Why being a preceptor is a win/win
7 lessons for making the most from internships
Making internships a win/win
Pharmacy students want internships. In the past two decades, the number of students graduating from pharmacy schools has nearly doubled.1 That means more students are looking for internships to gain practical experience and differentiate themselves for jobs after graduation. They know an internship has tremendous value.
Pharmacies can also benefit from internships. Interns bring up-to-date skills and new perspectives, along with energy and enthusiasm.
By offering a high-quality internship experience in your pharmacy, you can draw in top students, be exposed to current practices, build your pharmacy’s reputation and allow an intern’s skills to benefit your business.
For the past several years, Aubrey Pharmacy in Aubrey, Texas, has welcomed fourth-year pharmacy students from Texas Tech University as one of the interns’ six-week rotations. Aubrey hosts eight interns per year, meaning there’s almost always an intern at the pharmacy.
7 lessons for effective internships
Here are seven ideas to help create effective internship experiences and to involve an intern in ways that add real value to your business.
- Know and use their strengths. Interns don’t arrive with the same skills and experience. Discover what each brings to your pharmacy and how to best use their talents. For example, one may excel at researching alternative therapies and another at interacting with patients during health screenings. Share your vision for your business and your most significant challenges. An intern will have a fresh perspective and may have already worked in other pharmacies. An intern could provide a solution as simple as a shortcut on a spreadsheet or as broad as how another pharmacy expanded its enrollment in medication synchronization. Aubrey Pharmacy owner Steve Coomes said one recent intern wanted to evaluate the store as a potential buyer would and researched how much it may be worth on the market. “He got really close to what the value is,” Coomes said. Another intern researched all of the pharmacy’s patients who may be eligible for the zoster vaccine and personally called each one, bringing scores in for the shot.
- Formalize and enhance training. When an intern starts, have a specific plan for them with clear goals and responsibilities. Help them get up to speed by using:
- Checklists for procedures
- Video examples of how to interact with customers
- Role-playing exercises to practice their skills
When Coomes receives an introductory email with the brief biography of each intern, his reply includes basic information for their first day, including where to park, what to wear (white coat is optional) and instructions to display their ID badge at all times.
Invite interns to share their best and worst experiences in other settings and to offer ideas that will help them excel in your pharmacy.
- Expand their types of experiences. Ensure that qualified interns do more than just fill and distribute prescriptions. Involve them in activities such as:
- Direct patient care
- Medication education
- Project management
Stay up to date on what interns may legally do in your state. For example, in 2018, New York passed legislation allowing pharmacy interns to deliver immunizations.
Aubrey is considered a rural retail pharmacy location as part of the experience for Texas Tech students, although Coomes describes the 8,000-square-foot-store just north of Dallas-Fort Worth as “barely rural.”
One of the first things interns must do at Aubrey Pharmacy is learn how to log in to the technology. It’s a paperless pharmacy with equipment including a Parata Max dispensing system and Eyecon system.
Interns at Aubrey will be answering phones, counseling patients and making recommendations for OTC products, with a pharmacist monitoring and giving feedback.
By watching their interactions Coomes can provide coaching on how he would handle situations. “They’ve been classroom trained in what to say, which doesn’t work in real life, because it’s too much information,” he explained. Also, they may speak in pharmacy lingo that patients don’t understand.
Coomes says it’s fun and exciting to watch interns develop from their first day. “By the end of two or three weeks, they are rock stars.”
He also teaches interns day-to-day business operations, including managing invoices, payroll and reconciling statements. Interns see the full scope of what it means to own an independent retail pharmacy.
- Expand their networks. Introduce interns to more than just the staff in your pharmacy. For example, put your intern in touch with other pharmacists in your community and encourage them to meet. If you purchased your store from a pharmacist who is now retired, introduce the intern. The retired pharmacist would likely enjoy the interaction and could be a valued mentor. Another idea: invite your intern along when you visit providers. This will show interns how important provider relationships are. A doctor might mention a patient challenge you can help solve and a nurse may ask for your pharmacy’s assistance with an educational or an operational issue. Coomes introduces interns to friends from different walks of life who come into Aubrey. That not only develops the intern’s people skills, but it shows a pharmacist can have a thriving business and a healthy personal life. When one intern said in her introductory email that as an introvert she was looking forward to gaining experience counseling patients, he assured her that when she left Aubrey Pharmacy she would be “an experienced extrovert.”
- Look beyond pharmacists. For example, some high schools offer students the opportunity to become certified as a pharmacy technician before graduating. Or, programs for students interested in website design or social media could benefit your pharmacy. High school and college students who may be interested in pharmacy careers can spend a Saturday at Aubrey, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. “There’s a lot of action in five hours,” Coomes said.
- Talk with others’ interns. The nearby assisted living facility may host high school students who are certified nursing assistants. Offering to make a presentation to those students about pharmacy can raise their understanding and your profile in the community.
- Partner with multiple institutions. Working with both a high school and a university, your pharmacy could offer a wide-ranging experience to students who may be interested in a pharmacy career, with a few weeks spent at each site. One thing Coomes wishes he had done is create a scrapbook starting with Aubrey’s first intern, including a photo of each and some of the memories. One of the students who visited Coomes a few times on Saturdays is now headed to pharmacy school. “If I’m lucky, she’ll come back and buy my store,” he said.
Training the emerging workforce will benefit future workers, your business and your community. Invest the time needed to do it well.