Job: Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) Candidate; MBA Candidate; Pharmacy Intern at CVS
Location: Charleston, South Carolina
Katherine and I were connected by her fiancé Eric, a friend of mine and an interviewee from a few weeks ago. Though I did not know Katherine well in my time at Furman, I knew she would be a great person to interview because not only is she taking a medical route that I am not greatly familiar with, but it may even be a path you are interested in taking one day.
Give us a brief background.
I’m from Winston-Salem, North Carolina and I went to high school there, followed by college at Furman University for undergrad. Going into college, I wanted to go to veterinary school, so during the summers in college, I worked at a vet’s office where they focused on larger animals like cows and horses. I talked to the vet that I worked with, and he and his wife, who was also a vet, told me to go to pharmacy school. They told me if I wanted to keep horses as my hobby, I should not become a vet.
How did you know pharmacy was the track for you?
My mom, aunt, and cousin are all pharmacists, so pharmacy was always on my radar. As I went through Furman and initially thought I wanted to be a vet, I always thought of pharmacy as my backup. Then my freshman year, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and I didn’t really know where it would take me or how it would progress. This left me thinking that I really didn’t want to be a large animal vet with significant health issues because it’s not really an ideal job choice if you’re not fully healthy. That’s when I really started thinking about pharmacy. Then I talked to a pre-health advisor at Furman about my idea and she thought it was a good plan, so I went from there.
One of the big benefits of pharmacy is you actually don’t need to have a degree to go to school. No one really knows that unless you have enough experience in the field, which luckily I had some because of my family. It was such a huge benefit because you can go to pharmacy school a year earlier and save a year’s worth of tuition. So in my sophomore year of college, I made it my goal to go to pharmacy school after my junior year. That’s how I chose pharmacy and ended up at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC).
Can you talk to us about getting your dual degree and what that looks like?
A lot of pharmacy schools now offer dual degree programs. MUSC offers an MBA and Doctor of Pharmacy dual degree, which is what I am getting currently, and they are working on beginning to offer a dual degree with a Masters of Public Health soon. For the MBA program, we actually do it through The Citadel, so I applied as if I were going there. All of my MBA work has been online and I started last summer, so I only have two classes left and then I’ll have my MBA by May of 2019. Pharmacy is a super vast field, so having a dual degree is a huge asset for me. You can work in the drug industry, the hospital, or in a business field, so it is really a good option not to limit yourself and do as much as you can now.
What does your day-to-day look like as a candidate and an intern?
Pharmacy school is four years and I'm going into my third year. We have class for about half the day, then we have labs once or twice a week in the afternoon. When I’m not at work, I’m usually at CVS for my internship, where I work about ten to fifteen hours per week. To sit with the boards, you need to have 500 hours of pharmacy experience, so that’s why I work there. A lot of people go ahead and get a job while they’re in school so they can make a little bit of money and get their hours in before sitting the boards. The whole point behind these internships is to essentially create pharmacists. The thought process behind these pharmacies is that they will get pharmacy students into their workspaces, pay them well, and when they graduate they can just put them right into a pharmacist position.
In your first year, we have nine classes with at least two tests a week. It’s a lot of juggling with a lot of balls in the air that you’re trying to keep up with. Work-life balance really does not exist, so you have to find your community within where you’re at. Whether it’s work or school, I'm kind of always going. We also have some student organizations within MUSC, which I am a part of. They are mostly professional organizations that meet during our lunch hours. I’m part of the Student Society of Health Systems Pharmacists, so they’ll bring in speakers who work in different parts of the hospital to tell us how they got where they are or people who tell us what they look for in candidates for residencies. These groups help steer you in terms of where you want to go within pharmacy and it has absolutely helped me in my search.
How have you found that community you mentioned earlier?
I would say know yourself and know the kind of people you like to spend time with, and then seek them out. Whether that means awkwardly inserting yourself into situations or whatever, you have to do it. From early on in those first few classes, I found what I wanted based on who was in my classes and who I saw around, so I literally invited myself to some girl’s birthday dinner one time, and we are all great friends to this day. We study together, get dinner together, and it’s great because we all have very similar mindsets regarding school and we want to work hard. At the same time, we like to go to dinner and enjoy each other's company, which is just as important. From a work standpoint, I would say not to settle when it comes to your work community. You’re already stressed anyway, so don’t make work an added stress on top of school. For me, I got placed in a really amazing CVS store for my internship, so I got lucky. My boss is amazing, and we like to do stuff outside of work, which is unusual for most. So if you’re not happy, don’t stick with it if it is not a good community. Find something you like and are interested in and not something that makes you miserable.
Is it easy to financially sustain yourself being a student and intern?
So, of course, there are student loans from tuition, which speaks enough for itself. But I would say my internship income is good for the “extras”, like going out to eat. I don’t feel like I am breaking the bank when I’m out with friends. Is it going to cover my school loans? Absolutely not. But it is good to have for dipping into the fun things, which I think is important.
What do you think is the added value of going right into grad school, as opposed to going right into work?
It depends on if you know what you want to do. If you are 100% set on going to medical school or pharmacy school, then I say go for it. But if you’re not sure, don’t waste your money. Wait until you know what you want to do because it’s a lot of money and a lot of time. If you do decide to go into a career first, make sure you understand that the area you are going into isn’t the only area that interests you. If you’re going to work for CVS, realize that there is a whole hospital field and business side of pharmacy too. Understand that there is more before you mark it off.
Where do you see yourself in the next 15 to 20 years?
I would like to do a residency. Within pharmacy, residency is not required, but hospital systems have recently wanted students to have residency experience. These are two-year programs that help you figure out what specialty you like. So I see myself doing a residency, though I am not sure what I want to specialize in yet.
What are you passionate about both inside and outside of work?
One of the really cool things about pharmacy is that you can see what you’re doing actually helping other people. Nine out of ten times, medications make peoples' lives significantly easier. So for example, you see a cancer patient with extreme nausea, and you can fix that. To be an integral part of the medical team is really satisfying. Directly helping people is my passion. A lot of people can’t pay $100.00 for a prescription, so even something as simple as telling them it will only be $20.00 can really make a positive impact on someone’s life.
I grew up riding horses, so I’ve always been passionate about that. I really love going to the beach, and I just love good food. I’ll pay an extra ten bucks to get good food in Charleston. My favorite restaurant is Poogan’s Porch. They have the best biscuits ever. Every quarter, I’ll try to get to a new restaurant just because Charleston has so much to offer.
What last pieces of advice do you have?
Find a mentor. It doesn’t have to be every day, but it needs to be someone you could go knock on their door at any time and they will be there. Just find someone who can be a good resource and use them when you need them. I always think I’m inconveniencing someone, but they really do enjoy helping you. Recognize that people want to help you and find those people who will do it.
The YoPro Know's Takeaways:
- Know yourself and know the kind of people you like to spend time with, and then seek them out
- Do not settle with your work community
- If you're not sure about grad school, don’t waste your money; wait until you have a firm idea of what you want to do
- Recognize that people want to help you and find those people who will do it