Thursday, July 30, 2009

Words of Appreciation

Some words of thanks: I discovered this blog very recently and it has helped me immensely with the application process for pharmacy school. It has been tremendously useful in helping me plan my personal essay and more, although its also created new fears as well - my scattered/light course load.

I write this simply to say your effort is very much appreciated. The daunting task of gaining admittance to a pharmacy school is very stressful and it is so helpful to have someone on the inside voluntarily answering questions.

I will be writing my personal essay in the coming weeks and hopefully you won't be too busy to have a chance to review it. Once again, thank you very much.

Response: Thank you for your email and kind words. I am glad that you have found the blog to be helpful. Please bookmark or follow the blog if you haven't already. We also ask you to please pass the blog link on to anyone you know who may be interested in pursuing a career in pharmacy.

As we have stated before, we aren't charging for any of the services that we are providing. Letters like the one above make our efforts worth the time involved. Thank you!

How to address a DUI - part 2

Question: I am concerned about is how my underage misdeameanor DUI will affect my chances of getting into pharmacy school. I know this question has already been answered previously in a post a few days ago, but I do not know the circumstances of the other person's situation. I would appreciate an honest answer about my chances of getting into pharmacy school, know that you know my situation completely. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this!

Answer: My response is this: at my current institution we consider the circumstances of such offenses, particularly the age at which it occurred. If this happened while underaged, you can try to explain it as making a very poor choice as a young person and having since vowed to never let it occur again. Don't dwell heavily on the DUI in your personal statement, but I think you need to address it.

You might mention anything that you have done with community service or alcohol prevention to show that you have learned from your error in judgment and how you are focused on helping others,etc. Having a DUI isn't going to help you, obviously, but you can try to positively "spin it" to show what you have learned and how it will make you a better person and pharmacist.

Good luck.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Low GPA during first years in college - advice?

Question: I'm applying to pharmacy school for my second time and want to make sure I get in. I've wanted this for so long and am so dedicated to this dream but I am not sure what more I can do.

My positives are that I've been working in a pharmacy going on 7 years now, I will have my BS degree at the end of this school year, my grades are improving each semester, I'm involved in a number of school activities/clubs. However, I fall at the lower end of the cumulative GPA spectrum as my freshman and sophmore years I averaged C's bringing down my overall GPA. My Junior year I figured out how to study better and how to better manage my time and now in the past two years am getting all As and Bs in upper division chemistry, biology, physics, and math courses.

I've taken the PCAT three times and tried something different everytime and I only improve 5 points eachtime. I've worked really hard on my personal statement and sent it into you and you gave me some great positive feedback. I've gotten what I feel are some great letters of recommendation but what more can I do? I'm not sure if I have that competitive grade-wise application.

Any advice for me?

Answer: Yours is not an unusual situation. Many applicants struggle during their first year or two at college whether due to the transition away from home for the first time, immaturity, or a few too many trips to happy hour. When they finally decide what degree they want to pursue, their focus, and subsequently their GPA, improves. You did not disclose your GPA or your PCAT scores, so I can't get a real feel for what your situation is.

I suggest you really use your personal statement to your advantage. As a committee member, I review a number of applications and read quite a few personal statements. If an applicant acknowledges academic difficulties during their early college years and then points out the improvement, particularly with upper level science and math courses, you are making a strong case for yourself. Use what you describe as your weaknesses to benefit you. Show the committee that once you became commited to studying pharmacy, your grades improved.

With your work experience and strong LORs, you should have a chance if your PCAT and GPA are at least marginal. As I have suggested to others, you may need to broaden the list of schools where you are applying. If you are focused on only attended your in state public institution which is very competitive, being admitted might not be realistc. Look at other schools, maybe even some in the accreditation process that are not as selective and see what happens.

Good luck.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

PCAT score review - Part 3

Question: I have just received my PCAT score and found them to be very low. Two of the lowest being Math and Chemistry. The last time I had Math or Chemistry was about four years ago and that is probably the reason why I did so poorly. Besides the poor scores my GPA is 3.25 and the classes I am taking now to fufill the prereq have been all A's. I also have a BA in Biology. I've been in pharmacy for 7 years and love every minute of it. I used to work in retail and now work in an IV room in a hospital setting. How important is the PCAT score or are other things taken into consideration?

Answer: You didn't indicate in your email what you scores actually were, but "very low" doesn't sound encouraging. Your case of taking the PCAT several years removed from coursework is not that atypical and a committee member probably won't consider that when reviewing your file.

Your pharmacy experience and BA in Bio will be beneficial to you and your GPA, while marginal, won't hurt you. Somewhere in the blog I mentioned the things I look to first when reviewing a file and PCAT is at the top of the list. It's not the only thing that matters, of course, but standardized testing is one way to distinguish students.

