It’s that time already?

It’s that time of the year again… graduation and licensing time!  It’s so weird to think that all of my 6th year friends are about to graduate, because I remember all of the excitement and confusion of graduation and licensing like it was yesterday.  I’ve had a few friends ask me to clarify the whole licensure process, and I am more than happy to oblige, because it took me forever to wrap my head around everything that goes into becoming a pharmacist.  So in this post, I did my best to lay everything out logically and give you guys some tips to help out the process.  Again, like everything else that I pen on this blog, my thoughts are by no means the gold standard… just friendly advice from one formerly confused Eutectic to another :).

First things first: definitions and clarifications.

  1. NAPLEX: North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination.  This is the board exam that tests your therapeutic knowledge.  There is only one NAPLEX, and once you take it and pass it, you’re done!  You don’t have to take it again.  You can use your one score on the NAPLEX to apply for pharmacy licensure in any state in the U.S.
  2. MPJE: Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination.  This is the law exam that tests your knowledge of a specific state’s pharmacy laws.  You have to take the MPJE for every state that you apply for pharmacist licensure in, because every state’s pharmacy laws are different.
  3. Score transfer: this is when you have your NAPLEX score sent to multiple states immediately or soon after you take the NAPLEX.  You can sign up to score transfer at the time you fill out your pharmacist application (there should be a checkbox on the application that allows you to indicate your desire to score transfer), or you can choose to score transfer within 90 days of taking the NAPLEX through the NABP website.  Each state that you score transfer to is considered to be your “home state” for your pharmacist license, and each score transferred license is independent from one another, meaning that you can let one of your licenses expire without it affecting the status of your other score transferred licenses.  Remember, you only have 90 days after taking the NAPLEX to score transfer, otherwise you have to reciprocate.
  4. Reciprocation: this is when you duplicate your license from your home state into another state.  A reciprocated license is dependent on your home state license, which means that you cannot let your home state license expire or else all of your reciprocated licenses will be invalid.  Reciprocation can be done at any time during your pharmacy career.

Now that we’ve got the basics down, time to talk about the actual application process. I’m a visual person.  And so of course, I made a diagram to illustrate (click to enlarge):

Licensing

A couple of things to note:

  • You can sign up for an account with NABP and pay for the NAPLEX and MPJE NOW (step #1)In fact, I would highly encourage you to get this step out of the way now so that NABP can send you your ATT faster once everything else is in place.  You sign up for an account under the link on the NABP homepage that says “CPE Monitor” or better yet, I can provide you with the link here.  And yes, you have to pay for the test before you are OK-ed to even take the test.  This bit me in the butt big time last year.
  • The basics of a pharmacist licensure application are a 1) general application, 2) background/criminal check (usually necessitating fingerprinting), and 3) verification of pharmacy intern hours (saying you have enough real-life practice in pharmacy settings to be on your own).  At STLCOP, I know that the registrar’s office will fill out as much of your MO or IL pharmacist application as possible (step #4), especially in regards to verfying your intern hours (because your intern hours will most likely be earned through your experiences at STLCOP).  STLCOP will then send your application to the BOP once it is complete (because you cannot send in the form until you physically graduate), but if you are applying for licensure in a state other than MO or IL, you will have to find the application, get fingerprinted, and submit forms for intern hour verification on your own.
  • Like I mentioned previously, if you are applying for licensure in another state besides MO or IL, you will need to visit that state’s BOP website and do your own research regarding their requirements for pharmacist licensure (the only steps that may change are steps #3 and #4, and you may need to fill out more paperwork/add more steps).  Again, to reiterate, most states need the following:
    • A completed application (plus or minus a photo)
    • Verification of your pharmacist intern hours; which may be able to be verified through the registrar’s office at school, or may necessitate an official form from the MO BOP (Warning!!! The MO BOP allows pharmacist applicants to earn their intern hours through IPPE/APPE experiences during school… STLCOP actually provides us with enough experiences to satisfy the intern hour requirement for MO licensure.  However, some states require that you earn intern hours outside of a school of pharmacy in order to qualify for licensure, and this is something you need to check on and fill out more paperwork for).
    • Background check which usually necessitates fingerprinting.  If you are an out-of-state applicant, you may have to request fingerprint cards from your desired BOP and get physically fingerprinted with ink at a police station (as opposed to being electronically fingerprinted)… this is something you definitely want to check on.
  • The faster you get your ATT, the faster you can sign up for a testing date and center (step #7), and this is kind of a big deal because the testing center in St. Louis fills up fast since both STLCOP students and SIUE students are all wanting to sign up at the same center.  If there are no more dates, you’ll have to travel to another testing center to take your exams, and this may be in another state necessitating an overnight stay at a hotel.  So get things in quickly!

