An Incredibly Long Post About the First Two Months of Pharmacy School

Hi everyone! I’m Meg, your PD1 blogger on the Duluth campus, and I’m going to attempt to accomplish the impossible: using a single post to describe the first few months of pharmacy school. Welcome to a crash course on “how-my-life-changed-completely-in-53-days!”

Move-in for us PD1’s happened way back in mid-August, while many people’s summers were still in full swing. There are a few days in your life you know you will never, ever forget, and this is one of them. By some miracle, it was HOT in Duluth; just the beginning of a long list of things I had never experienced prior to that day.

I had already been through the “leaving again, this is sad, I don’t really want to go” emotional roller coaster during undergrad, but something about this time was different. This time I was moving away with no plans of ever living at “home” again. I guess I’m finally an adult (subject for a future post: I am 21 and the baby of my class).

The hardest part was saying goodbye to this sweet face:

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I apologize in advance for the likely disproportionate number of dog pictures you will see in my posts; she’s 14 and probably the thing I miss most (sorry, family).

Anyway, you probably all know what moving is like: you’ve forgotten just about all essentials, which seems impossible because you also have far too much STUFF to pack into such a tiny room (how did you not realize how tiny it was going to be?), and Target is sold out of absolutely everything because everyone else is in the exact same boat as you… etc, etc. I really regretted my end-of-summer-I-NEED-MORE-SUN procrastination that weekend, but (long, stressful story short) everything ended up fine and all of a sudden my family was saying goodbye. Leaving me all alone in front of an apartment building in a city where I knew zero other humans.

I’ll admit, I was terrified and a little bit overwhelmed. I had been to Duluth plenty of times; my parents are UMD alumni and we had a cabin near the Boundary Waters for many years. So I was familiar with the area but, again, not a single face.

Fortunately, one of my roommates is also a pharmacy student and went to UMD for undergrad. For the next few days, I followed her around like a lost puppy. It’s strange now to think that I didn’t know where ANYTHING was; if you’re reading this and you’ll be a first year next year, you’ll figure it out quickly. It might require calling your mom when you somehow end up in a MUSEUM (?) and can’t even figure out how to escape the building… but you’ll get it.

Our first day of class was a Monday, and we were required to dress professionally for pictures. In stereotypical female fashion, I tried on a combination of 5+ outfits in front of the mirror in preparation. First impressions are important, right? My mom insisted I take a picture, so here it is: a selfie from my first day of pharmacy school:

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Now photos, and external appearances in general, can be very deceiving. On the outside, I think I looked okay. Smile plastered on face, hair carefully styled, suit jacket straight. The picture of confidence.

Inside? That jacket was far too hot and sweaty. I was praying nobody would see the blood dripping down my ankles courtesy of blisters from my new flats (my old ones were one of those many essentials I forgot at home). And most of all, I was scared to death.

If you’re a pre-pharmacy student reading this, there’s a lesson I want you to take with you on your future first day of class. You are not the only one who doesn’t have any friends yet. You are not the only one who doesn’t know where to go or what to do. You are not the only one who skipped breakfast because you’re so nervous you couldn’t possibly eat. You are NOT the only one.

It’s funny to look back on that day now, because the people who were sitting around me have already become some of my best friends. It doesn’t take long. We are with each other 24/7; social opportunities abound on that convenient Facebook page, and everyone is invited to everything. We’ve also had some good discussions on our first impressions of each other that basically go like this: “Remember when we started classes? I was so intimidated by you!” “No, I was intimidated by YOU!” etc.

Again, you are not the only one.

I can’t write the specifics of everything that happened day-by-day because this post is already far too long, but I thought it’d be helpful to explain those emotions. Because despite having our first biochem exam under my belt, that first day was probably the scariest so far.

Now I’m going to summarize things a little more concisely. Our first three weeks were called “Becoming a Pharmacist” or, more realistically, “The Calm Before the Storm.” We had class pretty much from 8:25 until 3:30 every day, but it was all introductory material (and attempting to learn hundreds of names I’ve, sadly, mostly already forgotten). Some highlights from those three weeks include:

1) Interprofessional Day with the medical students. My group went to Hibbing and toured the high school (gorgeous), several pharmacies and clinics, and the taconite mine. We learned a lot about rural healthcare issues AND got to wear these awesome hard hats and safety glasses:

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2) Free food. Just about every pharmacy organization bribed us to come to their meetings by offering free food. I didn’t have to grocery shop for weeks (seriously). Even now, one of my friends is our “town crier” when it comes to free meals. For example: “Everybody sign up for the *insert organization name here* meeting on Thursday, PIZZA!”

