Author: Brittany Holshouser, PharmD Candidate
Editor: Brentsen Wolf, PharmD
From the day they are accepted into pharmacy school, students are excited and eager for all of the new opportunities in front of them. From very early on, pharmacy students understand the competitive nature of different career paths. They know that only about half of residency applicants actually match to a program and that this number is even lower for fellowships. Many students feel this pressure and respond by having extensive involvement in pharmacy organizations, leadership roles, research, volunteering, and other side projects.
I’ve spoken with several pharmacy students who are going through the same dilemma, "Am I doing enough or too much?" Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear-cut answer to these questions. However, there are steps you can take to figure out how to balance school, extracurriculars, work, and life in general.
Learning your personal limits is a trial and error process. I’ve always told myself that I was someone who can do "both”, where I equated “both” to meaning everything. In reality, I wish I had done a better job at weighing my options before I put them on my metaphorical plate.
I’ve done my best throughout pharmacy school to develop a systematic approach on which opportunities to take, which to pass on, and which to seek out. My approach is not only based on my own experiences but on advice from other students, faculty, and mentors. There are three necessary criteria to consider when determining whether or not to add an activity or experience to your plate:
- Does this opportunity align with my personal and professional goals?
- Am I passionate about this opportunity?
- Does this opportunity bring me joy and/or fulfillment?
Using this simple three-question approach can eliminate unnecessary commitments from your life and can decrease stress downstream. For example, let’s say you’re a second-year pharmacy student that has 2 pharmacy jobs outside of schoolwork and other leadership responsibilities. You can use the three-question method to assess where to “trim the fat”. While both pharmacy jobs align with your professional goals, you are more passionate about one of these jobs and it leaves you fulfilled at the end of every shift. Although you like the other job, it doesn’t bring the same benefits to the table, so cut it out. It can be quite hard to quit a job, leave an opportunity, and say no, but you have to remember that these are decisions that will have a positive impact on your overall well-being both personally and professionally.
Having a plate that's "too full" can also substantially affect the quality of your work. It's much better to have one high-impact leadership position than 3 positions of minimal involvement. The difference will come through in interviews when speaking about your leadership capabilities and experience working with a team.
Quality of life is something that is glossed over too often as a pharmacy student. It's easy to get into the mindset of, “It’s only four years, if I grind now then I can relax later as a pharmacist.” Although hard work will always pay off, it's essential that you pay attention to your quality of life, otherwise, you'll find yourself burned out and lacking motivation.
It’s no secret that pharmacy students generally have higher levels of burnout than other professions. Previous research has shown that pharmacy students, namely P1s-P3s, have a lower health-related quality of life than both P4 students and the general population (Payakachat N et al. Am J Pharm Educ. 2014). As a pharmacy student at the beginning of their P4 year, I definitely agree with the conclusions.
Interestingly, students that are more involved in co-curricular activities don't seem to have a higher level of burnout. Current research from schools and colleges of pharmacy shows that there are no significant differences in the level of burnout based on this factor alone. The same is true for students that are seeking post-graduate training versus those who are not. Perhaps students that are heavily involved also have added protection from burnout due to their genuine interest and passion for their activities (Fuller et al. Am J Pharm Educ. 2020). With that being said, refer back to questions 2 and 3 in the three-question model and reflect on the passion, fulfillment, and joy that comes from your involvement.
There's no definite answer to how many organizations to be a member of, how many executive board positions to take, or how many side projects to take on as a student. The best thing you can do for yourself is to be self-aware and reflect often. At the end of the day, the only person that can answer the question of “how much is too much?” is yourself.
- There is not a clear-cut limit to involvement. Learning your personal limits is a trial and error process and making mistakes is part of it.
- Reflection is a powerful tool that can be used to help you evaluate the value of your opportunities and responsibilities.
- Quality over quantity is an important mantra to follow; this includes quality of life as well.
- Passion and fulfillment should be taken into consideration when weighing your options for involvement since they'll likely have an impact on burnout.
Author Bio: Brittany Holshouser is a fourth-year Student Pharmacist at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Pharmacy. Her interests in pharmacy include academia, drug information, and ambulatory care. She plans to pursue a specialized residency or fellowship following graduation and hopes to hold a faculty position at a School of Pharmacy in the future. In her free time, she loves to take on new home-improvement projects, indulge in some retail therapy, and spend time with her boyfriend and her dog.