Some words of advice:

  • Becoming a pharmacist is expensive.  The NAPLEX is $485, each MPJE you take is $200, and the pharmacist applications range anywhere from $100-$250 depending on the state.  Score transferring is $75 per state, and reciprocation is ~$350.  So make sure you have all your finances in order :).
  • A wise, wise pharmacist advised me to score transfer my NAPLEX score to any state that I felt that I might end up practicing in.  While each score transfer is $75, that money is a small price to pay in comparison to having to reciprocate at ~$350 for one state if I ended up having to practice there.  In my case, I became licensed in TN for residency and decided to score transfer to TX (because I’m Texan, of course), CA, and CO.  It was actually a really, really, really good thing I score transferred because: 1) TN has a “privilege tax” of $400 that pharmacists have to pay each year to practice in TN.  If I hadn’t score transferred, I would have had to reciprocate my TN license, and therefore I would have to keep my TN license active forever and pay $400 per year to a state that I wasn’t even practicing in; and 2) Although I didn’t know I would end up getting a PGY2 in California, the weird thing about CA is that CA doesn’t allow pharmacists to reciprocate their license into the state.  If you want to be licensed in CA and you didn’t score transfer at the beginning, you have to retake the NAPLEX ($485!!!) and start from scratch (as if you just graduated from school).  Needless to say that would be a pain in the bootay.  So for $75, I decided it was worth it to score transfer to CA on the off chance I moved there (I guess I have ESP, haha).
  • When you score transfer, each state will hold on to your score for a pre-specified amount of time (usually 1-2 years).  This means you have anywhere from 1-2 years (depending on the state) to send in an application and pass the MPJE for that state.  Check each state’s BOP website to see how long they will hold on to your score.
  • If you are applying for licensure in a state other than MO or IL, remember that it never hurts to call that state’s BOP to verify anything you are confused about or want to double check.  For example, when I was applying for licensure in TN, the TN BOP website said that it required applicants to earn intern hours outside of a school of pharmacy.  Dilemma:  I hadn’t earned any intern hours outside of STLCOP.  I called the TN BOP, and lo and behold, that stipulation only applied to students graduating from a TN school of pharmacy.  I was in the clear!
  • If you are applying for licensure out of state, you will more than likely need a part of your form notarized.  DAN STIFFLER IS A NOTARY, AND HE HAS AN OFFICE ON THE FIRST FLOOR OF JONES.  This makes your life much, much easier because you don’t have to make a trip to the bank or find somewhere to get your documents notarized.  Dan’s office is in the same group of offices as the registrars, and if you have no idea where that is, just ask Jim Heil at the front desk.  Jim knows everything.  And sorry for increasing your workload, Dan :).

And honestly, that’s all there is to the application process! As always, if you have specific questions, feel free to drop me a line.  I’m not an expert in all things Board of Pharmacy related, but at the very least I may be able to point you in the right direction.

Hope you guys are having a good week!

– Ruth

P.S. I put links to all of my posts about applying for residency together under the “Applying for a Residency” tab at the top of my blog.  Now they’re all together :).

California Girls

I have a confession to make.

Back in November, I decided to apply for a PGY2 residency.

It was a tough decision for me because I wasn’t sure if I could mentally or physically handle another year as a resident (with resident pay!).  In the end, what it came down to was the fact that I knew I loved clinical work and I wanted to have as much training as possible so I could care for my patients.  And really, when I think about it, this past year as a resident was tough in the beginning (because you have no earthly idea what you’re doing), but in the grand scheme of things a residency is completely worth it.

