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AACP APPE Student Blog:  A Great New Way to Stay Connected to Academic Pharmacy

Have you ever been curious as to what a day in the life of an AACP APPE student is like? So have we!

The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy is proud to announce that they are now accepting applications for APPE students who wish to complete a rotation and find out more about association work. Dr. Jennifer Adams, Senior Director of Strategic Academic Partnerships at AACP, is the primary preceptor for student pharmacists for the duration of their APPE rotation. Please email with any questions you may have about the AACP APPE or related topics.

*For rotations occurring in the fall 2013 and spring 2014 time frame, AACP will accept applications until Nov. 1, 2012. All applicants will be notified by Jan. 30, 2013 of their acceptance status.

This blog will serve as an innovative forum for students to post their weekly reflections about their experiences at AACP and provide unique insight into the great work that the association does for academic pharmacy. Feel free to post your comments/feedback/suggestions and we look forward to sharing our journey with you!

Week 1: A Whole New World
A Whole New World
April 7th - April 11th

Hello, world!  My name is Hillary Aphaisuwan and I am currently a third-year pharmacy student (in a three-year accelerated program) at Midwestern University’s College of Pharmacy – Glendale near Phoenix, Arizona.  When I found out that I was awarded the opportunity to complete an APPE rotation with American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), I was ecstatic.  I often say that education is my first love while pharmacy is my true love in life.  I loved the idea of being able to combine the best of both worlds by becoming a pharmacy educator in the future.  I started to explore this idea as a student and was introduced to both this organization and this unique opportunity by one of my faculty mentors, Dr. Bill J. Bowman.  It seems like so long ago when I first visited the AACP website to see what it was all about.  Now, I’m here and I still can’t explain the disbelief and appreciation I have to have been given this opportunity.

My first day at as an AACP APPE student started when I stepped out of the cozy bed and breakfast that I would be staying in for the next 6 weeks onto the streets of Alexandria, Virginia.  The skies were a dark, gloomy gray that let down a light sprinkling of rain on my uncovered head.  Although most people might not have thought so, it was cold.  A very uncomfortable cold.  Here I was, with a coat not warm enough and no umbrella in hand, completely unprepared.  As someone who has been living in Arizona all her life, this weather was not my cup of tea.  As strange as it sounds, I love the 115+ degree weather and the way the heat of the sun feels on my skin and to be honest, at that moment in time, I was definitely missing my hometown of Phoenix, Arizona.  Thinking back on this day, the weather was a relatively good reflection of what I was feeling at the time before setting foot into the AACP offices.  I was nervous to be in a new environment which always led to feelings of shyness and anxiety overwhelming me and I felt unprepared because I didn’t know what to expect as far as who I was working with and the environment I would working in.
All these doubts and fears quickly disappeared when I walked into the beautiful, bright offices of AACP where I was warmly greeted by all the staff with a breakfast just for me and Katherine, a new Governance Programs Administrative Assistant who was also starting her first day here.  Although AACP typically holds breakfast to greet new APPE students, I was more than happy to be able to share this day with someone who was also coming into a new environment like I was!

When I finally was able to sit with Jen Adams, the Senior Director of Strategic Academic Partnerships and my preceptor, I learned more about the projects and activities I would be involved in and became very enthusiastic with what the next 6 weeks held for me.  In the next four days, I met with a few Senior staff members who gave me a better idea of their roles and responsibilities within the organization.  I took more time to learn about different services and programs AACP offers as well.  In addition, I was able to begin research on my final project on a PharmCAS-facilitated, centralized criminal background check service for student pharmacists.
Although I loved being able to spend time with Senior staff members to learn more about their role with AACP and the journey that led them to a career in a pharmacy association, the activity that had the biggest impact on me this week was Strengths Finder.  Jen recommended completing the Clifton StrengthsFinder online assessment tool to find my top 5 strengths as a part of my first week here.  I had completed many free online tests out of pleasure before and I felt like I had a pretty good idea of what my strengths would be.  However, this test was not like any other.  Before completing the test, I read StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath and was fascinated by the ideas presented in this book.  Rath explained that all too often, we focus on our weaknesses in life and attempt to improve on that to become a better person, employee, student, etc.  However, what we should rather be focusing on is our strengths. Although it would not hurt to try to improve on your weaknesses, your strengths stem from your natural talents.; focusing your energy on improving your strengths will exponentially improve you to where you would be an even more effective person.
The best example that Rath provided was the infamous Rudy story.  Now, I haven’t seen the movie nor am I a football expert by any means so please excuse any incorrect terminology.  Rudy was smaller than the typical football player and he didn’t have that much natural talent but this kid worked extremely hard to gain admission into Notre Dame and even harder to just obtain a spot on the football team’s practice squad.  He ended up finally being put into the game after countless of days on the sidelines, did something awesome and got carried off the field.  However, if someone has a great amount of natural talent in football AND puts in as much hard work as Rudy did, he would have been extremely more successful than Rudy.  I mean, what if Rudy had a natural talent in chemistry?  Let’s say he put just as much hard work into this strength instead; he could have ended up creating a new compound that was an effective treatment for cancer or something!  Okay, probably a bit extreme here. As Roth states in his book, I think the best way to sum up this idea is not “You can be anything you want to be” but rather “You cannot be anything you want to be – but you can be a lot more of who you already are.”

