Pharmacy Practice Residencies 101: A Crash Course for What You Need to Know Before You Apply

Posted on December 9, 2010



by Yuly Belchikov, Pharm.D., BCPS

Published: 12/5/2010
PharmacyWeek Vol. XIX – Issue 42

Editor’s Note: So you think you might want to complete a pharmacy practice residency? But you aren’t quite sure how to go about the process. Here are some tips from someone who hires residents himself. Yuly Belchikov, Pharm.D., BCPS, is the Residency Program Director at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York. Read below to find out what tips a Residency Program Director has and what they might be looking for.

With over 600 accredited Post-Graduate Year – 1 (PGY-1) programs available, the decision to pursue a residency program can be a daunting and unnerving concept. The process of applying to the many programs available in the United States can be quite exhausting as the interviews and paperwork involved requires dedication and commitment from the applicant.

Even still, these programs are attractive options to future clinicians who are willing to further develop and hone their clinical and managerial skills consequently separating themselves from the rest of their respective colleagues.

Pharmacy practice residency programs were developed in effort to further stimulate education and hospital dynamics within pharmacy departments across the country. The American Society of Health – System Pharmacists (ASHP) define a residency as an “organized, directed, postgraduate training program of at least one year’s duration in a designated area of pharmacy practice”.

As the volume of graduating pharmacists grow, so does the demand and competition for residency acceptance. Depending on the size of the institution and the positions available, a residency program can have anywhere from 20 to 60 applicants. Our institution has 2 positions available and we typically evaluate 20 or more applications. From those applications, we interview roughly 15 candidates.

Each program differs in their stipulations for approval, although most mandate a generic paperwork route including 3 letters of recommendation, a transcript from an accredited school of pharmacy, and a letter of intent. This documentation yields baseline data that is important for programs in order to tease out candidates based on the information provided.

What Matters Most In Your Application?

Most programs look at grade point averages (GPAs) as the first independent marker separating applicants, although strength of recommendation letters can certainly tilt the institution’s decision to the applicant’s favor. The cutoff GPA varies between residency programs, although having a GPA above the standard deviation will certainly maneuver the candidate through the first wave of cuts.

Another important attribute is the candidate’s extracurricular activities. This plays an influential role in the decision paradigm of most institutions. Involvement in academic and social events, meetings, organizational involvement, worldly encounters, certifications, and other opportunistic experiences that differentiate the candidate can positively affect the end result.

Candidates that have experience in non-pharmacy related situations might yield ideas from a different perspective that can influence progress and change for the future of pharmacy models as well as clinical ingenuity.

The Interview Process

Yet another, and arguably the most important aspect of the initial residency experience is the interview. If the candidate makes it through the filter process and is accepted for an interview, the presentation and demeanor of the candidate may be the ultimate filter for the decision of the institution. The applicant should have some ideas for the future and what it hold for that individual, so questions pertaining to those goals is an important attribute during the interview.

Generally speaking, being prepared for the interview with respect to attire and a readily available Curriculum Vitae (CV) is just as important as what the candidate says during the interview. Residency programs are busy, disseminating the candidate’s CV before the interview may fall to the waist side.

In short, be prepared for anything! Men should certainly wear business suits for the interviews and women may wear clothing fit for a professional environment, whether it is a dress or business suit.

Arriving a few minutes early to the interview shows punctuality and an excitement for the program. While thank you notes are not required, it is a good gesture if the interview went well and the candidate is truly interested in the program.

The questions asked during the interview will drastically vary between programs. General questions include information of what the candidate’s goal in the near and long-term future are, a query into the candidate’s CV, and how would the candidate react in certain situations and examples to that effect are all valid questions that may be asked during the interview.

At our institution we tend to look at the candidate as a whole and evaluate them based on all the points listed above. If all these parameters are satisfied, we move towards the final step of ranking the candidates. 

When to Start Preparing

Another common question candidates may ask is when to begin the process for residency consideration. Most students do not experience clinical rotations until the last year of their didactic experiences, realizing only then that they would like to pursue the residency path.

If the applicant has the notion that a PGY-1 is the right next step earlier than the last year of school, getting information about various residency programs ahead of time is always a sound option.

Once the candidate sees the road ahead, it becomes an unnerving thought questioning the hastiness that is required in order to initiate the process. The timeframe to complete the paperwork is different for each program. However, most institutions have a deadline for the materials somewhere in the first or second month of the year. Therefore, candidates should begin collecting the appropriate documentation sometime during the first semester of their last year of school and collecting general information about residency programs and what they offer well before.

The general steps to take during the time of collecting proper documentation for the application into a residency program involve enrolling into the ASHP Residency Matching Program, attending the ASHP Midyear Clinical Meeting, and introducing oneself during preliminary interviews during the Clinical Meeting.

If the candidate cannot attend the Midyear Clinical Meeting then searching the institution’s website and emailing the Residency Program Director (information located on the ASHP website) may be a strong option. To see the ASHP’s residency checklist and timeline click here.

It’s important to determine what the applicant is looking for in a residency program and ask the appropriate questions during that time. General questions regarding the program are a good way to start. For example, what is the size of the institution, what types of services do the pharmacy department have, how many preceptors in the institution and are teaching or research opportunities. The initial answers may sway the applicant to one program versus another thereby relieving the unwanted travel and expenses of an interview.

A residency program holds tremendous possibilities for the candidates as all pharmacists now graduate with doctorates. A residency program will no doubt raise the clinician to a higher stepping-stone, which will assist in clinical and managerial opportunities in the future.

When employers examine possible clinicians they tend to look at the experience of the person. With residency work owing to several years of experience rolled into one year, this is an attractive attribute that institutions will be looking for.

The residency programs maintain supportive structure and hold many opportunities for the candidate, which can help accomplish goals of the future clinician. The decision to pursue a PGY-1 should be made with planning and a will to achieve a greater understanding of the pharmacy experience and excellence.