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Nina Vadiei, PharmD, BCPP
Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacy Practice and Psychiatry
University of Arizona Colleges of Pharmacy & Medicine
Tucson, AZ

As the pharmacy profession continues to grow and evolve, pharmacy students are becoming increasingly interested in gaining experience with direct patient care and scholarly activities. Students are encouraged by faculty to identify professional development opportunities early in their careers, and often there are a variety of avenues in which students can become more involved. Since it can be overwhelming for students to know where to begin in seeking these experiences, the purpose of this perspective piece is to highlight the steps students can take, and what faculty can recommend to students who express an interest in becoming involved in extracurricular activities pertaining to psychiatric pharmacy.

Engage in Research: At the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy, students are provided with various options on how they can engage in scholarly activities, in addition to the requirement that they complete a senior research project prior to graduation. Students are provided with a list of faculty and their research interests during their second year of pharmacy school to help them identify with whom they may be interested in working. They are encouraged to discuss their own areas of interest with faculty, and the faculty member(s) and student(s) mutually agree upon a project that can be reasonably completed within 2 years.

Participate in Electives: While the senior research project is required at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy, several students wish to seek additional experiences earlier on in pharmacy school. Therefore, an elective course is offered in the second year of pharmacy school in which students are required to complete a quality improvement project. Sign-up sheets are sent out to preceptors across various healthcare systems and community practice sites throughout Tucson each year to identify who may need help with a quality improvement project. Preceptors are then partnered with a group of students in the upcoming Fall semester. Students are given a project timeline to ensure timely completion of the project within one year. They present their results as a team at the end of the school year at a University of Arizona quality improvement showcase.

Locate a Mentor: Students are also paired with a faculty mentor during their first year of pharmacy school, with whom they meet annually to discuss their professional development progress. Faculty mentors may encourage their student mentees to reach out to other faculty who share similar practice/research interests to identify opportunities for collaboration. Additionally, students are encouraged to let preceptors know if they have an interest in engaging in scholarly activities at the beginning of IPPE/APPE rotations, in case there are ongoing projects with which they may be able to assist. Regardless of whether your College of Pharmacy requires completion of a research project, simply being proactive and reaching out to faculty/preceptors who are engaged in their own research is a great way to get experience in this area.

Network: As the faculty advisor for the University of Arizona’s CPNP student chapter, I encourage students to reach out to our guest speakers if they are interested in getting more exposure to psychiatric pharmacy practice or research. I share with them my own experiences in pharmacy school reaching out to clinical pharmacists I met through student organizations, and how this introduced me to a number of unique experiences. For example, by reaching out to a psychiatric pharmacist I met at a Residencies & Roundtables event, I was given the opportunity to volunteer at a state psychiatric hospital where I was able to shadow patient interviews, sit in on pharmacy and therapeutics meetings, create drug monographs, and help complete medication use evaluations. Networking with faculty, staff, and pharmacists will be of tremendous value to your growth as a student pharmacist!

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