Graduation day for Michelle Cottino and fellow classmates at the Temple University School of Pharmacy.
By Michelle C. Cottino, PharmD, JD
This year’s APhA–ASP presidential theme, “Embrace Your Calling,” really resonates with me because of my own journey to find my calling. I graduated college with an accounting degree. Thereafter, I went to law school and was admitted to the New York and New Jersey bars. A few years into practicing as an attorney, I found myself deeply unhappy in my career. I felt I was destined for something else.
I often visited my parents’ pharmacy two doors down from the law firm where I practiced. Seeing their devotion to their patients evoked an epiphany: patient care is my true passion. I wanted to help others through health care. That year, I made one of the biggest decisions in my life: to embrace my calling, I left my career as an attorney and became a student pharmacist at the Temple University School of Pharmacy.
Starting over was difficult, but my first semester of pharmacy school validated that I had made the right decision. I was truly happy even during stressful times. Over the next 4 years, my love for pharmacy and patient care grew exponentially as I learned more and saw the impact pharmacists can make. Confucius’s quote became my mantra: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
My calling as an advocate
Everything clicked when I learned about the role of clinical pharmacists. I knew that becoming a clinical pharmacist was my calling. The greatest reward of this profession is seeing the positive impact our actions have on patient health and quality of life. Direct patient care is my ultimate passion. I was determined to do whatever it took to land a residency after graduation.
Incidentally, following my calling as a clinical pharmacist led me to some of my greatest experiences. Worried about getting a residency motivated me to run for the Region 2 APhA–ASP Regional Delegate position. I never considered myself a leader; however, I needed to step outside my comfort zone to diversify my professional experiences and grow as a future clinical pharmacist. My time as Regional Delegate was the most remarkable and inspirational experience. Seeing the effect we can make on the expansion of the profession and improvement of patient care ignited a passion for advocacy I did not know I had. My role also provided the opportunity to connect with many incredible student pharmacists across the country, some of who have become family.
By embracing my calling, I not only found a career to carry out my legacy as a compassionate pharmacist, but also found a secondary calling as an advocate and gained a family of friends that continue to inspire me to be my best.
When one door closes …
I applied for a residency this year and was completely heartbroken when I did not match. My world was turned upside down and I was lost. I reached out to the professors and preceptors that have become my mentors. They helped me realize that it was not the end of the road and not matching was not a reflection of my qualifications, but more of a reflection on the need for more residency programs. There are so many amazing student pharmacists that are passionate about patient care, but the supply of residency programs does not meet the demand. It highlighted the pressing need to advocate for the expansion of our profession and to raise awareness of the value pharmacists bring to health care.
After a lot of self-reflection and support from friends, I identified areas that I could improve upon going forward and determined my goals for the next year. I will reapply for a residency this coming year. In the interim, I will work at my parents’ pharmacy, where I hope to implement more clinical services (e.g., point-of-care testing and immunizations) and increase our patient counseling efforts. I am also seeking a hospital staff pharmacist position to continue my inpatient experiences.
Remaining involved with pharmacy associations will always be a goal of mine. Because I will have more free time over the next year, I applied for and was granted a position on the 2018–19 APhA Policy Review Committee. Additionally, I will be an APhA New Practitioner Mentor for the Rutgers University APhA–ASP Chapter.
Not matching this year was a devastating setback, but it has opened other opportunities and I am ecstatic to be able to continue my involvement with APhA. My advice to student pharmacists is to embrace your calling, step outside your comfort zone, and push your boundaries. Do not let setbacks deter you from achieving your goals. Setbacks are opportunities to learn and grow. As stated by Mahatma Ghandi, “The future depends on what you do today.”