Learning as a new practitioner
Sara Massey, PharmD, is senior specialist of participant medication experience at MOBĒ in Minneapolis, MN.
On Rotation question: What can newly minted pharmacists do immediately after graduation to set the foundation for becoming lifelong learners?
“Kelsea,” congratulations on your approaching graduation! You are about to transition from student pharmacist to new practitioner and begin your pharmacy career. Whether you’re starting your career as a resident, as a fellow, or as an ambulatory care, community, or hospital pharmacist, it’s important to challenge yourself to continue learning throughout your career.
During pharmacy school, your learning was structured—from lectures and labs to rotations and interprofessional experiences. On the first day, you were given a road map consisting of the learning objectives needed for graduation. Once you graduate and enter a career, those structured learning opportunities tend to disappear.
I didn’t always appreciate the structured learning setting. But now that I have been out of school for a few years, I have discovered how important it is to have a learning structure or routine. Here are a few strategies I’ve used as a new practitioner that I hope will help as you navigate self-learning.
If you’ve never heard of something or don’t fully understand a topic, ask for more information. I’ve witnessed so many people at different stages in their careers avoid asking questions—in fear of appearing uneducated, causing confusion, or feeling like an imposter. On the other hand, I’ve seen tremendous professional and personal growth in individuals who learn by asking questions.
Polish old skills and develop new ones
An old nursery rhyme advises, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.” In the same way, it's important to keep using your skills while developing new ones—you need both silver and gold.
One way to polish your skills is to identify your strengths and use them daily. When it comes to new skills, think about where you want to be in 1 to 5 years and the skills you’ll need to be successful. Speak with your mentors or network to learn about opportunities to develop those skills. Taking professional development courses, earning an additional degree, or shadowing individuals with a desired skill set are a few examples.
Seek out unique opportunities
Don’t be afraid to try something new—you never know what you might learn or how it can impact your career! During my time as a new practitioner, I’ve been given the opportunity to practice in a nontraditional setting. All I’d known before this experience was academia and ambulatory care pharmacy. In this nontraditional role, I’ve had to continuously learn new skills, terminology, strategies, and communication styles to do my job effectively. Without agreeing to practice in a unique environment, I wouldn’t have been exposed to a career path that fuels and excites me every day. This can happen for you, too!
By using some of these strategies, you’ll be able to set a foundation that will enable you to learn naturally, almost without trying, throughout your career. I also encourage you to stay involved in organizations like APhA and rely on your network to find ways to continue learning in your career.
Best of luck with your next adventure, “Kelsea”!