First Year, Second Semester: “What just happened?”

Hi guys!

I know, I know… you’ve forgotten who I am. Entirely my fault. But I’m here now, and ready to update you on what it’s like to be a first year, second semester pharmacy student!

Let me start off by saying – it is nothing like being a first year, FIRST semester pharmacy student. When I came back from Christmas break, I thought I was prepared. “I’ve done this before,” I said with a confident smile on my face. BUT THEN.

As one of my friends so accurately put it, “What just happened?”

When I think back on last fall, I don’t know what I was actually stressed about. Biochem, maybe. Drug delivery, meh. Lab, why?

Don’t get me wrong – first semester was a breaking-in process. We were learning how to adjust to a new lifestyle just as much as we were learning about our future profession. It’s different from undergrad – you basically go to school all day, then come home and study all night, then do it again in the morning. There are none of those convenient naps and between-class “breaks” you used to have. It’s kind of like working two jobs (for the people who have jobs on top of it, three, and I sincerely admire you).

So we got into a groove first semester, and thank goodness – because second is a whole different beast.

Anyways, to travel back in time a bit – Christmas break was awesome. I headed home, saw some friends from undergrad and high school, spent plenty of time with my family, and didn’t think about a single science-related concept for four weeks. My days were filled with skiing and sledding and drinking hot chocolate; I had a very typical Minnesota December. It was perfect.

Of course, it ended too fast – always does, etc., etc., and on January 13th we were back in Duluth buckling up for a what we didn’t yet realize was going to be a wild ride.

I’m going to split things up into convenient headings for those of you who don’t want to spend the next 24 hours of your life sorting through my post for things that might interest you.

Volunteer Activities

Within the first week of second semester, we had the opportunity to volunteer at a children’s health fair at South Ridge School near Culver, Minnesota (about 40 minutes northwest-ish of Duluth). If this fair is offered again next year (and I hope it is!) I’d highly recommend it. We had a bunch of different booths set up and saw over 350 K-6 students. I was part of the exercise booth and definitely got some physical activity in myself. It’s so important to develop healthy lifestyles in younger generations, and I felt we had a big impact on that during this fair. Plus, I love working with kids!

I also had my first experience at HOPE clinic this semester! Interested PDIs underwent training last fall, but unfortunately our lab schedule prevented us from participating during the 3-5 pm window. This semester we finish class at 2:15 on Tuesdays (our early day!), so we were all able to help out.

I was given the role of “patient advocate.” My job was to wait at the desk for a patient who wanted to be seen, help them fill out the required paperwork, take their vitals (blood pressure, pulse, respiratory rate, etc.) and talk with them until they could be seen by the student pharmacist and student physician. I also helped the desk volunteer take blood pressures/pulses for anyone who wanted these measurements.

I admit it was nerve-wracking at first, but after a half hour or so I became more comfortable and started enjoying myself. It’s so fun to interact with real patients and see how you can help them; after all, that’s what we went to pharmacy school for. HOPE clinic is such a neat opportunity that gets us away from our books and into actual scenarios – I highly, highly recommend volunteering for it. I believe there is a similar program in the Cities called the Phillips Neighborhood Clinic for anyone going to that campus.

Photos from the health fair and my first time at the clinic (look Mom and Dad!):

Other than attending an Arrowhead meeting, these are the only two “extracurriculars” I’ve done so far this semester. I’ve been busier with studying than I was last semester, but it’s definitely good to find a balance – I’ll be signing up for another soon!

Finding a Study Groove

The hardest thing for me this semester has been finding a new study groove. In undergrad, I had it down to a science – I made flashcards after every class from that day’s lecture to keep up, and I never had to cram for anything. Now, the amount of material we’re given makes that essentially impossible.

To put it into perspective, I’ll give you an example of last week. On Monday, we had a drug delivery quiz and a pharm care iRat/tRat. On Tuesday, we had a TBL on the past three weeks of lab, a med chem exam, and an infectious disease assignment due. On Wednesday, we had another pharm care iRat/tRat. On Thursday we had lab. And on Friday we had an infectious disease exam. Every week is like that. Next week, the final sprint to spring break, might even be worse.

At the beginning of the semester, I decided I’d have to switch my technique from flashcards to study guides – there simply wasn’t time to study that many cards. I did pretty well keeping up for a while, but then the endless multi-exam weeks, interspersed with assignments and quizzes and TBLs, hit. And that is when I changed my motto from “plan ahead” to “take it day by day.”

This was something I wasn’t used to. In a previous life (undergrad), I felt completely prepared for everything. I’m sure many of you were the same way. In pharmacy school, things are different because they have to be. We’re learning more, and we’re learning it to use it. It isn’t possible to study like you’ve always studied, and that was very hard for me to accept.

Another thing I adjusted to was studying away from school. In undergrad, I spent a LOT of time in the library. Now I’m in the library almost all day for class (one of our two main classrooms is on the fourth floor). By the time 3:20 or 4:30 rolls around (depending on the day), I need to get out of there. I know some people can handle staying all night too, but sometimes a change of scenery is necessary for sanity purposes.

I’ve found a few nice niches, little off-the-beaten-path coffee shops with the best milk steamers ever (I believe I have a CYP1A2 mutation because I seriously cannot handle caffeine – if you can, know you are blessed). We even go to Superior sometimes, just to take a little drive and escape Duluth. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Duluth, but you can’t walk to the same path between the same two buildings every day and not expect to go crazy.