I don't know if I subscribe to the theory that a high or low PCAT is a predictor of success or failure in pharmacy school or on your boards, but the PCAT will heavily influence whether or not you make it into pharmacy school. If you would like to provide more information, we can try to answer your question in greater detail.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Review of PCAT scores - part 2

Question: How do admissions committees view a few low subtest scores but an overall decent composite score? I earned an 86 composite, but I had a 37 for the chemistry subtest.

Answer: Good question. I anticipate more questions regarding PCAT scores from those that took the June test, so please send them our way.

First of all, an 86 composite score is very good and will get you admitted to a lot of schools. However, I have heard that some schools will automatically reject an application with any subset score below a certain threshold (say, Chem < 40). They may or may not publicize this fact, but it is a reality as the schools have many applications to review and this is a way to weed out some applicants.

In your case, to achieve a composite score of 86 with a 37 on chemistry you must have done really well on the other subset categories. I can speak only for myself, but if I were reviewing your application I would see the PCAT Chem score as somewhat concerning. I would look further to validate or minimize my concern by checking the following:
a) What are your Chem and Orgo grades?
b) Do you have an LOR from a science professor who can sspeak to your aptitude?

If you had good grades (A's or B's), I would probably dismiss the low PCAT Chem score and give you the benefit of the doubt. If you had your Orgo professor write an LOR and (s)he said you were a model student who did very well in class even if your grades weren't straight A's, I would probably assume you could do the work necessary in pharmacy school.

The problem would be if your Chem and Orgo grades were poor (C's, D's, or withdrawals) or if you had an LOR that wasn't very supportive. The aforementioned might make me concerned about your ability to be successful in a program focused heavily on chemsitry. Not knowing your entire situation, it may be to your advantage to get an LOR from a Chem or Orgo professor and ask them to please write in support of your pharmacy school application. You could also use your statement or supplemental application to mention your abilities in the core sciences, just to deflect any attention the reviewer might have toward your PCAT Chem score.

Best of luck - I think you are on your way.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Review of PCAT scores

Question: I took the PCAT in January 2008 (scores below). I have been rejected and waitlisted and would like to reapply this year. Suggestion?

Verbal Ability -45
Biology - 69
Reading Comprehension - 30
Quantitative Ability - 50
Chemistry - 59
Composite - 49

Biology I with Lab: B
Biology II with Lab: B
Biology III with Lab: C

Organic I Lecture: C- (Took it in a different city and teacher was hardly accessible for students)Organic I Lab: B+
Organic II Lecture: B+
Organic II Lab: B+

Answer: Thank you for providing all of the information you did. Giving a quick glance as a reviewer, I think that your composite PCAT score is probably keeping you out right now. Obviously, the overall score is being dragged down by your verbal and reading scores.

I would like to give you the benefit of the doubt if you had exemplary biology, chemistry and quant scores. Or maybe we could overlook marginal PCAT scores if you had A's in your biology and Orgo courses. Unfortunately, you do not. I am not implying that your PCAT is unsatisfactory - I imagine at some schools you could receive an interview and maybe even be accepted. However, a composite PCAT < 50 isn't going to get you in at many schools.

I strongly suggest retaking the PCAT. If you can improve your composite to 70, your chances improve measurably. I think you are on the right track, but really it is going to come down to improving your PCAT. It may also be advantageous to expand the list of schools where you are applying.

Best of luck.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Should I mention using illegal drugs as a learning experience?

Question: I was wondering if learning from my mistake of taken ecstasy got me into wanting to learn about drugs and its affects is a good thing to talk about in my PharmCAS essay. I let a reviewer read it and she say that that was a good one, but I don’t know if the admission will look at me different.

Answer: Regarding illicit drug use, I would strongly discourage referencing this in your statement. Or maybe I should say, do so at your own risk. There have been many instances where we have denied admission to otherwise worthy candidates because of concerns with character (and I will lump drug use in that category. I am not personally judging you, but I think you would have many committee members concerned with such an admission of drug use.
I wouldn't want to be anywhere near our dean if we had a student fail a drug test while in school or preparing for clerkships. Obviously, the question would be asked of the committee if we had any idea that this might happen and we would look back at the personal statement and second guess ourselves. I'm sure there are committee members who have dealt with this before and would rather screen you out for just such a reason than deal with the possible headaches later during your academic career. These are extreme examples, I know, but I hope it makes you think about the reasons why you might want to keep something like that private.

I suppose you could spin your experience as having a positive impact on your life, but it wouldn't be something I would mention in my personal statement when applying for a professional school. Good luck with whatever you choose.

Friday, July 17, 2009

200 Personal Statements Reviewed!

Thanks to everyone for viewing the blog and passing the word around. I haven't added much content the past several days because I've been reviewing the personal statements sent to us. I am happy to announce that we just reviewed our 200th Personal Statement.

