Residency taught me more than I expected

Residents Corner By Kristyn Williamson, PharmD

Following my graduation from the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy, I moved halfway across the country to start my community pharmacy residency at Virginia Commonwealth University. I was planning to finish the residency, move back to Minnesota, and work in the community to implement new patient care services.

I had never considered anything else. So how did I end up becoming an online teaching specialist?

My residency experience
As a student pharmacist, I procrastinated occasionally, but met deadlines and maintained a strong GPA. However, I quickly learned I needed to become more efficient to survive residency. Through trial and error, I found making lists and schedules worked well for me.

Lists made overwhelming tasks become small, manageable pieces. Instead of writing “finish manuscript,” I would write “start Methods section” or “edit Introduction.” Rather than feeling stressed by tasks, I felt accomplished crossing items off my list. Scheduling helped me effectively manage my time and evaluate my priorities. I scheduled time for everything, including relaxation. Unsurprisingly, if I didn’t make a point to schedule time for myself, the pressures of residency quickly took over. But relaxing couldn’t always be a priority. I did find, however, that scheduling something fun weeks in advance gave me something to look forward to.

Fortunately, my residency program also provided experiences in a variety of practice settings. I spent time dispensing, teaching in academia, practicing in ambulatory care, managing patient care services, and serving as a preceptor. I was able to compare the different settings and discover which I enjoyed most. There were certainly experiences I enjoyed more, but this was an opportunity to eliminate some settings from my list.

The decision
With the end of residency approaching, I kept hearing “What are you going to do now?” What was I going to do? Did I still want to go into community practice? I reflected on my experiences from the past year. I identified my priorities for both my career and personal life. I cannot stress enough how valuable your priorities are when making a career decision. You may never find “the perfect job,” but if you keep your priorities in mind, you can find something pretty close to perfect!

As I began my job search back in Minnesota, I was disappointed in not only the number of job openings, but also the number of jobs that had any semblance of progressive pharmacy practice. I had spent the last year improving my patient care skills and getting excited about the prospect of innovative patient care services, but was quickly frustrated with the monotonous responsibilities of each job description I read. After examining my priorities, I discovered flexibility, variability, and education were most important to me. So finally, I found a posting for a “teaching specialist” at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy. I quickly used the contacts I had made during my time as a student pharmacist to inquire about the position. I found the innovative methods in online learning to be intriguing and exciting. I was also pleasantly surprised by the progressive interprofessional practice setting. 

 My responsibilities vary on a daily basis and allow me a great deal of flexibility. For the most part, I am able to create my own hours and work from home if I prefer. With the courses I teach, including Orientation to Pharmacy, Common Prescription Drugs and Diseases, and Pharmacotherapy for the Health Professions, and my different responsibilities within the college, each day is a little different.

However, students are the common denominator among all my roles. I teach undergraduate, nursing, graduate, and student pharmacists. I also practice in the School of Dentistry, expanding the role of pharmacists in the dental industry. Our pharmacy team provides care in the dental clinic and consults with dental faculty and students about drug-related concerns. Our goal is to identify potential gaps in primary care, while encouraging dental students to consider the patient’s overall health when providing care.

Putting residency skills to use
As I anticipated, residency strengthened my communication skills, clinical knowledge, and patient care skills. However, residency taught me more than I expected. I learned to effectively manage my time, both at work and at home. I discovered my passions and priorities. Finally, I learned that it is okay to change your mind.

I spent years telling everyone (including myself) I was going into community practice. While I am still passionate about community pharmacy, without residency, I would have never explored other interests. It was frightening to make a change to academia, but I had the experiences and the knowledge I gained during residency to assure me it was the right choice.

Good luck as the end of residency draws near and your career picture comes into focus.