How to be a preceptor and train the next generation of pharmacists


Hands-on student experience, extend pharmacy

In Brief:

  • The latest standards for pharmacy schools emphasize that graduates be “practice ready.”
  • This means being able to work with patients and collaborate with healthcare providers.
  • Training future pharmacists to take on a broader role in patient care is vital to efforts of pharmacists to be paid as providers of healthcare.
  • Investing time with student pharmacists can create benefits for your pharmacy because students can be “pharmacist extenders.”

As the practice of pharmacy evolves to emphasize clinical services, the skills that pharmacists need to succeed are changing as well. Today, an ideal pharmacist requires a broad range of professional and interpersonal skills.













Problem solver





Changing educational standards

The Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education’s (ACPE) standards for 2016 call for graduates to be “practice ready” and “team ready,” able to provide patient-centered care and collaborate with other health care providers.1

By training the next generation of pharmacists to be practice and team ready, pharmacists who act as preceptors are contributing to the effort for pharmacists to be paid as healthcare providers.

To be practice ready, graduates need to be able to use clinical reasoning to identify and solve problems, according to Lindsay Davis, PharmD, BCPS, an associate professor at the Midwestern University College of Pharmacy-Glendale, who acts as preceptor for up to five pharmacy students at a time.

“Preceptors can help students develop those skills by providing higher-level experiences during rotations”, Davis said. That includes allowing them to analyze problems, evaluate options, and create solutions. “We can’t just put students on a rotation and have them watch us and expect they’re going to be practice ready,” Davis said. Working within your state’s practice guidelines, however, you can move them to a higher level of performance.

Four steps to greater readiness

Preparing students for more advanced roles starts with the basics.

  1. Instructing. Assess what students already know and provide information. For example, if students are certified to provide immunizations, the first step would be checking their knowledge and teaching them how you approach immunizations within the culture of your practice. If students will be working in a medication synchronization program, the preceptor would explain the value of med sync to patient care.
  2. Modeling. In this phase, before and while meeting with a patient, pharmacists explain what they will be doing and what the student should notice. They also demonstrate how to interact with patients. For example, before giving an immunization the preceptor will tell the student to notice the positioning of different supplies in the care room. “I’m helping them see what they’re looking for,” Davis said.

    In the med sync example, the preceptor might note red flags, such as a new prescription that indicates the patient had recently been in the hospital. During the discussion afterward, the preceptor asks what the student noticed and points out elements the student may have missed. That’s also a great time to ask a student, “What could I have done differently?” Davis said.

  3. Coaching. Preceptors are right beside the student to answer questions and determine whether the student is ready to handle meeting a patient without supervision.
  4. Facilitating. When student pharmacists or new graduates reach this level, they have transitioned from thinking like a student to thinking like a pharmacist. The preceptor is still involved, but the student can study problems, explore solutions and pilot programs.

Students as “pharmacy extenders”

Assisting students in becoming ready to become pharmacists is beneficial for students and for the profession. But, it can also be beneficial for the pharmacy. That’s because it is possible for pharmacy owners to view students as “pharmacy extenders.” Capable students can provide valuable support in extending the services that pharmacies provide. Multiple examples of areas where students can serve as pharmacy extenders are listed below:

Students as “Pharmacist Extenders”

Direct Patient Care ServicesSystems-Oriented Services
  • Therapy duplication (i.e. prescribed > 1 loop diuretic, statin, or beta-blocker)
  • Follow-up adherence calls
  • Smoking cessation clinic
  • Medicare Part D MTM
  • Medication synchronization (appointment-based model for chronic med refills)
  • Comprehensive medication review (CMR)
  • Medication safety review (Beers Criteria)
  • Immunizations (routine, travel health)
  • Care transitions
  • Patient education classes (HF, DM, HTN, lipids, COPD)
  • Store tours (sodium, sugar, OTC products)
  • Monthly initiatives (CHD/HF + NSAIDs, antithrombotic therapy + supplements, statins + fibrates)
  • REMS leader (clozaril, isotretinoin)
  • “Error rounds” (sentinel events, near misses)
  • “DUR rounds” (dabigatran + warfarin, dofetilide + hctz)
  • Medication use evaluations (MUE)
  • Shrink/inventory management
  • Workflow analysis


“You need to invest in their training, and then they can return that back to you.”
—Lindsay Davis

In addition to aiding in the services pharmacies provide by serving as extenders, students might have good ideas to bring pharmacies. For examples:

  • Discuss areas of your business you want to improve and invite students to share ideas.
  • If you want to streamline the workflow, you could assign a student to observe the workflow in your pharmacy, taking notes and developing recommendations.
  • Create rolling projects. Over time you can gain multiple perspectives.
  • Have a student conduct a SWOT analysis, detailing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats they observe in your business.

Discover more benefits to serving as a preceptor in “Grooming the Next Generation of Community Pharmacists.”



1 “Changes on the Horizon for Pharmacy Education,” American Pharmacists Association, Jan. 22, 2015. LINK


Note: The information provided here is for reference use only and does not constitute the rendering of legal or other professional advice by McKesson. Readers should consult appropriate professionals for advice and assistance prior to making important decisions regarding their business. McKesson is not advocating any particular program or approach herein. McKesson is not responsible for, nor will it bear any liability for, the content provided herein.