Please keep the emails and suggestions coming. Please bookmark the blog or follow it here.

We don't make a dime off of this service (other than the pennies we get when someone clicks on an ad), but we hope to assist you as you prepare for your future as a pharmacist.

Thank you!!!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Generic biologics - is 12 years too long to wait?

In case you haven't been paying attention, there was great debate in Washington regarding the potential for generic biotech drugs. Why is this such a key issue? Well, two reasons: 1) These drugs are really expensive; 2) The government pays for most of these medications through Medicaid and Medicare.

To this point, law has not allowed for generic production of such biologic drugs (think Procrit and Neupogen). However, some politicians seeing the potential financial risk the government would have in the coming years with more and more of these agents being used, decided to promote a bill that would allow for generic production of such medications. We applaud that part of the story.

Sen. Kennedy proposed 13 1/2 years of exclusivity (the time in which a drug could be marketed before a generic could be sold). Several other U.S. Senators wanted a period of 7 years. The generic drug makers want it to be 5 years. The brand drug companies want it to be 500 years (or never).

In the end, it appears that the politicians have agreed to allow 12 years of exclusivity. It's much longer than I prefer because of my experience with drug costs impacting patient care, but it's better than no generic biologics which is what we currently have.

Please share your thoughts if you have any.

WSJ article / blog:

Updates via email

Question: I'm on your mailing list but I'm not receiving many e-mails. I was wondering: how often do you send e-mails?

Answer: Good question. The blogspot system only allows us to enter 10 emails addresses for immediate notification of blog entries, etc. Of course, those email spots were filled in about 2 hours and we haven't gone to the trouble to figure out how to send more - maybe someone who reads the blog can help us out. Truth be told, however, we haven't send many emails out, preferring to respond to emails received and reviewing personal statements. We do hope to make the email feature more prevalent as we near interview season this fall.

If you would like to be informed of happenings with the blog, please send us an email.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Drug Prices - United States vs. Europe

Every once in a while on this blog, I like to direct your attention to something pharmacy or drug related that I find interesting, amusing, or alarming. As your progress in your career one of the most common questions that you will be asked is, "Why does this medication cost so much?". Here is a brief article I saw online:

I have worked with enough patients and families to try and determine the most cost effective treatments to know that we have an inherently flawed system in the United States. Here, patients are *told* by their doctor what to use and end up paying the bill for their physician's whims. I believe there will be great need for pharmacists by governmental agencies and insurance groups in the future to handle cases where physicians use poor processes by which they choose the medications they prescribe.

Case in point: Why use Nexium (esomeprazole) instead of generic Prilosec (omeprazole)? One is being marketed like crazy by a drug company and costs $4-5 a day. The other can be purchased for about 1/10 that amount. Not much difference other than that. A couple of years ago the president of the AMA castigated his fellow physicians for prescribing Nexium due to it's cost and the lack of benefit when compared to the generic PPI available. Despite all this, Nexium is one of the top selling drugs in the world. You know who is paying for all those little purple pills? Yep, you and I - the people paying taxes (Medicaid and Medicare) and insurance premiums.

I challenge you to be an advocate for your patients in your professional practice. Ask patients why they are taking a medication that is prescribed. Inquire with the physician why a certain agent was chosen if you feel an alternative might be as effective. You will have earned your degree - you must use it.

I'll step down from my soapbox for now.

Personal Statement Advice - Part 4

Below is a small portion of a personal statement that I recommended some changes to.

while volunteering in the hospital pharmacy, I came to the conclusion that it is not a field I am interested working in long-term. The pharmacists at the hospital did not seem to have much, if any, interaction with patients. As I restocked medications, I would watch the staff pharmacists sit in front of their computer for hours reading prescriptions, arguing with physicians, and minimally interacting with anyone.

Response: As noted in an earlier blog entry, don't close doors. I would not recommend making the negative hospital pharmacy reference noted above. It is likely that at least some committee members will have hospital experience (and probably much more clinical than what is described). Why give them the notion that you "think you know it all", "have it all figured out", "are too good to be a hospital pharmacist".

Instead, I would simply make a reference to having shadowed in a hospital pharmacy and leave it at that. Focus more on the other pharmacy experiences that you found useful.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Becoming a "research pharmacist"

Question: I was wondering if there was any stigma attached to those of us who don't want to go into retail or clinical practice, but rather would like to pursue research oriented careers with the PharmD. Would it work against me if I wrote about my desire to do research instead of retail or clinical in my personal statement? I am primarily applying to several so-called "research schools," as well as other schools that seem to be more oriented toward more traditional pharmacist roles.

