Transitioning from undergrad to pharmacy school can feel like a daunting task. In my first couple of weeks I wasn't even sure which class I was in; only when the professor started teaching did I piece together what was going on. It felt like I was in a whirlwind of classes, scheduling, new information, and stress. The class load was much larger than I was used to from my experience in college so far. Undergrad had its challenges, but I wouldn't have described it as extremely difficult. This was different. This was hard. The good news is that you'll adjust to this new environment just like anything else, and today we're going to talk about how to do so.
In my opinion, one of the best things you can do to help adjust to your new class load is to keep everything organized in a calendar or planner. At the beginning, feel free to start with writing down which classes you'll be in that day. Depending on your school's curriculum, you're likely dealing with 18+ credit hours per semester, which can be a big change from undergrad. Make sure to keep track of which courses have tests coming up, and schedule in time to study so that you don't start to fall behind. Some classes will be much, much harder than others, and frankly some classes are much more important. Think about which classes you'll actually use in practice, or which topics will be built on over the years of school to come. Typically speaking, the more credit hours dedicated to a course the more important (and difficult) it is. Of course there are exceptions to this, but it's a good general principle. So when prioritizing what to study for and when, make sure you consider these variables. Keeping a calendar can save you a lot of growing pains while adjusting to this new lifestyle and will help ensure that you stay on top of all of your short and longterm tasks.
It's true that pharmacy school is more of a marathon than a sprint, but that doesn't mean that conventional wisdom from the running world applies. Starting graduate school at a sprint is probably a good idea! It's true that you need to pace yourself when running a marathon, but school is a little different. Starting at a sprint allows you to stay on top of your work at the beginning and will prevent you from having to dig yourself out of a hole as the semester comes to an end. It's much easier to maintain a GPA rather than increasing it. You can always tone down your effort once you create room to breathe. Believe me, finals week in pharmacy school is far more manageable when you are trying to maintain a grade rather than needing a high score to change your B to an A. Think of it like running on a treadmill where speed is equivalent to hours studied, the amount of attention you pay during lectures, and getting ahead on your assignments. School starts out at level 10 simply through the nature of starting something new and challenging. As you adjust to your surroundings you can bring that speed down to 9, then 8, then 7, and so on. You can always crank the speed back up as finals and big tests come around knowing that you can run slower again after a hard effort.
Friends, family, and significant others can all be great resources for you as you make your way through pharmacy school towards your PharmD. Personally, the support of my girlfriend (now wife) and college friends really helped me succeed in school. However, relationships can also cause strains. In my first week of pharmacy school one of the faculty advisors suggested that we have honest conversations with our significant others about the journey we were embarking on. You need to be honest with them about the amount of time you'll be studying or when you'll be staying late on campus, and that you might have less time to spend with them. This allows for realistic expectations that can really save a relationship and decrease stress in your life. If you're lucky these relationships will thrive and become much needed escapes from school that can significantly increase your quality of life. Keep in mind that relationships run two ways and that even though you may be taking on some extra work you still need to be available and contributing to them. This can be a hard thing to do at first, but as the treadmill speed dials back you can put more and more effort into your relationships which in many ways are more important. Figuring out this work-life balance early will have compounding returns overtime, so make it a priority!
Finding a group of friends to study with can be extremely helpful. As my good friend from pharmacy school puts it, "You'll burn out if you don't have people to pass the time with." Pharmacy school will probably become one of the most memorable times of your life, and the reason is largely due to interactions you'll have with your peers. From late nights studying together to late nights on a bar crawl, creating memories with a group can keep you grounded and prevent you from spinning out. Knowing that you're all going through something together really helps bind a group, and pharmacy school is great for that. I personally followed an 80/20 rule where 80% of my studying was done alone and 20% was done in a group. The group perspective also allows you to ask questions you don't know the answer to, create questions and quizzes for others, and pick up on all the information you missed while studying by yourself. There have been countless questions on tests that were brought up by my study group just 10 minutes before the exam. Having a core group of friends that all rely on each other will be immensely helpful to you and can be a serious source of joy in your life. Also, make sure that you don't rely on cramming for every exam and that you study over time. There will undoubtedly be times when you do what you have to do, but studying consistently over time will help with long-term retention and becomes immensely helpful as APPE rotations come around years later.
My last piece of advice is to make time for health and exercise. I cannot stress the importance of this point enough! Staying on top of your health through diet and exercise will make everything better. It's a free method to increase your mental clarity, confidence, ability to focus, and relieve stress. For me this has always been a non-negotiable part of my life. Tests or no tests you would find me in a gym, on a run, or participating in a spin class. Truthfully, you likely aren't producing your best work in the classroom if you haven't spent time focusing on this part of your life. It's something that everyone knows, and yet so many people ignore. As diet and exercise becomes part of the "life" in work-life balance, you'll experience compounding returns over time. Remember that you'll be providing a lot of advice to patients throughout your years in pharmacy school and then as a practicing pharmacist, so it's important to know what you're talking about on these points and not to come across as a hypocrite. Diet and exercise is going to be a non-pharmacologic recommendation to treat a lot of disease states. Avoid being the pharmacist that takes the route of, "Do what I say, not what I do" and set an example for your patients while enjoying the personal benefits along the way!