My five strengths of the StrengthsFinder assessment tool were relator, harmony, consistency, responsibility and arranger.  The tool ended up not only giving me a general description of these strengths, but additional individualized assessments of these strengths as well as ideas on how I can enhance these strengths by incorporating certain activities in my daily work life.  When I started reading these descriptions, I felt like I knew that these were characteristics I had…I just had never looked at them as strengths.  The more I thought about each one of these strengths, the better I was able to relate them to my daily tasks.  I printed out a small paper listing my five strengths and pinned it near my computer; I’ve been using it as a constant reminder of my strengths so that I can continually reflect on how I can not only improve on these, but how I can use them to become more effective in my day-to-day work life at AACP. 

While at AACP, I wanted to focus on my strengths of relator and responsibility.  I know I excel when I build deeper relationships with the people I work with; although it will be a challenge in the short time that I am here, I can be more proactive in establishing strong bonds with the AACP staff.  For my strength of responsibility, StrengthsFinder suggests that I push myself to limit the amount of projects and activities I volunteer for.  If I focus on only reaching out for projects that I’m highly interested in, I can prevent spreading myself too thin and be able to produce higher quality work for projects I am responsible for.  This is a struggle I am all too familiar with so improvement in this area will definitely help me in my future endeavors.  In the next year as a PGY1 resident, I hope to focus on improving all five by setting goals for each strength at the beginning of my residency based off of the type of work I will be involved in.

In addition, all of the AACP staff have a small printed list of their top five strengths outside their office. Jen says she uses this to not only give her a better idea on how she and other staff members could work best together on a project, but how she can approach each person based off of both of their differing strengths.  As I entered different offices of the Senior staff members this week for our meeting to learn more about their role, it was definitely neat to see their strengths (and if we had any in common!) and how that plays into their responsibilities at this organization.