Anyway, I kept my decision to apply for a PGY2 on the down-low and off the blog because I didn’t want to hype everyone up just to have things fall flat in the end.  I talked to a couple of programs in December at Midyear, and I ended up applying to a handful in January.  I was pretty nervous about whether I would get one or not (competition for PGY2 residencies is stiff!), but a couple of weeks ago I found out that I was ACCEPTED (!!!!!).

Somebody pinch me, I’m dreaming.  :) :) :)

So this summer, I will be moving to…

sandiegoskyline_gde

balboa-park-1_c

sandiegobeach

san-diego-card

San Diego, California  :)

I will be the PGY2 Ambulatory Care resident for Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group and Touro University California!  There’s still a lot of work to be done before I start with Sharp, but for now, I’m just letting it all soak in.

I’ll post soon about the details of the program and PGY2s in general, but I just wanted to share the news with you guys!  Have a great weekend!

How to Apply for a Residency (Part IV): The Interview and the Match

First, let me congratulate everyone who Matched on Friday!  You’re on your way towards a tough but rewarding year.  It’ll go by so fast so make it count!

But today, before I talk about the Match, I want to back up just a little bit and talk about something critically important: the do’s and dont’s of interviewing (dun dun dun!)

HOW TO APPLY FOR A RESIDENCY (PART IV):  The Interview and the Match

So you’ve laid all the groundwork and submitted your application via PhORCAS or snail mail, and SURPRISE you were invited to an interview!  If you’re anything like me, the happiness is short-lived and the panic starts to set in quickly, haha.  There’s really nothing to panic about, but the thought of an interview can be nerve-racking.  But let me offer this one nugget of wisdom:  the program is already interested in you.  Going back to the dating analogy I started in my last post, your interview is like a first date… you’re getting to know them and they’re getting to know you.  At this point, a program is looking for reasons to LOVE you, not reasons to get rid of you.  So breathe easy and take comfort in that fact!

Baptist Memorial (my residency program) interviewed residency candidates all through February, and let me tell ya, it is SO WEIRD being the interviewer and not the interviewee.  I look at these candidates and I have flashbacks to my own interview when I was in their spot.  Literally, in their spot haha.  But being on the other side has taught me a lot, and I’ve realized that some aspects of the interview process come naturally to some candidates while other things need to be taught.  So from this experience, I have generated my own “Do’s and Don’ts” of interviewing that I will now share with you :).

  • DO practice before the real thing

I’ll be honest, I never really did this until this year because I never thought I needed to.  As a student, I’ve always been in positions where I’ve had to engage and communicate with people, so interviews to me were just an extension of that.  But one of my co-residents pointed out to me that practicing for an interview is less about trying to be robotic and memorizing rehearsed answers and more about making you think about your answers instead of just winging it.  I may know that I want to do a residency, but can I put that reason into a statement that makes sense?  Often times, we know things in our hearts, but they don’t exactly come out of our mouths the way we want them to.  That’s what the practice interview is for :).

  • DO dress professionally!

Remember, this is your first date.  Don’t show up in pajamas.

  • DO be engaged!

I feel silly even bringing this up.  If your date was texting or checking Facebook on his/her phone the entire time, I’m sure a second date would be out of the question.  The same goes for an interview!  Turn off your phone, make eye contact, and engage in conversation!  Nobody likes a candidate who acts like they would rather be anywhere but there at the interview.

  • DO show your interest in clinical pharmacy

Like I mentioned in my last post, the driving force behind your decision to pursue a residency is your love for clinical pharmacy and your heart for patients.  Reinforce this during your interview!  Programs are looking for candidates who will apply themselves during their residency year and push themselves to learn.  Think about it:  a resident will be a reflection of the program forever, so programs want to choose their investments wisely.  They don’t want to waste their time on a candidate who has no desire to do clinical work.

