UAMS guests offer insight into pharmacy careers

Release Date: 5/7/2012

You may think a pharmacist is just that person behind the counter who doles out your pills when you're sick. But in reality, students who go on to pharmacy school have a wide range of career options, and Dr. Sean Coleman wanted students to learn more about those options. Last October, he invited representatives from the University of Arkansas Medical School (UAMS) College of Pharmacy to campus for a question and answer forum to highlight the varied career opportunities possible for pharmacists, and to give students a peek into the day-to-day life of those enrolled in pharmacy school.

Making up the panel were UAMS Student Recruiter Kemi Talabi, two fourth-year pharmacy students, McKenna Hicks and Heather Ainsley, and two Ozarks graduates who are on the faculty at UAMS, Dr. Victoria Sayarath-Seaton and Dr. Lindsey Turnbow-Dayer.

Talabi opened the discussion by explaining the degree options offered at UAMS. In addition to its Master's Program in Pharmaceutical Sciences, Talabi said that the university offers a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Pharmacology as well as a Master of Science degree in Pharmaceutical Evaluation and Policy. Students can also pursue joint programs in which they receive their Master's in Pharmaceutical Sciences in conjunction with an Master of Business Arts, a Master's in Public Health, or from law school through the University of Arkansas. "There are a broad range of things you can do with a pharmacy degree," she said. "And they all pay pretty well."

Pharmacy Panel

Guests from the UAMS College of Pharmacy were on campus recently to discuss the options available to those interested in applying to pharmacy school.

She then explained the admission requirements for the program, emphasizing that students who plan to apply to the school need to maintain a minimum grade point average of 2.5 on their undergraduate work, and score at least in the 30th percentile on the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT). However, she cautioned that competition for the available spots in the class is extremely tough, and that students might actually have to do much better to be admitted. "For the class of 2015," she said, "the average GPA was 3.58 and the average PCAT was 72. That tells you a little bit about our students' academic quality."

Ainsley and Hicks, both in their fourth year of the UAMS pharmacy program, then talked about what a student interested in pharmacy school should expect after they've been admitted to the program. They agreed that one of the main differences between undergraduate school and pharmacy school is study habits. "The first year has what I think is the biggest learning curve," said Hicks. "Are you used to studying a certain way, or maybe not studying too hard and getting by, or studying the night before tests? You can't do that in pharmacy school. You have to start studying a week our more out for exams. There's just too much material, and you have to know it, not kind-of know it. That won't work. It's hard - it's difficult - but you do learn so much that first year, and you learn more about yourself and your study skills than anything."

"Another thing about pharmacy school is that every class is important," added Ainsley. "Every class is hard. I know in undergrad I would have a couple of science classes that were my really big ones, then a couple of classes that were easier. But in pharmacy school it does take super-dedication."

But things do get better, she hastened to add. "By the middle or end of second year you've got your rhythm down, you've learned to study, and then the third year comes along and you get to pick some electives. That's really nice."

Both students said that those starting out in the program shouldn't spend too much time trying to decide right away what they want to do because there are so many options. "There are all kinds of ways to work in the community in pharmacy," Hicks said. "For myself, I want to be a retail pharmacist. I've worked at Walmart for about six years, and before that I worked for an independent pharmacy. So you can become a retail or independent pharmacist. [UAMS] offers a lot of management classes in business so you can learn about opening your own pharmacy if that's the route you want to follow."

Ainsley said that the program is actually designed to provide the pharmacy students with many opportunities to explore the career possibilities open to them. "After the first year, you spend 2 ½ weeks in a retail pharmacy," she said. "After the 2nd year you spend a month in a hospital pharmacy. After the 3rd year you do nine one-month rotations, a different place each month, and you get to follow the pharmacists around and learn what they do."

She said that students also have the option of doing one- to two-year residencies. "Doing a residency is kind of like your 4th year rotations, except now you are the pharmacist, not just following someone around learning," she said. "They say it's worth 3-5 years' worth of experience in that one year, when you do a residency. That really trains you to be a clinical pharmacist."