Heck, sometimes if you HAVE to be in the library from 8 am to midnight you can even just study on the floor (spot the hand, it’s mine):

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All in all, my best advice – be open to change. No matter how sure you are that your study habits will continue working (“they worked perfectly in undergrad, they’ll work now,” etc, all things I thought as well), they most likely won’t. Pharmacy school is a whole different ballgame.

Memberships

Last weekend I was inducted into Phi Lambda Sigma (PLS), a pharmacy leadership society. There was a very nice dinner at Greysolon Plaza here in Duluth; we heard a great speech from Dr. Palombi, enjoyed a fantastic catered lunch, and watched the induction of some new members. Technically since we’re first years we’re only “promising leaders” until next fall, when we will be inducted ourselves.

The PLS application process is lengthy – you have to be nominated by a classmate, fill out an application form (with an essay, letter of recommendation, etc.), and interview. It might sound daunting during a busy semester, but it’s worth it. I’ve always been very committed to developing my leadership skills, so I’m excited to be involved with an organization that focuses on this. PLS also puts on the CPR classes offered at the beginning of the year.

 

Taking Time for YOU/Duluth Appreciation

“School, school, school is all we do.” But it doesn’t have to be like that.

Another thing I’ve learned in pharmacy school is that it isn’t just important to develop yourself as a future pharmacist – you also need to develop yourself as a person. I had a lengthy talk about my mentor about this. He asked me what I wanted to do with my life, and I immediately began spouting off my usual spiel about residency, pediatrics, clinical work, etc.

But then he stopped me and said, “No, what do you want to DO with your life?”

I was confused, of course. I’ve conditioned myself to think my “life” means my career. And, in part, it does. My career is important to me – I’ve dedicated four further years of education to it, and I’m excited about my future in pharmacy. But, as my mentor pointed out to me, I also need to remember make time for the things I love.

This is something I’ve found surprisingly easy to do here in Duluth. I’m an Up North girl – always have been, ever since my first visit to our family’s cabin up near the Boundary Waters when I was tiny. Living in the Northland has helped me escape my school bubble and do things that make me happy, which wasn’t always something I found time for in undergrad.

A few examples:

Ice skating. Duluth has the cutest little outdoor rink down by the harbor. There’s a warming house with free skates for people who don’t have their own, and they often keep a fire going outside. It’s a great way to get exercise and hang out with friends on a weekend.

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Sled dog races. The John Beargrease marathon is a race from Duluth (this year Two Harbors) to Canada and back, and it’s a really unique event to attend. I dragged a few of my friends up the shore to watch on a beautiful, strangely warm winter day. The snow was deep, the dogs were excited, and it was great to be outside.

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Hiking. We hike and hike and hike. Now that the days have gotten long enough to permit it, every Friday we head to Chester or Lester and spend an hour or two enjoying the trails. Usually we end up going on Saturday as well. Duluth just makes it so EASY.

Bonspiel. A few weeks after the semester started back up, the annual pharmacy bonspiel took place in Superior. The theme this year was “carnival,” so my team and I dressed up as mimes. It was SO MUCH fun. I had never curled before and was sure I’d be terrible, but after a few throws you get the hang of it. Just remember you’re wearing a purposefully slippery slider on one foot – I forgot for three seconds and completely biffed it.

Travel. There are so many beautiful places within short drives of Duluth. Early in January, my friends and I scoped out a weekend we knew wouldn’t be too busy (there was only one) and booked a hotel room in Ely. I’m very familiar with the area because my grandparents owned a cabin outside Babbitt for many years (and we still vacation there every summer), so I was excited to share it with my friends. Mostly we ate great food, hot tubbed, explored the leftover snow sculptures from the winter festival, had a few spectacular snowball fights, and hiked some more.

We also took a quick jaunt down to pretty little Bayfield one weekend. I’ll admit this was mostly a study trip, though – we did flashcards in the car the entire way there.

Dance. I’ve never worn so many dresses in a single school year. This past weekend was the “White Coat Ball,” an interprofessional social opportunity with pharmacy, medical, and nursing students at the Radisson. The masquerade theme was a fun opportunity to dress up, and it’s always nice to mingle with future fellow healthcare professionals from other schools.

Long story short – find time to do the things that make you happy! Trust me, you’ll need it.

IPPE Assignments

Back in October we had a meeting about scheduling our IPPEs for this summer. For those of you who are unfamiliar, IPPEs are three-week required rotations at either community (first year) or hospital (second year) pharmacies. They take place between late May and early August, and there are four different blocks (and many, many different sites) where you can be placed.

I was a little nervous about my IPPE scheduling because I’m backpacking in Europe for five weeks this summer. I’ve been saving up for the trip for YEARS, and I’ve never been so excited for anything, but I knew my rotation could easily interfere.

I brought the issue up with the IPPE coordinators before I filled my preferences out, and they told me that if I noted I would go anywhere as long as they put me in either block 1 (right away after school ends) or block 4 (right before school begins again) I should be okay. Still, I worried about it – I tend to do that. In the end, it worked out perfectly – I was placed in block 1, and I actually got my number one site pick as well. I’ll be at the Target south in Rochester, the closest site to where my parents live. I was sure I’d have to go up to International Falls or somewhere equally remote.

While I’m on the subject I thought I’d mention that I’ve thought long and hard about this trip. I know it means I won’t have the chance to do an internship this summer, and I’ve weighed what that might mean against what this trip will do for me. Ultimately, I decided it’s been my dream for far too long to give up on it.

One day when I look back on my life, I’ll be able to say I was a pharmacist. But I’ll also want to say be able to say I was so many, many other things as well. I think that’s a lesson I’m learning slowly, from my mentor and networking and even just myself.

I’m ready for mic drop and so are you. Have a great spring break, everyone!

Meg