Blog: Ask a Student Pharmacist

ask a student pharmacist title with decorative graphic pattern

Welcome to our blog! University of Minnesota PharmD student ambassadors are sharing what it's like to be part of our program. To learn more about our program, join our email list or contact us directly with questions or to be connected with a student ambassador.

Submit your questions for our student ambassadors by emailing pharmacy@umn.edu.

The blog

The HOPE Clinic

Jacob N.
Class of 2023, Duluth campus, from Plymouth, MN

1/22/2021

Pharmacy and medical students stand in a clinic room, appearing to listen to someone out of the frameMy name is Jake Noble, and I am a currently a PD2 on the Duluth campus. In pharmacy school, I have had the opportunity to volunteer at and serve on the executive board of the HOPE clinic. On the Duluth campus, the HOPE clinic is a non-profit, student-run, free-clinic where medical and pharmacy students are able to volunteer at the CHUM center to provide medical care to the surrounding low-income and homeless community. The HOPE Clinic occurs every Thursday from 3-5 pm and we meet with patients on a walk-in basis to discuss their ailments with us. Common tests that we are able to provide for the patients we see include blood pressure, glucose monitoring and pregnancy tests.

Students are able to volunteer at clinic in a variety of roles such as student pharmacist, patient intake and patient advocate. When a patient is seeking care and comes into clinic, the first individual they encounter is the patient intake. While with this individual, the patient has their vitals taken and undergoes a drug review. Once it is determined the patient is stable, they are transferred to an exam room where they meet with the patient advocate and student pharmacist. Through this process, student volunteers get hands-on experience talking with patients and documenting pertinent information related to lab values and medications.

One thing I have personally enjoyed while volunteering at HOPE clinic is our ability to help those who are less fortunate within the Duluth community; additionally, this experience has helped develop my leadership skills within my pharmacy journey. I think that this clinic holds a lot of opportunities for students who are wanting to volunteer while in pharmacy school and allows us to practice our clinical skills outside of the pharmacy curriculum and/or work experience.

For individuals who are applying to pharmacy school and are looking for something that sets the University of Minnesota apart from the others, HOPE clinic engages with students meaningfully to allow them to provide care to underserved communities, while having a manageable work schedule. Recently, the executive board was able to refurbish the clinic space by repainting the walls and putting in a new floor for the clinic. These improvements allow for a safe, welcoming space that is both functional and accessible. I'm thankful for my time at the HOPE Clinic and look forward to continuing this important work.

To e-note or not to e-note

Ciara W.
Class of 2023, Duluth campus, from Plymouth, MN

1/8/2021

Overhead view of students sitting in chairs in an atrium working on laptops

When entering pharmacy school, there is a lot of discussion on the best way to take notes. I had always been a pen and paper note-taker and assumed that I would continue this method in pharmacy school. However, after talking with many upperclassmen and going through the Becoming a Pharmacist course, I decided that I was going to invest in an iPad for taking electronic notes. This investment has been very helpful in improving the efficiency and quality of my notes and I am so glad that I did it!

The Tools I Use: I use an iPad with an Apple Pencil and an app called 'Notability' for my electronic note-taking. I have other Apple products, so I liked the ability of the iPad to connect with my other devices. The Notability app has many tools for organization and a variety of pen and text styles so you can customize your notes to best fit your style. The app allows for the creation of folders for individual classes and dividers that allow the folders to be further organized (I organize mine by semester). There is a wide range of pen and highlighter colors and styles available, too. This has been useful for making study guides and organizing my notes by writing with different colors. There is also a typing setting on the app so you can use the keyboard to type notes as well.

Benefits of electronic note-taking:

  • Convenience – all my notes are in one place so I don't have to worry about having the correct notebook for class. Additionally, Notability automatically backs up all of my notes to my Google drive so I can access them anywhere. It is also very easy to download PowerPoints from Canvas to Notability for class.
  • Efficiency – I have found that my note-taking skills have improved and I have been able to listen more in class. When I have the slides downloaded to Notability, I don't have to worry about copying that information down, and I can focus on listening to what the professor is saying about the topic. Notability also has a copy and paste feature which is handy if you are drawing a lot of structures – you can copy and paste rather than redrawing a structure or diagram.
  • Organization – I never have trouble finding any of my notes when I am looking for something from a previous class. The folder organization allows me to have all of my notes from my previous classes at my fingertips. There is also a search feature that detects words in typed and handwritten notes to aid in finding what you're looking for!

