-of-state options, check with that state’s board of pharmacy for requirements for transferring licenses. I made this mistake and didn’t check Oregon’s license transfer requirements and very nearly put myself in a position to lose my spot in residency before it even started because there was a chance I wouldn’t have gotten licensed in time.
It’s easy to lose your organizational skills after leaving school, especially if your job doesn’t involve a lot of meetings or prep work outside of work hours. You’ll have to get used to keeping a calendar again.
Would I apply again, knowing what I do now?
Absolutely. Residency is absolutely a challenge, but one that is worth undertaking. I wish you luck if you decide to go for it. And here’s hoping you get that email with those five words:
“Congratulations! You have matched!”