Looking back at my first day in Alexandria, VA, I can see why I was much more apprehensive and nervous than usual for this rotation based on my strengths.  I thrive on harmony, consistency and deep relationships –none of which I was able to establish at that point in time.  As I got into the groove of things at the office and started building relationships with the staff by connecting with them outside of the office, I became more relaxed and comfortable as the week went on.  Coincidentally, the skies have cleared up since the beginning of the week and now I can’t wait to take walks outside to enjoy the beautiful weather this area has to offer.  I even spend extra time outside by walking back home for lunch a couple days of the week.  Now that I am more comfortable in my skin and have a better outlook on how to use my strengths to my advantage at this rotation, I cannot wait to see what the next five weeks at AACP has to offer.
Week 4 - Wrapping Up
Wrapping Up
March 24 – March 28
My last week at AACP was a time for tying up loose, ends, finishing projects, giving my final presentation, and getting ready to attend the APhA Annual Meeting. As everything started to come together and I was preparing to leave Washington DC, I thought about what my time at AACP meant to me and how it will impact the kind of pharmacist I hope to be. Completing an APPE at AACP may seem like an unusual choice, especially for someone who plans to pursue a career in clinical pharmacy. But what I realized in thinking about my time at AACP is that I learned far about more than just association management or academic pharmacy. I had been revitalized and my interest in pharmacy reignited by this APPE.
The road through pharmacy school is not an easy one. Classes are challenging, rotations are demanding, and the strains on one’s schedule and free time can be overwhelming. By the end, many student pharmacists are ready to finish school and get a job so they can start putting to good use all the skills they have acquired. Make no mistake, I am one of those students, and am thrilled that in a few short weeks I will be receiving my degree. But what I didn’t realize previously, and can see much better now, is how those years of hard work accumulate and can exhaust students. I came to AACP, as my second to last rotation, ready to complete my rotation and be done. I left ten times more excited about being a pharmacist, and about teaching the student pharmacists coming behind me, than I was when I arrived.
There is an intangible quality at AACP that makes the environment conducive to this feeling. The people are genuinely enthusiastic about pharmacy. They want to take strides to progress pharmacy education, to improve the practice of pharmacy by advocating for relevant policy, and to make sure that faculty, staff, and administration at schools and colleges of pharmacy across the country have the resources they need to effectively prepare students to be excellent practicing pharmacists. To see people who had been working in pharmacy for so many years, and to feel their enthusiasm for my field of study, made me even more excited that I have chosen such a dynamic career, and gave me faith that there will always be people pushing for pharmacy to continue to better itself.
While I was sad to leave AACP and the wonderful people I met during my time there, I will take this newfound energy and spread it as best I can to my classmates and coworkers. I will show them every day through my words and my actions, how I articulate my feelings about pharmacy, and how I care for my patients that there is no field I would rather be in and no one I would rather be helping or talking to. I will take this attitude with me as I start my residency and I will show everyone I interact with how proud I am to be a pharmacist. I will strive to be the role model of pharmacy that I have envisioned throughout my training. It is finally my chance to be that model for someone else, and my time at AACP was the final touch to empower me to be the change.
Caroline Small
PharmD Candidate, Class of 2014
University of New Mexico College of Pharmacy
Week 3 - Perseverance
March 17 – March 21
This week I was fortunate enough to attend the AACP Leadership Retreat. This event brings together major leaders within AACP, including the Board of Directors, leaders of the Council of Sections, Council of Deans, and Council of Faculties, and AACP staff, to discuss developments within AACP, the current state of the organization, and future directions. The entire event was engaging and inspiring, and it was wonderful to see so many people who willingly give their time, effort and energy working toward improving pharmacy education. I met people from schools in all areas of the country and was fortunate enough to see their true regard for each other and for education.
One of the highlights for me was a trip to Mount Vernon. This trip was more than a tour – it included time in the new Fred W. Smith National Library, an impressive facility focused on the scholarship of George Washington and the Revolutionary Era. During our time there a historian spoke to us about George Washington and the traits and leadership skills he possessed that helped made him such an influential and effective leader. He listed a few qualities that George Washington embodied consistently throughout his life – character, vision, a strong sense of “the cause” or “the why” behind his actions – but the one that stuck with me most was his perseverance in the face of adversity.
The historian gave several situations wherein things did not always go the way George had hoped. He lost jobs, lost battles, and was overlooked for things he wanted. But in the end he kept going, perhaps driven by his understanding of “the cause” and his reasoning behind all that he did. But this also indicates strength of character, a sense of something bigger than himself, pushing him forward.
It struck me that this characteristic is an essential part of my life as a student pharmacist, and truly of all of us who seek to make the world a better place. There are a thousand obstacles standing in the way at any time – some big, some small, some easily ignored – but in the end it is often perseverance that makes them surmountable. This perseverance sets some people apart from others in their resilience, determination, and ultimate sense of “the why”. They have developed a reason behind what they are pursuing and this determination eggs them on.