Looking back now, I am so glad that I made the investment and switch to electronic note-taking as I transitioned to pharmacy school. Making the switch to electronic note-taking does take some time to get used to, but for me, it was definitely worth the transition. At the end of the day, every student learns a little bit differently. It's really up to you to find the method that works best for you and your learning style!

Volunteering with the Phillips Neighborhood Clinic

Kally K.
Class of 2023, Twin Cities campus, from Fargo, ND

12/18/2020

In deciding where I was going to attend pharmacy school, I was really focused on not only the caliber of academics, but also what each school offered in terms of opportunities outside of school. Part of the reason I chose the University of Minnesota was the opportunity to participate in the Phillips Neighborhood Clinic.

Image of six student volunteers in personal protective equipment posing in the Phillips Neighborhood Clinic entryThe Phillips Neighborhood Clinic (PNC) is an entirely student-run, free clinic that caters to underserved patient populations in the Twin Cities area. The clinic operates out of a church in the Phillips neighborhood in South Minneapolis. As a pharmacy student, I get to work with many students from different health professions including medicine, nursing, public health, nutrition, and physical therapy, among others. PNC is open on Monday and Thursday evenings and is run on a first-come, first-served basis and we see a set number of patients at each clinic night; PNC typically sees an average of 8-13 patients a night.

Services that PNC offers include primary healthcare, basic laboratory testing, STI testing, physical therapy, and specialty nights that cater to women's health, dentistry, ophthalmology, pediatrics, and dentistry. Additionally, there is a pharmacy within the clinic where patients may choose to fill prescriptions they receive during their visit. There are health professionals from the community including doctors, pharmacists, and physical therapists that volunteer as preceptors in the clinic and oversee all operations within the clinic. All services and prescriptions in the clinic are free of charge to the patient.

As a pharmacy student, you can apply to be a regular volunteer at the Phillip's Neighborhood Clinic during your first year. Volunteer roles for PD1 students include:

  • Reception: Check-in patients as they come in
  • Clerk: Organize the list of patients for the night
  • Lab: Draw blood samples and run other diagnostic testing
  • Patient Care Lead

Each role offers a unique set of challenges and learning opportunities. For most health professional students, the first-year role provides new experiences that may not be covered in other internships, or shadowing opportunities during their professional career. It is for this reason that I found my first-year role within PNC so rewarding and enriching.
During my first year, I volunteered in reception, where I learned how to initiate a patient's appointment within the clinic, deal with conflict management, gather chief complaints from a patient, and really learn how to ask patients the right questions to ensure their needs are met during their time at the clinic. As a receptionist, I serve as the first point of contact for patients and it is my job to determine how best to direct patients throughout the clinic encounter and update patients on wait times.

Through my experiences at PNC, I've been afforded many learning opportunities and a sense of fulfillment. Additionally, the challenges that I have encountered while volunteering at PNC have helped me to develop conflict management skills, interprofessional communication skills, and patient-care skills.

PNC provides an amazing opportunity for health professional students to be part of closing the gap of health disparities for members of the Twin Cities communities. The clinic brings together student professionals from all different backgrounds to provide patient care to community members who often do not have access to affordable health care. My participation in PNC has been one of the most inspiring and rewarding experiences of my pharmacy school career and I would highly recommend becoming involved in PNC in any capacity.

What is the Pharmily?

Kaitlyn H.
Class of 2023, Duluth campus, from White Bear Lake, MN

12/4/2020

We are the Pharmily!

The Pharmily is a cute little name we gave to the community within the College of Pharmacy since we become like a second family to each other by the end of the program. When you start off your journey as a brand new pharmacy student it can be difficult to imagine how unbelievably close you will get to your classmates. As you move through the curriculum, you start to form your own network of people that you depend on when things get difficult and people you celebrate successes with. These people support you as you support others within the Pharmily to help each other succeed.