Answer: This is a good question and one that will have wildly varying responses depending on the institution. I know of a couple of committee members at my present school who have frowned on applicants who express no desire to work in pharmacy practice, figuring instead that the school is better served admitting those who will follow a traditional path (note: I disagree with their view). I wonder, however, if research based schools such as those mentioned might have committee members who have similar experiences to what you desire and might give you some preference.

As I tell most applicants, I usually discourage using your statement to tell the committee members what specifically you are going to do - it gives the appearance of not being open minded. Many applicants tell us they want to be in academia or work in a clinical setting because they have no desire to be a retail pharmacist. I caution anyone from closing too many doors in an opening statement, but instead I suggest mentioning those pharmacy disciplines that interest you and keep all doors open.

My bottom line answer (and suggestion) is this: You can safely state that research interests you, but also indicate that you are excited to learn about the various disciplines pharmacy has to offer.

I hope that helps.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

How to stay in contact with our Blog

We have received hundreds of emails over the past couple of months and have responded to 100% of them. We thank you for your questions, suggestions, and input.

Just a reminder: we invite you to join our email list. You can join our notification email service in one of two ways:
1) Join our blog as a "follower" by clicking on the link near the right hand side of this page.
2) Send us an email: and request to be added to the email notification list.
2a) Of course, we encourage you to bookmark this site and forward the blog address to your classmates, colleagues, or anyone else interested in pursuing pharmacy as a profession. We have received positive feedback from numerous schools of pharmacy as well as advisors for Pre-Pharmacy organizations. We thank everyone responsible for spreading the word and making this a participatory site.

Thank you and best of luck.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Personal Statement Advice - Part 3

I have been catching up on reading many of the personal statements sent to us during the preceding week and I wanted to offer some advice. So many of the statements are well written and are probably better than anything I could formulate right now, but I frequently notice something as a reviewer that I probably never would have realized as an applicant.

When writing your application, do not simply focus on your personal characteristics and your efforts try to and convince me WHY you would make a good pharmacist. Examples - Intelligence, etc. Instead, add something to inform me HOW you plan to be an excellent practicing pharmacist Examples - What will you do to help patients, give back to the community, provide care, etc.

If you can incorporate your abilities into a statement that examines how you will use your PharmD when you have finished pharmacy school, I suspect you will have an excellent personal statement.

I hope you have an excellent 4th of July.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Question about speech waivers

Question: I am applying to a program that has Speech as one of the prerequisites. I did not take Speech in college so I am writing a two page document detailing my work experience as a sales rep to demonstrate my communication abilities. This school will accept Speech waivers as a replacement for taking the course as long as they feel you have demonstrated sufficient communication skills in your professional experience. Does anyone have experience with this or can someone help me if they have encountered a similar situation?

Answer: If the school allows for a waiver for this course, I suspect working as a sales rep would give you as much speech / presentation experience as just about any field. I would detail your job responsibilities and indicate how many presentations and speeches you give in a normal day, week, month of work activity. Adding a reference from a superior or someone who can vouch for you might not hurt either.

Note: If you have experience with applying for a waiver (for this course or a similar prerequisite), please leave comments below to assist. Thank you.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Personal Statement... words of advice, part 2

Please see the numerous previous blog entries written about personal statement, specifically part 1 ( I thank everyone for sending in their personal statements and allowing us to choose select portions to point out some areas to avoid.

Below is a paragraph from a personal statement that we received today. I understand the angle the applicant was using, but my reaction as a reviewer was not a positive one:

Unlike numerous jobs, pharmacists have flexible hours. A lot of pharmacies are open for 24 hours and this provides a great flexibility. The pharmacy I shadowed had only two pharmacists and they discussed about their schedule and made changes when necessary easily by phone. So, the pharmacist could go on a vacation with his family pretty frequently and was able to spend quality time with them. I rarely saw the pharmacist working more than 5 days a week; sometimes he only worked 2 days a week. Another pharmacist I met at a hospital could take an entire month off so he could help his wife with two new born babies. I value my family significantly and I would also like to have a career that will provide me with flexible hours.

Response: While the schedule of a certain work environment may be appealing to you, I would suggest avoiding potential "flexible scheduling" as a primary reason why you want to be a pharmacist. The bolded paragraph would probably be a concern for most committee members. I agree a schedule such as this would be appealing, but it wouldn't be hard for a committee member to turn this statement into a negative for the applicant. I have a couple of committee members in mind who I can already hear say, "This guy/gal doesn't plan to work hard once out of school - how hard will they work while in school?".

My response was to suggest the applicant revise the statement to mention learning about the various disciplines of pharmacy and how s/he hoped to find a specific field of pharmacy that offered the best opportunity to meet his/her personal and professional goals.

Thanks for all the emails. I should have the personal statement reviews in queue completed in the next couple of days.