As Ozarks graduates, Dayer and Seaton brought a unique perspective to the Ozarks students attending the forum. Both Dayer and Seaton are currently teaching at UAMS, as assistant professors of pharmacy practice, and both talked specifically about the things they did at Ozarks that prepared them for pharmacy school.

Dayer graduated from Ozarks in 2005, and said that said the opportunity to get involved in a wide-array of activities and classes helped her when she started pharmacy school. "At Ozarks you get a chance to get involved in so many things that it helps make you a more well-rounded person," she said. "I was in the choir, I played soccer, took voice lessons, all sorts of things. It also helped me with time management, something that is vital for pharmacy school."

Dayer also underscored the point made by Ainsley and Hicks - don't think you have to decide on your career during your first year. She said that by her fourth year in pharmacy school she decided to do a residency in clinical pharmacy at UAMS. "I did my rotations at an oncology clinic," she said. Oncology is the branch of medicine dealing with the study, development, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of tumors. However, when a teaching position at UAMS came open, Dayer said she decided to pursue that option instead. "I do some lectures, but mostly I teach through having 4th year students do rotations with me in an outpatient oncology clinic," she said. "We see patients and do counseling regarding their chemo. Starting in January, I'm doing a Chemo 101 class weekly for patients. Eventually students will teach that class as well."

Ozarks Pharmacy faculty.

UAMS faculty and Ozarks graduates Lindsey Turnbow-Dayer '05 and Victoria Sayarath-Seaton '06 talk with professors Frank Knight and Sean Coleman during their visit to campus to participate in a panel discussion on the UAMS pharmacy program.

Seaton, who graduated from Ozarks in 2006, talked about the importance of preparing while still in an undergraduate program, and described the things she did at Ozarks to prepare for UAMS. "My career started here at U of O," she said. "I knew I wanted to go to pharmacy school and I did some research at UAMS as an undergraduate." Her research took place during a summer internship at UAMS, where she studied the genetics of fruit flies with neurobiologists at UAMS. Seaton believes that this research paved the way for her to get into pharmacy school. "I had something to talk about to my interviewers when the time came," she said, "not just 'I made good grades and here's my PCAT score.' When they asked what was different about me, I was able to say 'I did a lot of research.'"

Like Dayer, Seaton said her current position came as a result of a residency program. She chose to do her residency through the Veteran's Hospital and continues to work at the VA in Fayetteville. "I was able to do the different clinical sites - acute care, ambulatory care - but my patient population, being veterans, was very different than the usual," she said. "Now I manage the meds for a 17-20 bed VA hospital ward - I work with vets only. I help counsel the patients regarding their meds three days a week and offer meds education to them as well."

As the discussion drew to a close, one of the students attending the forum asked about the income side of being a pharmacist. According to Talabi, the salaries are quite good, ranging from $90-150,000. In addition, she said that most graduates quickly find a job in the field after they complete the program. "Last year," she said, "100+ students did an income survey for us. According to the survey, 82-percent of them had jobs when they completed the program, and their average salary was $113,000. The majority of them had gone into retail pharmacy."

Ultimately, the panelists wanted students to understand that a career in pharmacy can be much broader than most people think - it can offer opportunities from local and hospital pharmacies, to pharmaceutical or medical research, and even pharmaceutical and medical sales. As Coleman points out, the Ozarks pre-pharmacy program is specifically designed to help prepare students regardless of which pharmacy path they take. For example, he said students all take a class called tutorial practicum, which allows them to shadow a local professional and get a feel for the kind of work they do. "A lot of students enter college and their only experience with the medical profession is what they see on television," said Coleman. "We've had a lot of success with this program because it gives students a real-world look into the area they want to pursue."

Coleman said that while pre-pharmacy students typically graduate with a major in Biology, those who are interested in pursuing a degree in pharmacy will work closely with a pre-pharmacy advisor to tailor their program to meet the requirements of whatever school they're interested in, whether it is UAMS, or a pharmacy program at another university.

For more information about the Ozarks Pre-Pharmacy program, contact Dr. Sean Coleman, Professor of Biology and Chief Health Professions Advisor, by email at scolema@ozarks.edu, or visit the Biology major page and the Pre-Pharmacy page on our website.