We all care about each other and about our future patients so we all help each other grow and learn in whatever way we can. We know how stressful pharmacy school can be, so we also de-stress together outside of classes. Whether the celebration is a party, an organized event, or a school event we know we can count on our classmates to be excited in our accomplishments. In general we are all taking the same classes so if you need help there are tons of people to ask! We get used to being both the ones asking questions and the ones answering questions for other students in our program. We are all in this together so we all support each other like family.

Pharmily for me means being comfortable enough to reach out for help or to celebrate success with someone who knows just how hard you worked to get there. Throughout the years of pharmacy school you will have many exams and jam-packed weeks, but through it all you have your Pharmily helping you and supporting you all along the way. As you traverse the curriculum together you learn more about each other and get more intertwined in each other's lives. They are the people who push you to become better and encourage you to work harder to learn as much as you can while you're here. They are the ones who you stay up studying with you in the commons for the big test the night before; they are the ones that celebrate good scores with you; and they are the ones that encourage you to take a night off. All along your journey through pharmacy school the Pharmily is there to help you make it to the end.

We are a second family through and through.

How I take notes and stay organized

Krista O.
Class of 2023, Twin Cities campus, from Blaine, MN

11/13/2020

If you don't already have a device that you can take electronic hand-written notes on, I would highly recommend investing in one, whether it is an iPad that is compatible with the Apple pencil (my personal favorite), the Microsoft Surface, or another laptop that works with a stylus. Everything I say in this post will be based on the iPad, because that is what I use. Different devices may differ in functionality.

Image of white-skinned hand pointing at tablet device with bar graph displayedOnce you've picked your device, you'll need a note-taking app. My favorite is OneNote; it is free to download in the App Store and all you need is an email address to make an account. Once you make an account it automatically saves everything you write, insert, or type. This is useful because it makes it really hard for you to have that gut-sinking moment of losing all of your notes because of a device crash after you forgot to hit "save." I also use GoodNotes, which is another app. You do have to pay to download it, but I like the templates it has and I use this app to create a digital planner and calendar spread. I also use GoodNotes as a blank page to rewrite important notes or make charts while split-screening with my original notes in OneNote.

Note-taking feels a million times easier. I'm a color-coder; I love writing equations in green, important things to remember in red, questions in purple, and so on. Having an iPad and using OneNote has been a lifesaver for me! No more toting around a huge bag of colored pens and highlighters - I can change my color with the click of a button. You can have multiple pen presets so that your most used colors are always available at the top of the screen and all you have to do is tap the color you want next. On a similar note, you can make stickers using bitmoji or other little symbols that can create landmarks in your notes. I can't tell you how many times I've inserted a confused bitmoji in my notes just to be silly, and then my friends and I used it later to find the content we need to pay extra attention to while studying for the test.
You can also insert PDF documents, which is helpful because most instructors put up slide decks for the notes. You don't have to spend the time or waste as much paper printing them off; you can just upload them into your note-taking app and annotate or highlight right over top of them. This is also great because everything stays super organized, and there are never pages to be ripped out of your notebook or binder, only to be lost in the bottom of your backpack forever.

The last thing that I love about electronic notes is that you can pull them up anywhere. If my iPad is ever dead or I don't have it with me, I can pull up my planner, calendar and notes on any computer. Also if you download the apps on your phone, you can pull them up on there, too! This has been convenient in situations where one of my classmates sends a text asking a question about a due date, or my boss has asked if I can pick up a shift. I can just easily pull up the planner I created on my iPad and view it on my phone, giving them an answer right away, rather than waiting until I get home and can pull out my schedule.

Although electronic note-taking is amazing, sometimes you cannot avoid physical paper copies. For physical sheets of paper, I recommend getting an accordion folder. I file all of my physical homework assignments, tests, quizzes, and labs in an organized manner in one of these so that they are readily available to be referred back to as needed.

No matter how you decide to take your notes, the biggest key is to just stay organized. Title everything, mark pages with Post-it Notes or paper clips, and don't throw everything for every class into one random notebook or folder. There is so much going on in pharmacy school; you do not need the added stress of being unable to find something when you need it.

Work, what is it good for?

Tianna P.
Class of 2023, Duluth campus, from Iron River, WI

10/31/2020

Image of white woman with long brown hair in business attire wearing a pharmacist's white coat, and posing with a white man wearing a baseball cap and a grey t-shirt.Badge... check, laptop... check, backpack... double check. Classes were about to start and I was getting all the last-minute details figured out. What was my daily routine going to look like? How stressed was I going to be? Was I ever going to sleep? All valid questions that I had to ask myself as I took a leap into the unknown.

