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How I Made Myself a Competitive Applicant for Pharmacy School - #THELAB

Updated: Apr 20

I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as luck. People place themselves in the best position possible to maximize the likelihood of success through hard work and initiative.

 
My mom and I at my white coat ceremony for pharmacy school.
My mom and I at my white coat ceremony for pharmacy school.

Applying for any post-graduate program can be extremely stressful and full of anxiety. What I've come to realize after experiencing the whole process applying for pharmacy school that remains pertinent in my life is that emotion of uncertainty brings out the best in me.


Consistently how I've found myself in the "right" opportunity comes down to continuing to say yes to opportunities, especially ones that you'd say no to normally. I'm not a believer in "luck". However, I am a huge advocate that we can only maximize the likelihood of success and put the effort towards achieving your career goals.


Here is how I ensured that I was a competitive applicant to get into pharmacy school.


 

Pertinent, Real-Life Experiences


How are you showing your interest and initiative in your career goals? Once I decided on becoming a pharmacist, I wanted opportunities that would give me a better understanding of the profession. At the time, it only made sense to me to look into experiences involving being a pharmacy technician.


My last day at CVS/pharmacy before leaving to pharmacy school.
My last day at CVS/pharmacy before leaving to pharmacy school.

Certified Pharmacy Technician

  • Getting real-life experience in ANY pharmacy is extremely valuable since you want to know what you're committing yourself to.

  • I took pride in being that "super pharmacy technician" because I was gaining invaluable experience with becoming familiar with medications, indications, common outpatient pharmacy issues, etc.

  • Sure, a lot of my time was counting by 5's and calling insurances/patients. What people don't tell you regarding jobs as a young adult is that those are the opportunities to become a problem solver, a critical thinker, and triaging solutions. Can't get practice if you don't come across problems.


Passing the PTCB exam to become a certified pharmacy technician.
Passing the PTCB exam to become a certified pharmacy technician.

Pass Pharmacy Technician Certification Board Exam (PTCB) - More Info

  • The PTCE is a board-certified, nationally taken assessment by pharmacy technicians who want to further their careers via certification.

  • This was an easy way for me to separate myself from other pharmacy school applicants who were technicians. Obtaining the certification isn't something that all technicians pursue.

California State Los Angeles Pharmacy Technician Program - More Info

  • I'm not sure how valuable this program was overall, to be quite honest. The class didn't really provide anything different from a learning perspective that I wasn't getting within the pharmacy itself and/or studying for the PTCE.

  • I completed the program and received a certificate of completion. Looking back, I probably would not have spent the money or time (I had to spend the summer back home in LA to take the classes) to put this on my CV.

 

Leadership


Pursuing leadership opportunities provides a different aspect of problem solving. you gain experiences dealing with different personalities/characters, proposing solutions, and encountering logistical issues. That is one of the biggest things we come across as we age; how are we able to deal with people.


"Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection." – Mark Twain

Attended my first conference, HOSA Leadership Conference in Tuscan, AZ
Attended my first conference, HOSA Leadership Conference in Tuscan, AZ

Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) Treasurer

  • Honestly, this was the first leadership position that I obtained and was full of challenges. I wasn't very good at communicating via email, organizing my responsibilities, and working with certain team members.

  • What I didn't realize at the time was this was the primary driver behind why I was so passionate about student involvement as a student pharmacist. There were weaknesses that I wanted to improve upon as a professional.

CVS Lead Technician

  • This was the first time I negotiated a pay increase in my life. I knew my value within the pharmacy as a technician. Being the every weekend guy, picking up extra shifts, really just being that super tech every community pharmacy wants on their team.

  • After a year of showing my value, I was offered a $1.00 increase in my pay which I felt was ridiculous. I arranged a meeting with the district manager through my pharmacy manager and negotiated a pay increase of $5.00 that came with more responsibility.

  • One of those responsibilities was doing the schedule for the other technicians. This required extensive communication and formulating alternatives/solutions with other techs because everyone wants the hours to get paid, while maintaining their life outside home.


 

Academics to Become a Competitive Applicant for Pharmacy School


How important are grades as an undergraduate applying for post-graduate programs? It is a part of the overall evaluation of you as a candidate on paper. Being at the top of your class may not always be a positive if you're lacking experiences working with people. Having poor grades without other areas of strength on your CV reduces your likelihood of separating yourself from other candidates.


Prior to setting my sights on becoming a pharmacist, I never took school seriously. I graduated high school with a 2.2 GPA and went to Santa Monica Community College my first year. I only received one A in high school, and that was chemistry. I really thought I'd be the next Timmy Chang.


I'm not sure what exactly changed in my perspective, but once I knew that I was going to apply for a post-graduate program, it was more how can I figure out how to good grades. You don't need to be a straight A student. However, you need either 1) show positive trends in courses or 2) average grades with other strengths on your CV to make up for it.


As mentioned above, being a student wasn't a strength growing up. Once the dream came to mind of what I could be as a pharmacist, I made a conscious effort to adapt my approach to school and achieved a 4.0 GPA. I bring this up because I know for a fact that if I can get good grades, you absolutely can.


 

Separating Yourself with Stories


Pursing any post-graduate program can be extremely stressful since there is uncertainty in getting accepted into schools. I am firm believer that there is no luck; people put themselves in the best position possible to maximize the likelihood of success. How I ensured that I had the best chances of getting accepted into pharmacy school was becoming a competitive OVERALL candidate through pertinent, real-life experiences, leadership opportunities, and academics.


Separating yourself on paper gets you that interview. THIS IS WHERE YOU WIN THE OFFER FOR ADMISSION. All those things we talked about above? I have stories and experiences to talk about during the interview. Those conversations that are specific to your story is how you separate yourself from other candidates. What qualities can you represent about yourself? That is what taking advantage of opportunities give you; stories.


 



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