  • DO be mindful of how you treat others

I don’t really want to get onto my soapbox for this one.  Let me just say that I would hope that no matter who you are or what you end up doing, that you would treat everyone with respect.  Someone is always watching your actions and your attitude, and the world of pharmacy is very, very small.  ‘Nuff said.

  • DO acknowledge your weaknesses (gracefully and delicately!)

There’s no such thing as a perfect residency candidate because there’s no such thing as a perfect person.  Everyone has some sort of weakness, whether it’s personal or professional (or both!).  For me it was my grades/therapeutic knowledge.  For others it’s the fact that they have an accent or that they’re a perfectionist.  Whatever it is, the trick isn’t trying to bury your weaknesses, but to gracefully (and delicately!) acknowledge areas you can improve on and identify ways/strategies in which you are trying to move forward.  I have yet to be in an interview where I was not asked what my weaknesses were… it’s a pretty common question :).

  • DO be consistent

I’m not sure if residency candidates realize this, but everyone who interviews a candidate (preceptors, administration, residents) will get together and discuss their thoughts on the candidate.  So if you told the preceptors and administration that you’re interested in oncology and transplant, but you told the residents that you’re really interested in internal medicine and cardiology… it’s very confusing.  I’ll just leave it at that.

  • DO ask questions

I know this can be really difficult, especially when you’re asked, “Do you have any questions?” for the millionth time in one day.  Just remember that asking questions is the best way to be engaged and interested, and the more questions you ask, the more information you’ll gain.

  • DO follow-up with a “Thank You” of some sort

Think of the “Thank You” as the residency equivalent of the follow-up phone call after the first date.  It reassures the preceptors and director that you are interested in their program and ends things on a good note before going into the Match.  Emails versus hand-written notes is a personal preference… I don’t think there’s any one right way to show the program you appreciate their time.

  • DON’T ask about the other interviewees/residency candidates

I’m sure that there are candidates who ask this without really thinking just to make conversation during an interview, but let me just tell you that there are very few ways of asking about other interviewees without sounding like you care more about sizing up your competition and weighing your chances than you do about the program.  Just don’t ask.  It’s not going to change anything if you know anyway.

  • DON’T ask about the patient case (if there is one)

Again, same principle as before.  We understand that you’re nervous about the patient case, but asking us if it’s hard or what kinds of questions are asked makes you look sneaky and unprofessional.  You can say that you’re nervous about the patient case or talk about it in a general sense, but don’t go digging for information.

  • DON’T be inappropriate or use slang

Again, going back to my dating analogy, the first date is not the time to unload all of your baggage or make tacky and/or inappropriate cracks.  Can you say TMI?  Same goes for a residency interview:  be careful about the things you share or the jokes you crack… we don’t know you well enough for that yet. :)

If for some reason you didn’t get invited to an interview for a program you really wanted, don’t be discouraged!  Residencies are very, very competitive… take joy in the interviews you did get and make peace with the ones you didn’t.

Once the interview process is done, the only thing left to do is submit your program rankings to the Match and wait for Match day!  Remember, you can only rank places you interviewed with, and if you Match with a program, you’re under a contractual obligation to go to that program.  You. must. go.  So don’t rank any program that you really hated after the interview.

And that’s all there is to applying for a residency!  I’m sorry that these posts were so spread out and late, but I hope that I was able to help shed some light on the residency process and give some perspective… even if it was too late for the current 6th year class, haha.  At least it’ll be around for the upcoming 6th year class :).

Congratulations again to everyone who Matched!

Happy Match Day!

Happy Match Day!

Whenever I think of my experience with Match Day, I always think about the lovely Katie McCallister.  Not only were we on rotation at the same hospital on Match Day last year, we are the only two 2012 STLCOP graduates who came to Memphis for residency (Katie is doing her residency in pediatrics at Le Bonheur).

IMG_0392

This picture was taken at the very beginning of our residency year :).  I don’t get to see Katie often, but it’s a comfort to know she’s in the same city!

I hope you all have as wonderful of a Match Day as I did last year!  Good luck!

How to Apply for a Residency (Part III): Submitting Your Application

Trust me when I say that I don’t neglect this blog on purpose.