For some background about me, I took four years off between undergrad and pharmacy school. I wasn't even sure if I remembered how to study for an exam, let alone pick my brain for information that I learned in all my prerequisite courses, some of which were nine years ago. Deciding to add in work on top of all of that was not an option, at least not for my first year of school. I needed the time to understand what it was like to be back in school; to see how often I thought that I had "extra time" during my schedule to even squeeze in work.

I took some time to think about how work could fit into my routine, if it was something that would benefit me personally. I decided that for my own personal growth and learning, I would take my first year off from working to get grounded with classes. I figured if I changed my mind about work, I could always add it at the last minute.

What I realized in my first-year trial:

  • I am so glad that I decided to put all my time into school, I was able to relearn what it is like to be a student.
  • There were days that I wanted to nap... and I napped without feeling bad about it.
  • Relearning material is hard... really hard.
  • I actually spent a majority of my first semester relearning the basics in order to grasp the new material. This was challenging for me, but knowing that I did not have the added stress of work and scheduling in that extra time, I was able to focus more on classes.

I realize that I made the right decision not working my first year. It gave me the extra freedom to do each of the things listed above. As silly as it sounds, I was able to find my inner student in a way that I may not have been able to if I had the added stress of work. I sit here now in my second year of school and I am working two jobs. Allowing myself to take my first year off helped me get ahead and learn how to learn. My first year set me up to be successful for the years to come.

What I wish I'd known before starting pharmacy school

Nicole W.
Class of 2024, Twin Cities Campus, from Naperville, IL

10/23/2020

Image of white woman with long brown hair in business attire wearing a pharmacist's white coat, posing outdoors with a bronze statue of Goldy Gopher.Coming into pharmacy school, I wasn't 100% sure what to expect. I had scoured pharmacy blogs for tips and tricks on how to balance my work/school/social life and asked pharmacists I worked with for their advice as well. However, no matter how much I prepared, I still felt like I wasn't ready for my first day of pharmacy school.

In undergrad, I had my studying technique down to a tee. For most classes, I would use my laptop to retype all the lecture content in Microsoft Word. Until starting pharmacy school, I didn't realize that doing this was a waste of time. I would never go back and look at these notes, so while I spent time writing up everything, I would miss out on what my professor was saying.

To give myself more time to process what was being said by my professor, I decided to invest in an iPad Air, based on recommendations from experienced pharmacy students. Using the app Notability, I am now able to take notes on top of PowerPoint slides so I can focus and write down anything important that the professors mention. I am also the type of person to go back and rewrite handwritten homework assignments if they didn't look orderly or easy to read, so the formatting tools on Notability have saved me a ton of time by allowing me to easily move around drawings or equations so my assignments look more organized.

A chemistry course here, an art course there, a sprinkle of English courses and you've got the recipe for an undergraduate degree. These disjointed classes always made undergrad interesting, as it felt like I had to be the jack-of-all-trades some semesters. I came into pharmacy school with the expectation that courses would feel like that, but maybe be a bit more pharmaceutical themed.

I did not expect the amount of overlap the courses would have. I've had professors skim over a topic and say, "Oh you don't need to know this in-depth right now, but you'll learn it in more detail during _____ course" or "You should learn this right now as you'll need to have it memorized while on rotations." Not only does this make all the courses feel cohesive, but it has helped me feel like what I am learning will be useful in future courses. If I don't master something right away, I'll still have the opportunity to build upon my knowledge later and prove to myself that I've got it down.

One of my biggest fears coming into pharmacy school was that it would be difficult to meet other pharmacy students, especially during the limitations imposed by COVID-19. Despite having all my classes online, I have found it easy to connect with my classmates through other means, whether it is attending organization Zoom meetings or chatting with others through a class-wide group chat, there are many different methods to talk with other first-year students as well as students in other years of the program. I also was lucky enough to land an internship through the University of Minnesota Medical Center. This has allowed me to interact with classmates in-person, as well as gain practical experience, with the benefit of being financially compensated.

So wherever you're at in your application process, just know this: Do not worry about starting pharmacy school! You may never feel prepared, but once you start classes, everything will come together and you will wonder why you were ever worried in the first place!

