Helping Students Find Their Passion: Sooner Rather Than Later

By Sierra George, PharmD Student

Recently, my sister (an undergraduate student at the University of Kentucky), shadowed me for a day to experience “life as a student pharmacist.” She was evaluating what type of professional graduate degree she wanted to pursue, and I suggested that she follow me. For me, experience has been the key to figuring out what my career direction would be. I wanted to share my experiences with her to make her decision an informed one.

Increasingly, college graduates are using their degrees like “stepping stones” to future careers and tend to try several career pathways before settling in one direction.1 In a recent study, healthcare and pharmaceuticals were in the top five career types that see a career change in the first five years of graduating.2 There have been many reasons attributed to this shift, including new financial opportunities and the promise of faster promotions.

Even though student pharmacists have access to a wide range of experiences that help guide them in choosing a career, turnover rate for pharmacists still averages 9-11%.3 This shows that there is still more that can be done to ensure that skilled pharmacists are finding a way to develop in their careers without feeling the need to “job-hop.” I believe that creating an exploratory environment in education could play a key role in reducing the amount of uncertainty in career choices that today’s graduates are facing.  

Making an Experience-Based Choice
I knew that I wanted to go into the healthcare field, but never decided on the field. I graduated with a BS degree with no job and no direction. Except for rare visits to a local drug store, I had no experience in pharmacy. It was five years before I found my career path. I got a job in a pharmacy by happenstance, and the more experience I gained as a technician, the stronger the pull to pursue pharmacy as a career. Now, several years later, I have no doubts that the career path I chose was the correct one, and it had nothing to do with sitting in classes and everything to do with experience.

Encouraging Opportunities
Not everyone will have to experiment with entry level jobs and find a good match; therefore, students should be given openings during their education to a variety of real life experiences.  At the very least, early experiential learning could encourage students to explore careers and hopefully guide them in a more meaningful way than classroom studies alone can accomplish.  Below are a few opportunities that could pave the way for more directive educational layers:

  • Experience as a Prerequisite
    There are two colleges of pharmacy in my state (Kentucky). Neither pharmacy experience or patient care is required to apply. In contrast, both schools have a physician’s assistant master’s program that requires patient contact hours, one of which requires 500 hours. Pharmacy is growing into a more patient-centered field, and it stands to reason that incoming students should be held to a more patient-centered standard. Requiring experience allows the student to see that they are a good fit for the field.  One health care professions admissions guide suggests, “Such experiences should provide the applicant with a realistic perspective to confirm his or her reasons for entering the profession and to gain insight into the professional and personal challenges faced by current practitioners.”4
  • Mentor Programs
    A good start to help undergraduates decide if pharmacy is the right career choice would be for schools to run mentor programs for students. Pairing undergraduate students with current pharmacy students would allow for discussion about expectations in furthering education and career opportunities. It would allow for students to shadow graduate students, potentially both in the classroom and at intern sites, depending on what the state allows. These students who decide to apply to pharmacy school will then have a better grasp of their career direction and have more confidence that they have chosen the correct field to pursue.
  • Layered Learning for Pharmacy Education
    Layered learning models have taken on many forms, but the pharmacy world tends to focus on experience-based learning at practice sites and in interdisciplinary teams.5 Careers that require a higher education level tend to be more classroom focused, with experiential education being a final thought at the end of didactic coursework.  Experiential education can be the turning point for a student to go from having a generalized pharmacist base knowledge to developing a role-specific skillset.  Offering a more individualized set of rotations throughout the PharmD Curriculum could be a key step in moving students toward a fitting career.    

We want passionate pharmacists entering the field, our hospitals, and our community. Experience helped me find my passion. I would encourage educators to act as mentors to aid students in finding the experiences they need to find theirs.

Dr. Daniel Malcom for his help on this article and for being an excellent mentor.


  1. Long,H. The New Normal: 4 Job Changes by the Time You’re 32. Published April 12, 2016. Accessed November 10, 2017.
  2. Berger,G. Will This Year’s College Grads Job-Hop More Than Previous Grads? Published April 12, 2016. Accessed November 10, 2017.
  3. Mero, K. 2017 Pharmacy Compensation Survey—Base Pay Increased- All Positions/Healthcare Retail/ Satellite Pharmacist Increased 27.4% 2015-2017/Lead Pharmacy Technician increased 10.7%.
  4. Elam, C. Seaver, D. Berres, P. Brandt, B. Helping Students Gain a Competitive Edge. Journal of College Admission. 2002.  n176 p16-21. Accessed November 25, 2017. Published June 15, 2017. Accessed November 3, 2017.
  5. Cobaugh, D. Layered Learning: The Confluence of Pharmacy Education and Practice. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2016;73(24):2035.


Sierra George is a student at Sullivan University College of Pharmacy. Educational scholarship interests include clinical ethics and encouraging student development and involvement. In her free time, Sierra is an avid reader and has a passion for baking.

Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning

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