I LOVE sharing my experiences with you guys, but alas, my life lately has been busy busy busy and I haven’t had time for my poor little blog.

Nonetheless, I really want to wrap up my series of posts on how to apply for a residency (you can find my first two posts in the series here and here), so this post will be about submitting residency applications, and the final post will be about interviewing and the Match.

HOW TO APPLY FOR A RESIDENCY (Part III):  Submitting Your Application


So let’s pick up where we left off:  right after Midyear.  Let’s run through a list of things that should be done at this point, shall we?

Asked for letters of recommendation?  Check.
Updated CV?  Check.
Wrote letter of intent?  Check.
Signed up for the Match?  Check.
Talked to programs during Residency Showcase?  Check.

Are we all on the same page?  Good.  Now moving forward…

December (post-Midyear)

  • Narrow down which programs you really want to apply to

If you really listen to your gut, this step should be a cinch.  There will be some programs that you felt really comfortable talking to at Showcase, and others that were… eh.  The question you really have to ask yourself is, “Would I rather not do a residency than to go to (insert residency name here)’s program?”  If the answer is yes, then don’t apply to that program.  If the answer is no, then the program makes the list.  I realize that this step is a struggle between the head and the heart… logically every candidate wants to apply to every program to increase their chances of matching, but emotionally everyone has a list of deal-breakers and non-negotiables.  It will ultimately be up to you to make the decision about which programs make the cut, but let me implore you to not apply to programs “just because.”  A residency will do very little for you if you simply think that it will look good on your CV or if your only motivation is the avoidance of retail.  Not only will you not be happy in residency if your heart isn’t in it, but your attitude will affect your performance and will ultimately reflect on you.  Pursue a residency because you love clinical work and you love the patients.  Plain and simple.

Ok, getting off my soapbox now.

  • Make a list of your programs and send it to your letter of recommendation writers… NOW

Once you have the list of programs you want to apply to, make a list or Excel sheet listing each program’s name, the residency program director’s name, the program’s application deadline, and the program’s contact information.  Also be sure to include whether each program requires a regular letter of recommendation and/or a program-specific recommendation form.  Send this list and any specific recommendation forms to your letter of recommendation writers ASAP so they know who to send your letter to and when to send it by, either via PhORCAS or snail mail.  If one of the programs you are applying to accepts applications the traditional route (aka snail mail), please provide your letter writers with a pre-addressed, pre-stamped envelope so that they don’t have to do this themselves (make their lives as easy as possible!).  But to be very honest, I think almost all programs are moving in the direction of PhORCAS, which was a whole new beast that I had to become familiar with this year.

Phorcas logo_50 percent

PhORCAS is both easier and trickier at the same time.  It’s easier because everything is online and in one place, and you can keep track of the status of your application.  On the other hand, it’s trickier because some things are out of your control, and to be frank, technology sucks sometimes.  And of course, PhORCAS is slightly more expensive than mailing things in the traditional way (the price of convenience!).

  • Request your transcript!

If a program accepts applications the traditional way, your next step is to request an official copy of your transcript from the registrar’s office.  This needs to be done ASAP because not only will the registrar’s office be very busy processing all the requests, but the registrar’s office closes for the holidays, and you DEFINITELY don’t want to submit your request late and not have your transcript sent out on time.  Each transcript costs $5, and you will need to fill out a separate form for each transcript you want sent out.

If your program accepts applications through PhORCAS, you will still need to fill out the transcript request form and send the transcript to PhORCAS.  Submit the request to the registrar’s office ASAP after Midyear for the same reasons listed above.  Be aware of the fact that (in my opinion) the time crunch for getting transcripts to PhORCAS is much tighter than the traditional route because you have to have the transcript sent to the PhORCAS service, then PhORCAS has to individually open up the transcript and upload it to the online program.  They have to do this for every. single. applicant.  This adds a significant amount of time onto the process versus the snail mail route, and you might have panic attacks because your application deadline is approaching but your transcript is not showing up online.  PhORCAS does say that your application will be submitted to your program if your transcript and/or letters of recommendation are the only things missing, but to avoid this whole mess altogether, it might be a good idea to request a transcript to be sent to PhORCAS before you even go to Midyear.  There’s a very good chance that at least one of the programs you will apply to will use PhORCAS (because SO many programs used it this past year), so being proactive about sending a transcript to PhORCAS can only help since you don’t have to wait until after Midyear to figure out where your transcripts need to be sent.  Of course, this means you need to sign up for a PhORCAS account before Midyear, but that’s pretty easy.  (If you need a jump start with setting up a PhORCAS account, simply go to the PhORCAS page on the ASHP website)