It's never too late: my experience as a nontraditional student

Ashley G.
Class of 2022, Duluth campus, from Duluth, MN

10/16/2020

My name is Ashley Goble and I am a third year on the Duluth campus. I am a non-traditional student.

What exactly does that mean? Well, The National Center of Education Statistics defines non-traditional student as meeting 1 of 7 characteristics: delayed enrollment into postsecondary education, attends college part-time, works full-time, is financially independent for financial aid purposes, has dependents other than a spouse, is a single parent, or does not have a high school diploma. That is a wide variety of characteristics. One that is not mentioned is age - this is usually 25 or older. I fit into the older category, delayed enrollment, attended college part-time while working full-time, and is financially independent.

For the past 15 years I have worked at Essentia Health St. Mary's Medical center in the inpatient pharmacy. During my time there I have been able to do some pretty interesting things, meet a lot of people, and learn so much about pharmacy. I have watched people come and go through the pharmacy department, starting out as pharmacy technicians and then coming back to work as pharmacists. They all helped me and encouraged me to follow my dream of becoming a pharmacist.

Image of a white woman with long dark hair posing against brightly colored autumn leaves with her husband and two children.To tell you a little bit about me, I am married to my amazing husband, Lucas, and I am a mother of two girls, Kylie (12) and Kendall (8) - no they are not named after the Kardashians. I was born in Phoenix, AZ and moved to Duluth when I was 5 years old. So, I've been in Duluth pretty much my whole life; I went to high school here, was a three-sport athlete, hunted, and fished.

I was in a program in high school called Upward Bound which was for students that met a financial requirement or one or both of their parents didn't attend college. I fell into the parents not attending college category. This program helped me realize where my career interests were (you can probably take a guess): pharmacy and forensic science. Duluth didn't offer a job shadow for forensic science, so pharmacy it was! That is how I got interested in pharmacy - my first summer internship at Falk's Newman pharmacy when I was 17 years old.

Now let's fast forward to Fall of 2018, my first year of pharmacy school. I felt like I was a duck out of water. I had not been in school for 3 years and already felt like I was behind. I was used to taking notes with pen and paper. In pharmacy school, you need to be able to type, and type quickly, to take notes.

Staying organized is super important. I had never kept a planner in my life, but it is essential for pharmacy students to write down dates for exams, quizzes, TBL's [team-based learning assignments], assignments, and meetings to keep everything straight. Now, I always have my planner with me, especially since I need to keep track of my life outside of school with doctor's and dentist appointments, concerts, or parent teacher conferences.

Biochemistry was a struggle for me my first semester of first year, it was not a requirement for prerequisites so, I did not take it. Looking back, I could have saved myself a lot of headaches and late night studying had I taken biochemistry before pharmacy school. I still struggle with this, and every now and again it rears its ugly head.

Something that is a very real thing that not a lot of people talk about, or gets mentioned when you first start out your journey of pharmacy school, is called Imposter Syndrome. You feel like a fraud and question every decision you have made to get to where you are. Am I smart enough? Am I really cut out to do this? I am a failure. All these thoughts run through your head; luckily enough, I found a group of students that were having some of those same feelings.

We have formed strong bonds and keep each other moving forward, especially when you are feeling down. We are somewhat of a club that our family and friends will never truly understand, as we put in the blood, sweat, and tears necessary to succeed in pharmacy school. There is light at the end of the tunnel; it isn't going to be easy, but you will get through it.

Like the title of this blog says, "It's never too late", no matter what stage of life you are in; if you have a dream, put hard work in, make sacrifices, and keep moving forward, anything is possible.

My favorite note-taking strategy: OneNote

Megan T.
Class of 2022, Duluth campus, from Le Center, MN

10/9/2020

Headshot of a woman with white skin and blonde hair wearing a pharmacist's white coat, toasting the camera with a glass of sparkling wine.Everyone has their own way of learning and taking notes. With that being said, I'll tell you how I take notes and if this is something that works for you, great! If this doesn't work, then I hope you find a strategy that helps you learn.