In retrospect, perseverance has been an essential part of how I got where I am today. I took a winding route to get to pharmacy school, and I truly envy anyone who feels that pharmacy school does not come with at least some amount of adversity. Independent of academics, there are all the things that life throws at us that you cannot predict, cannot control and cannot resolve; they must simply be dealt with and life moves on. Without perseverance no student pharmacist would be able to walk across that stage and receive their Doctor of Pharmacy degree. All of us have our own battles to fight and difficulties to overcome.
In light of what is on the horizon for me, even just within the next few months, I foresee a definite need to call on this reserve of perseverance. I will be starting a residency this summer and definitively feel I am supremely fortunate to be given such an amazing opportunity. I would be ignorant to think there will be no challenges or difficulties in the months ahead, but rather than shrink from these things I must face them with perseverance, a la George, and not be afraid. Everyone has a different source from which they draw this energy and this sense of fight, but it is equally important for all of us to retain it throughout our lives.
In thinking about what is coming over the next year – graduation, moving, a residency – I will not lose sight of this vision and will constantly work to be the kind of person I want to be. This retreat showed me more than just the traits of George Washington. It showed me how people who are truly committed, not to themselves, but to advancing the field and providing better education for students and better care for patients, can make a profound impact on the lives of pharmacists across the country. I hope to be able to do the same – perhaps on a smaller scale, but that makes it no less valuable. There is a place for all of us in pharmacy, and I now have much more resolve to find this place for myself and, in so doing, become the best possible pharmacist I am capable of becoming.
Caroline Small
PharmD Candidate, Class of 2014
University of New Mexico College of Pharmacy
Week 2 - Interprofessional Education
Interprofessional Education
March 10 – March 14
One reason I wanted to complete an APPE at AACP was to better understand and internalize the long term vision for pharmacy education. Pharmacy practice is rapidly evolving and schools need to be three steps ahead of this evolving practice model to develop prepared, competent, and confident pharmacy practitioners. As pharmacists become more integrated into the heath care system, and as the push for pharmacist provider status takes a step forward in the public eye, it is time to examine how student pharmacists are being prepared to lead this charge. Undoubtedly, students have the capacity; it is now about providing them the necessary skills and training so they can stride into this role, rather than shuffle – or be dragged – into it.
I spent a couple of days this week at a meeting focused on this educational shift.  The goal was to develop a way for health profession students from all fields to interact and work as a team before meeting in a real healthcare setting where the stakes are much higher. The meeting brought together representatives from many healthcare fields – pharmacy, nursing, medicine, dentistry, and public health – to develop the framework for a virtual interprofessional forum wherein persons from all professions would interact and gain experience with and information about each other’s fields. The team works together to solve healthcare related problems, relying on the knowledge of each field to resolve the issue and help the patient. As reimbursement for healthcare services, especially in the inpatient setting, becomes more tied to patient outcomes due to the actions of a healthcare team, it becomes increasingly important for all health care professionals to work well together. However, many of us never practice acting and interacting as a group. This virtual setting is intended to allow for exactly that.
I have seen the merit in interprofessional education since I started pharmacy school. Pharmacists are expected to interact seamlessly with people from other professions but our training does not always highlight the responsibilities of each profession, where their skills and ours overlap, and to whom we should defer when our expertise is exhausted. There is still much to be done to enhance this virtual education tool, but the conversations between those who came together to facilitate the process got me thinking about the importance of fluidity in education. I saw how it is necessary to be constantly evolving, not only in how we teach, but also in how we view the role of pharmacy and pharmacy education.
I similarly started thinking about my approach to my education thus far and how I envision my future education. I chose pharmacy as a career partially because it is never stagnant and there is always more to know and learn. My question now is how to implement my goal for lifelong learning and what approaches to take to stay up to date. The onus is on me to be responsible for my education and, in a broader sense, uphold the image of pharmacy I want to convey by being well-informed, resourceful, and respectfully articulate.
Subscribing to journals and reading new research is how I was taught to stay up to date in my field, in addition to attending conferences to learn about upcoming trends and new data. However, I learned far more during my education from conversations with peers, colleagues, and other health professionals than I did from someone lecturing me or reading journal articles. Conversations made me think, synthesize, process, and articulate my thoughts in a way that others can understand. It was this interaction that made me truly grasp – and subsequently retain – this information.
This is a major goal of the aforementioned program. Working with others, talking to them and understanding their thoughts and perspectives, allows you to understand material in a whole new way. Compounding this, working on a team to achieve a goal grows the skills of all involved and ultimately results in better patient care. The importance of working together is more paramount than I ever suspected. To this end I aim to listen more than I speak, and seek to understand more than to be understood, and articulate my thoughts and recommendations clearly and succinctly. This open communication and willingness to work together may in fact be the best way for me to learn, and continuing to develop these skills will ultimately result in my ability to provide better care for my patients.
Caroline Small
PharmD Candidate, Class of 2014
University of New Mexico College of Pharmacy
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