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How To Get A Clinical Pharmacist Job Without Experience

I recently was a guest speaker at the University of Minnesota. My talk was titled “Entrepreneurship, Education, and Embracing the Digital Age in Healthcare”. Download a free copy below. Ultimately, my background and education came up.  I have not done a residency.  And yes, I did get a clinical job right out of school. So the here’s my best guidance to the question, “how did I get a clinical pharmacist job without experience?

My Journey – Obtaining a Clinical Pharmacist Job Without Experience

I worked very hard in school as many pharmacy students do. Getting into pharmacy school was much harder for me than actually making it through pharmacy school.  During the application process, my frustration was high and I quickly understood how difficult it was to get into pharmacy school.  I went to a solid undergraduate school with a good reputation for turning out competent students.  I do think that ultimately helped me get in.  My GPA was probably around the 3.75 range for undergraduate courses. My PCAT was excellent as well. This was a different era for pharmacy school.  I applied in 2005 to three different schools.  I was placed on the waiting list for one school and the “hold” pool for the second (University of Minnesota).  The “hold” pool was the list of candidates beyond the waiting list.  The other school was not interested in my application.

As days/weeks went by with no other information and hearing that other friends got offers, I accepted my fate that I didn’t get in.  I applied to go to a less expensive undergraduate school and also to a school with a college of pharmacy to help get to know some individuals which could potentially help my chances of getting in. I was going to go for a chemistry and/or biology major(s) and continue to apply to pharmacy school.

In the fall of 2005, as fate would have it, I was called off of the “hold” pool of candidates less than a week before school started. Without a doubt, I knew I was the last student accepted to the class of 2009 U of MN College of Pharmacy. I definitely had an inferiority complex about this for some time. I didn’t outwardly show it, but I had a chip on my shoulder on the inside. This was a motivating factor to prove that I did belong.

Reason #1: I Got a Clinical Pharmacy Job Without Experience: Job Market

I tell you the above story because pharmacy school admission (at least by the numbers) was much harder.  I believe there was in the ballpark of 800-1,000 applicants at the time I had applied for 150 or so spots. Simply put, the reason there was so much interest in pharmacy is because the profession was rapidly expanding and there was a shortage of pharmacists.  This leads to more secure jobs and rising salaries.  Again, tougher to get in to school typically correlates with an easier ability to get a job when you get out.

I literally went to two days of undergraduate class at North Dakota State University when I received a 5-minute phone call asking if I wanted a spot at the University of Minnesota – Duluth campus.  Of course, I said yes. It was and is a highly ranked college of pharmacy and I’m very proud my education. I couldn’t hide from the fact that I was the LAST ONE into my class.  (I’ll leave this lesson for another day, but always remember, it isn’t how you start, it’s how you finish.)

I received two job offers in September 08′, prior to my graduation date the following May 09′.  The job market was so much better at that time and people had more options.  I enjoyed the long term care, assisted living, and MTM consulting work much more than retail pharmacy.

Reason #2: Good Track Record, Good Grades

My grades in school were excellent.  I was very good at taking exams which is why I think I get so much enjoyment out of creating study material for students and pharmacists. Where exactly my GPA ended up, I can’t recall, but I believe it was definitely above 3.5. If you forced me to guess a number, I’d say I finished around 3.7-3.8. I loved pharmacology and the application of that information in the real world.  I really didn’t put that all together until rotations.  While on rotations, my preceptors were very good at asking clinical questions.  Because I had worked hard and done well in school, I was good at answering most of them. This helped me create a positive reputation. Note that I didn’t go around boasting about my GPA or how much I studied. 

Reason #3: Working Rural or in Less Competitive Spaces

I worked and did rotations in a rural area.  If you want to work in a rural area due to family or personal preference, you will likely have less competition.  If future employers know you want to stay and work in a particular rural community, this can also be something in your favor.  I was married at the time of selecting a job.  We wanted to be close enough to home as we had anticipated starting a family.  Both of our families are farm families and live in very rural communities. I believe this worked in my favor to get a long term care consulting position.  Another thing I took advantage of was doing different tasks when opportunities presented themselves.  I also did home care, assisted living, participated in a community falls prevention program, and MTM in this position as those opportunities became available.

Reason #4: I Took Less Money and Trusted Joy

As I had mentioned above, the job market was much better in 2009. I had two sure offers prior to even considering residency.  Despite 145K in student loans, I trusted going after what I enjoyed. I took the LTC consulting/MTM job and made slightly less money.  Maybe I could have negotiated a little bit harder, but I didn’t want to lose out on this opportunity. I believe the tables are starting to turn on salaries where if you specialize and become more clinically oriented, that is becoming more valuable than working in a retail location.  There were many retail sites giving sign on bonuses at the time I graduated.

Reason #5: Communication and Trust

I did numerous rotations in the same area early on when starting my final year.  I was around individuals who were looking for help, and I was around them quite a bit.  The deeper a relationship you can develop with a preceptor, the more likely they are to hire you or give you a strong recommendation (as long as they like what they see).  Deep relationships take time and doing many of my early rotations in the same area helped me gain trust faster than other students who were maybe only there for 5 weeks. 

Reason #6: Board Certification

Board certification is not possible for new graduates and it wasn’t for me in 2009.  Many certifications require at least 2 years of experience and some even more than that.  I had a very wise pharmacist who encouraged me to seek board certification (BCGP is what I did first) when I became eligible. When it came time for me to try to spread my wings and try getting into an ambulatory care clinic, I had both BCPS and BCGP.  They were both important notches in my belt to being able to get in front of an employer for an interview.  I was up against other candidates with residencies.  With my long term care background, I did have clinical experience, but I’m not 100% sold I would have gotten an interview and job without my certifications. 

I would strongly encourage you to go look at job applications for clinical pharmacist positions.  Many of them require or recommend board certification. This is especially true if you do NOT have a residency. Long term care consulting positions are now requiring or recommending BCGP.  Ambulatory care positions often require/recommend BCACP, BCPS, or BCGP.  Clinical, hospital-based positions often require/recommend BCPS.

In One Paragraph. How to get a clinical pharmacist job without experience or residency?

Always remember there are no guarentees in life.  Even if you have every box checked, there’s still the wildcard factor. Here would be my strategies to getting a clinical pharmacist job without experience. 

  1. Work hard in school, not 100% for grades, but for understanding and an ability to impress future employers/preceptors
  2. Look to move to less competitive areas (find a better job market)
  3. If moving is not an option, consider overnights or undesirable shifts (less competition)
  4. Develop relationships while you are a student
  5. Take advantage of unique opportunities at your current location (resume builder)
  6. Seek out part-time or volunteer opportunities
  7. Find something you enjoy and become an expert at it
  8. Be willing and able to give presentations
  9. Get a Board Certification (if eligible)
  10. Be able to demonstrate that you are a continuous learner

I hope my experience can help someone else out there who may not have done a residency or have a board certification.

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Written By Eric Christianson

February 20, 2019

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