And to make your life even simpler, here’s a link to STLCOP’s transcript request form:  Transcript_Request_Form

  • Submit all the pieces of your application

Once you request your transcript, all the components of your basic residency application should be done (CV, three letters of recommendation, letter of intent, official transcript).  Check to see if a program requires any extra application/short answer forms that you need to complete, but other than that, you should be done!  Submit all of your materials to PhORCAS or drop off your application packet at the post office if a program accepts applications via snail mail.  Not too bad, right?

A few reminders…

  • Remember that applying for a residency is a lot like dating.  You really like the program, and now you’re trying to get them to like you and ask you out on a date interview.  Your CV is like the “background” of your dating profile, and your letter of intent is like your “About Me” section, so make it as attractive as possible.  Talk about how awesome you are!  Explain what makes you an amazing candidate!  Tell them why you’re applying and why you would be a good match for them!  It’s now or never… put yourself out there.
  • Have a peer and/or faculty member review your CV and letter of intent.  It’s amazing how things can make so much sense to you, but on paper, your words make no sense to anyone else (I am guilty of this!).
  • Be diligent, but R-E-L-A-X.  Do your part to the best of your ability, but everything else is out of your control.

That’s all for now.  :)  Hopefully I can have the next post up soon!  Have a great weekend!

Chinese New Year & Pineapple Tarts

Since I am Chinese, I feel the need to post the following:

HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR!

2013

According to the lunar calendar, 2013 is the year of the snake.  Apparently people born in the year of the snake are supposed to be “self-centered and vain”?  But I’m going to claim neutrality on this subject because my mom was born in the year of the snake…. (love you, mom!)

Right about now, I’m sorely missing the food, fun, and festivities that my parents and the rest of my extended family are enjoying in Asia.  The long workouts and extra pounds would be well worth it in exchange for all of the Asian yummy-ness.  Pineapple tarts, candy, cookies, pineapple tarts… did I mention pineapple tarts?  Those things are drool-worthy nuggets of delicious sent down from the Gods.

Pineapple Tarts1

And just as a side note for any of my family/friends in Singapore who may be reading this in Singapore (hint hint!):  I like the round, ball-shaped pineapple tarts… not the ones shaped like flowers.  Those always end up tasting weird.  And please send via express international shipping to your favorite niece/cousin/daughter.  Thanks, heeehe ;)

In all seriousness, I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since I was in Singapore for Chinese New Year last year!  Lord have mercy I’m getting too old, too fast.

Have a happy, wonderful, fattening Chinese New Year!  Or as we say in Chinese, Xin Nian Kuai Le!

FAME.

Dear readers, today is a day for the history books.  February 8, 2013 will forever be remembered as the day I found out that someone outside the STLCOP community found my blog and read it!  The blog is big time now, folks ;)

Here’s how it all went down:

My hospital is currently in the process of interviewing candidates for next year’s residency class.  One of the candidates is Julie, who is a P4 student from the University of Tennessee (and is very sweet!).  She came into our office for her interview with the current residents and I say:

Me:  “Hi! I’m Ruth, and I graduated from St. Louis College of Pharmacy.”
Julie:  “I think I found your blog when I was researching the residency!”
Me:  *so ecstatic I’m speechless*

Made.  My.  Day.  Just relishing my 15 minutes of fame, haha.  Also made me realize how long it’s been since I posted!  Let’s see if I can remedy this in the upcoming weeks… :)

Hope you all have a happy weekend!