My preference for note-taking is to use the application OneNote by Microsoft. OneNote is multifunctional and can be used on PC and Apple. Everything can be organized and is uploaded to the cloud in real time. I have a Pharmacy folder in OneNote that I separate into sections. Each section is labeled with the year and semester. Within these sections, I have individual tabs labeled with the class name for that semester. It is easy to navigate and has the option to color code, which is probably my favorite part! I color code my classes on my OneNote and then match the colors to my Google Calendar for class times and reminders of class-specific due dates. This might be going a little far on the neurotic organizers scale, but hey, it works for me.

Screen shot of a OneNote "pharmacy school" folder with a color tab for each course name.Each class (with the exception of ONE) I have ever had in Pharmacy School has used slides. It is the easiest way to relay a lot of information in a short period of time. Professors will post these slides online in either PowerPoint format or PDF. I download these into my OneNote under the specific class tab and put the date and topic in the title. Once my slides are in, I can type right next to the slides and use my mouse to highlight. I use the Ctrl + F function to find sections easily when I am looking for something specific.

My laptop is also a touch screen, so I can write on it; that feature helps when I want to quickly highlight something, draw arrows, or star a slide. Recently, my touch screen broke (yes very sad). So, I caved and bought a small iPad. The cool thing about OneNote is that it syncs across devices! If I download the slides on my laptop and type on it, it syncs to my iPad where I can write on the slides too. I find this type-and-write duo extremely helpful. Plus, I'm a doodler.

Screen shot of a OneNote document with typed notes and colorful handwritten notes on top of the types notes and charts.I cannot advocate enough for online note-taking. You may learn best by writing everything down by hand, but you need to take notes online. You can rewrite everything on paper later if that is what you need. Professors have a lot of slides and talk fast. Keeping up with them is hard enough typing, let alone writing by hand. There is only ONE class and ONE professor who asks that you hand write because his section is pretty much all structures (you draw a lot of chair structures). I hope this helps!

My first-year experience: as a community college graduate

Krista O.
Class of 2023, Twin Cities campus, from Blaine, MN

10/2/2020

I started my college career at a local community college. At the time of my graduation from high school, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I wasn't ready to move away from home and I couldn't afford the tuition I would have to pay if I went to a university. Once I figured out that I wanted to pursue pharmacy, I found out I was able to stay at my community college to complete all of the prerequisites for pharmacy school. That is what I opted to do, rather than go get a Bachelor's degree first. When I first started the PharmD program at the University of Minnesota, I was embarrassed to admit to my classmates that I did not hold a Bachelor's degree. I felt like I wasn't as smart as them, or as worthy as them to have the same opportunity. Even though I was embarrassed, I wasn't going to lie; each time the question came up, I told my story. Many people ended up actually commending me for taking the route I did. "That's a smart decision, you probably saved a lot of money!" was the most popular comment I got. I realized that my classmates really didn't think less of me just because I came from a different background and a different path than them.

I will say, throughout my first year, I sometimes felt that I had to work harder than some of my classmates who majored and obtained a Bachelor's degree in different fields of science. They had taken more classes and learned a lot more than I had in certain subjects. I took two years and the bare minimum amount of prerequisites to get into the program, while they spent four years gaining expertise in their selected major. I was not at all familiar with some topics that many of my classmates had already extensively studied in the past. With that being said, it was still 100% manageable. I was still able to learn the material eventually, even if it took me more time than others.

My biggest piece of advice would be to try not to feel embarrassed if you come from an unconventional path because there are plenty of people in your class who are in the same boat. Whether that be those who came from a community college, people who took multiple years off from school, or people who completely switched their career path after working in finance for 10 years. In my first year, I found it helpful to connect with a variety of people; this way you have a large network around you and everyone can help each other. The reason this is so helpful is that each person can give a different perspective to each situation because each person has developed their own way of thinking. Not to mention people who came from a different path than you often have more or less knowledge in certain subjects, which means you have the opportunity to teach and learn from each other! Another thing that helps is to get involved. There are multiple clubs, organizations, and professional fraternities to get involved with. All of them give you the opportunity to meet new people and gain experience volunteering and doing community work, which is something I never did during my time at community college.

To conclude, it is important to understand that not everyone comes from the same path, but every path is valid. What seems easy to one person may be difficult for another, and that's okay. Uplift your classmates and remember to team up and learn from each other - it's hard to get through pharmacy school alone!