3) Exploring Duluth with new friends. Like I said a couple years ago at the beginning of this post, I’m pretty familiar with this city. But a few of my classmates had never been here before; case in point, they were vaguely aware there is “a lake.” 😉

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4) Group study sessions! During undergrad I evolved from a solo studier to a team studier to a group studier. My friends and I like to have study sessions that involve meals, because food is an incentive for everything (see #2). For example, we’ve had a biochem brunch, an Asian potluck, a taco movie night, and a waffle bar with our entire class.

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5) White coat ceremony! Becoming a Pharmacist concluded with our white coat ceremony in the DECC’s Harborside Ballroom. This is another one of those days I probably won’t be forgetting anytime soon. After all that work in undergrad and the commitment to four further years of education, it was nice to finally receive the emblem of a (future) healthcare professional. My family came up for the event and we spent a gorgeous weekend on the North Shore:

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After Labor Day, the real fun began. I’m not going to go into detail on every day, but here are some important tidbits I’ve learned so far:

1) You will miss Becoming a Pharmacist. While it’s actually happening, it might feel boring sometimes. You’ll say, “I want to learn! Teach me how drugs work!” But after the first day of real classes when the weight of everything you’ll need to do (and do well) in the upcoming months bears down on you… you’ll miss it. So use that time to learn more about your classmates; that’s part of what it’s designed for. One day we’ll all be colleagues, and it’s never too early to start building relationships!

2) There are a LOT of pharmacy organizations. They’re all great and have awesome causes, but they can be overwhelming. I signed up for MPSA, PDX (professional fraternity), UMD Pharm.D., the HOPE Clinic, and MPSO. MPSA is an “umbrella organization” that includes membership to many other organizations (ASHP, ACCP, etc.). The acronyms can be confusing. Many times I have found myself saying, “What meeting do we have today? Something with a P in it?”

3) I’ve written more checks in the past few weeks than I had written in my entire pre-pharmacy school life. Those organizations have membership fees. It’s something I wasn’t really prepared for, but I think they’ll be worth it. Bring on the spending of further loan (aka “Monopoly”) money.

4) The pharmacy classes move as packs. Not sure where to go? It’s okay; as long as one person knows everybody does. Besides, we only have two classrooms: LS 163 and the library. If you don’t know and somehow can’t find another pharmacy student, you’ve at least got a 50% chance of getting it right!

5) Don’t let your email sit for more than a few hours without checking it. You will regret this. I picture it somewhat like a boat filling up with water out in the middle of the ocean (or, for our purposes, Lake Superior). You stop bailing for even a second… you’re going to sink. This also bears striking similarity to our biochem lectures… your brain forgets how to work for three seconds? Sink, sank, sunk.

6) It is important to take advantage of your city. If you live in beautiful Duluth, enjoy beautiful Duluth. The North Shore is right outside your window; drive up it. Get out and hike. Studying is important; of course it is. But you will be happier and healthier if you go enjoy yourself once in a while.

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7) It’s easy to get involved, but you have to take the initiative to do it. For example, read your MPSA emails on Fridays! They’re full of great information on ways to volunteer in the community. Last week I attended an Arrowhead meeting to meet area pharmacists and listen to a physician present on this year’s influenza vaccinations. And the other night I volunteered at an opioid and heroin abuse forum in Cloquet. Both were great experiences.

8) You’ll quickly become used to professional dress. I previously despised dressing up, but it’s my routine now. Dress pants and button-up shirt, heels and jacket… no problem. I rotate through the same few shirts every week, but that’s okay. Nobody has seemed to notice yet.

9) Patch Adams is probably the saddest film you’ll ever see. We had to watch it for Foundations of Pharm Care and my heart was forever broken. Do not trust your friends when they tell you it’s “the best movie of all time.”

10) Most importantly, you can do more than you thought you could. You CAN work out and wash your laundry and eat something and tackle that enormous list of things you need to study, all while managing to sleep a little bit. That’s important; don’t not sleep. You’ll probably get sick, and then the whole rest of the class will get sick and realize you were patient zero and you will never live it down.

If you’re still reading, kudos! Hopefully my future posts will be shorter since I will be more caught up.

Thanks for sticking with me!

Meg

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