PharmD Student, University of Minnesota | Pharmacy Intern at CVS
"Science is a difficult area of study, and the intimacy of CSP's biology program is what makes a lot of us successful, especially going into grad school."
Alahna Anderson is a 2016 graduate of CSP’s Biology program. After graduation, she was accepted into the University of Minnesota’s Doctorate of Pharmacy program. Driven to challenge the perception of what pharmacists do, we asked Alahna where she’d like to go with her chosen career path and how her CSP connections helped her visualize her purpose in pharmacy school.
Q: What were your most important factors to consider when selecting a college?
A: I came to CSP for soccer. I didn’t even know that I wanted to do science! I stumbled into it. I didn’t do great in the beginning until I buckled down, decided to get serious, and became close with the faculty. That was huge. They know when you’re not in class. Science is a difficult area of study, and the intimacy of the program is what makes a lot of us successful, especially going into grad school. The faculty at CSP are very supportive.
Q: What changes have you seen during your time at CSP and how do you feel they’ve impacted the science program and its students?
A: They [CSP’s science department] is doing a great job of getting students ready for careers after CSP. Most of the students go into a grad program directly after graduation. When I was there, it was a sprinkle of us doing grad school. Now, I look at their alumni board and they really follow each student closely. That mentorship is so important when you’re trying to figure out what you want to do.
Q: Share a favorite moment from your time at CSP.
A: When the science department came to our senior day soccer game. They’d always try to come to watch us play – that was big. They supported me not only in the classroom but on the soccer field.
Q: Did you encounter any challenges during your time at CSP? If so, how did you overcome them?
A: Sometimes, balancing sports and academics got difficult, especially when I got into my harder classes. I played soccer all four years. Other than that, college was smooth for me. People skills are important. CSP is able to give you experience with that because the classes are so small and you have to work in teams. You can hide in the shadows at a big school, but at CSP you learn to flex your personality muscle and relationship building.
Q: Tell me about pharmacy school and the application process.
A: The pharmacy school application process begins during your undergrad. You balance your undergrad workload plus applications and the NAPLEX board exam, and law exams post-graduation (for state and federal pharmacy laws.) You take the PCAT test which you can take again if you’re unhappy with your first score. I had four interviews for different PharmD programs. PharmD student life is busy – I’m part of student organizations, working an internship – all part of three years in the classroom, two rotations during didactic work, lectures, hands-on labs to practice the skills we learn, health fairs, and more.
Q: If you could give any advice to students interested in pursuing their PharmD, what would you say?
A: Look at journals and published data. Being able to analyze it is huge. For PharmD, don’t stress too much about your GPA. Your application is made up of several factor and grades matter but won’t decide your fate. Start working at a pharmacy. Your experiences in the pharmacy before starting school will be valuable. The faculty members are your friends. Building strong relationships with them will lead to positive letters of recommendation when you need them. Have a vision and be able to articulate why you want to be a pharmacist. I provided this vision in my personal statement and during interviews.
Q: You mentioned in your “I Am Science” presentation that pharmacists sometimes are overlooked and misunderstood. How do you help people understand what pharmacists do?
A: As a pharmacy tech, I can do everything pharmacists do. I can write new prescriptions, transfer prescriptions, give vaccines, counsel if I’m comfortable, and help people with over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. But in addition to working in pharmacy/store pharmacy settings, pharmacists work at the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in the military, are clinical pharmacists in hospitals, work at pharmaceutical companies, and in specialty pharmaceuticals. Pharmacists are even getting prescribing authority in certain states.
Q: So, which direction do you plan to go with your PharmD?
A: It changes all of the time! But, I think I nailed something down. It’s an area of PharmD called managed care pharmacy. It’s a big industry in the Twin Cities for managed care and involves pharmacy benefits managers in the area. It’s along the lines of health economics and outcomes research and research and formula development. It’s really clinical because you have business decisions to make based on the clinical evaluation of a drug. It’s about making one decision that impacts a large patient population and finding an area where you’re impacting patient health.
Alahna recently presented at CSP’s ongoing “I Am Science” series where she shared her CSP story and pharmacy school journey with current CSP science students to promote discussion, grad school preparation, and networking.