US Pharm. 2007;32(3)(Student suppl):6-7.

As a fourth-year pharmacy student at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy, I have been trying to decide where to begin my career. Professors have encouraged me to start a pharmaceutical care practice, a very rewarding occupation, but one that doesn't seem quite right for me.

My friends and colleagues are also asking themselves the same question: What type of pharmacist do I want to be? Most of my classmates are hoping that one of their rotations will provide insight into a career route. The problem with this idea is that students like almost all their rotations and begin to see career possibilities in several areas. How can a student possibly choose one particular path?

I have always enjoyed teaching but, after eight years in higher education, hadn't considered it to be a career option. As I thought about it, however, I realized I would enjoy interacting with leading research scientists and educating future pharmacists about the many opportunities in pharmacy. In time, becoming a pharmacy educator began to sound like a good direction for me. I figured, how hard can it be to teach a bunch of pharmacy students what they need to know in order to become great practitioners?

Well, there's more to it than I thought. I had no idea about the range of opportunities available within academic pharmacy, including the ability to continue my research interests and connect with health professionals and researchers across various disciplines. I discovered just how much this branch of pharmacy had to offer when I attended last year's annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) in San Diego.

With help from a faculty mentor, I applied for the 2006 Wal-Mart Student/Faculty Conference Scholarship, which helped pay for my registration, part of my mentor's registration, and part of my flight cost.

More than 1,200 pharmacy educators, researchers, and scientists from nearly 100 colleges and schools of pharmacy attended the conference, held from July 8 to 12. Sessions explored the changing role of pharmaceutical sciences in curriculum, ethics, curricular revision, and drug discovery. In the opening session, David W. Bates, MD, and Janet M. Corrigan, PhD, from the Institute of Medicine, led a provocative dialogue on the current health care landscape, the quality and safety of health care, and the promise of health information technology in preventing medication errors.

Throughout the meeting, attendees were given ample time to meet and discuss issues within their individual institutions, as well as within the profession. Speakers discussed their specialties. People shared thoughts and ideas on how they handle matters home." Educators were particularly interested in students' opinions. (I was frequently asked how I felt about pharmacy curriculum, experiential education, and assessment.)

A special session on education provided a workshop designed for graduate students, residents, and new faculty, which focused on teaching strategies, course and lecture design, and assessment. I learned about lecture styles, techniques for promoting class discussion and presenting cases, and tips for writing exam questions.

I also learned this: For most professors, preparing exams takes a lot of work. Educators must consider precisely what they want to test. When writing multiple-choice questions, queries should be phrased clearly and cover information presented in class or in assigned readings. Answers need to be considered carefully.

One of my favorite AACP sessions explored professionalism. At my school, we struggle with developing professionalism in our students. Currently, there is no professionalism code, but we have an honor code that addresses academic issues like cheating and plagiarism. We also have a professional dress code in the pharmaceutical care learning center where we see patients.

Having served on a committee devoted to promoting professionalism, I helped organize practitioner development workshops to show that it takes more than what the curriculum provides to become a professional. Hoping to get some other ideas from the AACP session, I learned that many schools have professional codes and struggle with dress code enforcement and similar concerns. It was intriguing to hear about students who are dropped from pharmacy programs due to behavior problems and about the schools' court rulings on these issues. Each college needs to have policies set up to handle unprofessional issues.

As we all head back to classes or rotations this fall, let's keep in mind that our educators have spent the summer preparing for classes, making improvements on last year's lessons, and implementing ideas that may have come from attending the AACP meeting.

This spring I will have the opportunity to practice some of the tips I learned about education during the academic rotation at my college of pharmacy. I urge students to look into rotations offering teaching experience. As health care providers, we will all be in a position of educating people eventually. For example, pharmacists need to be able to share information with consumers about medications and show people how to use devices such as inhalers and glucometers. Some pharmacists may have to give an in-service to physicians and pharmacy staff about issues facing their institutions. Having the skills to teach others is vital.

The best way to make a difference in pharmacy is to be active and involved in the profession. After graduating, you can participate in state and national organizations, start a new practice, research and develop new medications or devices, or teach and motivate future pharmacists. Those in academic pharmacy may perform research or work part-time in a clinic or hospital, as well as teach. Pharmacy education offers flexibility.

If you have an interest in academic pharmacy, talk to your professors about your career goals and consider attending an AACP meeting. AACP has scholarships available for students through the Wal-Mart scholarship program. For more information about the program and the 2007 AACP Annual Meeting in Florida, visit the AACP Web site at

It is never too early or too late to start thinking about where you want your career to take you. Explore the different areas that academia has to offer. You might be surprised at what you find.