We had the exciting opportunity to talk with Dr. Alex Barker, the founder of the HappyPharmD. He’s answered a few questions about his own experience taking the NAPLEX, and has offered some insight into the world of Pharmacy after having been in the profession. He addresses a few common concerns for prospective pharmacists in today’s market and offers some advice. Read the interview below.
“Hi there, I’m Alex Barker, I am the founder of The Happy PharmD and we help pharmacists get amazing jobs and build indispensable careers. So I wanted to do this interview for TrueLearn and answer some of their questions that they sent over to me.”
Q. Why did you decide to go into Pharmacy?
“I’ll be 100% honest with you, I went into Pharmacy because it was one of the top things on the career options test that I took in high school. I didn’t have to touch people, I didn’t have to touch blood, and it made a great salary. The more I learned about Pharmacy in college the more I got in love with the idea of helping other people, especially in the healthcare setting. But I won’t deny the fact that there are a lot of great benefits to becoming a pharmacist. Great salary, typically pretty good job security, things are changing in that dimension.”
Q. What made you the most nervous when preparing for the NAPLEX?
“Obviously, the thing I was most nervous about, honestly was failing. I think every pharmacy student goes to class on exam day and thinks, “This is the test, this is the test that is going to ruin me and my GPA, and my career prospects and it is going to just completely tear me apart.” So honestly failing was a huge concern. I had heard of multiple people failing at the time and having to retake it and you know, that obviously was terrifying to me, to fail it and having to retake it. Not fun at all.”
Q. What changes have been made to the NAPLEX? How is the NAPLEX different now from when you had to take it?
“So, the changes that I know have happened after I had to take it. I was one of the last people that got to take the quote “easier” version of the NAPLEX, from what I understand, obviously I haven’t taken the NAPLEX twice, I did not have to do that. But from what I understand it is much more case based. But I don’t claim to be an expert on the NAPLEX, I defer to TrueLearn on that, they should be able to help you define. What sorts of things you need to be prepared for on the NAPLEX.”
Q. Could you share some study method tips?
“So, the best piece of advice I can give for studying is something I learned from my mentor, Jeffrey Bates, at Ferris State University, although he now works at Cedarville, and that is to teach a goldfish. So after you are done for studying for maybe 30 to 60 minutes, somewhere in that time-frame. To pretend as if you are going to teach what you just learned to a goldfish. Try to summarize the points of material you just learned. Maybe 3, 5 major bullet points and pretend as if you are going to teach someone those things. This tactic obviously, is rooted in literature.that when you teach someone something you are solidifying those neurons in your brain, those connections they become stronger — probably could have said that more intelligently —but when you teach someone it really becomes solidified in your brain and thus making stronger connections and much more likely that you will remember it on the exam.
That’s the best studying tip that I can give to anyone. So if you are concerned, like how do I get started in this. Take one section of a chapter of a book or of a section of material from True Learn for example. Try to go through the material that they have. And prepare yourself for it and then pretend as if you have a goldfish on your desk and you are going to teach that goldfish five things that you just learned. They should be major concepts or it could be some small details, but the details really aren’t what you are always gonna be tested on, it’s more about the concepts, the things that you learn behind the material, behind the details.”
Q. If you could have done something differently when studying for the NAPLEX exam, what would you have done?
“I don’t think that I would have done anything different the main tactics I used was t study material. I would spend maybe about an hour diving into a material and then maybe I would spend about 30 to 60 minutes taking practice test exams, questions, so I would go through those and then when I didn’t get something right I would make a note of it, I would go back and try to focus more on the things I was constantly getting wrong. I think in my case it was always Oncology that I was always struggling with. And I would make a note to spend more time studying in that area.”
Q. What is your advice to residents preparing for this exam/ preparing to become pharmacists?
“My advice is to probably prepare well in advance. So if you are thinking maybe you should study after your rotations, I would encourage you to study more in advance. That way you’re not trying to cram everything in those few weeks before you have to take your final exam. That’s really pushing it that’s not something I would recommend. So I would prepare well in advance. And you know don’t hesitate to bring up your concerns with your job or your residency if you already have a job offer or a residency that’s confirmed, what I would encourage you to do is to say to your residency director “ I have some concerns about the exam, I have the full faith that I plan on passing the first time I take it, but what happens if I don’t. That’s not an unheard question. And frankly you know your residency director, isn’t something I was afraid of because I didn’t ask this question: “If I ask that question is the residency director gonna want to get rid of me as a resident?” They can’t do that they’re not gonna do anything like that. It’s an open question and you should treat them very much like a mentor who’s on your side. O having that dialogue is definitely welcome and I would encourage you to do that.”
Q. Describe your experience practicing as a pharmacist, what are the rewards?
“As a pharmacist when I practiced at my first job at the veteran affairs. I won’t speak for them, but one of the greatest things that I got out of the experience was those real conversations that I have. It wasn’t the conversations of “Tell me about your medication adherence, I see here that you are not on par.” While that was a part of the day to day work, asking those questions, it was more questions about, “How is life going?” And getting people to open up about what was going on in their life and you know getting those thank you letters and getting those notes from patients saying, “You really care about me and I want you to know that that matters.You may be yelled at by other patients you may be scolded. But what you do matters and thank you for that.” That was probably the most gratifying experiences received in my experience. I don’t want to make it sound like it happens all the time, because it doesn’t. But when it does, it really makes you feel like you know treating every patient as if they are a relative and taking that mantra to work, you know it matters and it makes you feel good at the end of the day. Those are probably the most rewarding experiences that I’ve had.”
Q. Why is being a pharmacist worth it in your opinion?
“This is a great question, i feel like it’s a big question right now in pharmacy because of how tough the job market is right now, it really does seem like our value is in question. In my mind we are the last line of defense between the patient and a potentially very harmful drug, one of my mentors in college constantly reminded us that drugs are poisons with occasionally beneficial side effects. And every medication has the potential to harm someone, someone’s child, someone’s grandmother and we need to be that patient advocate we need to be involved in their care because what they’re taking is dangerous and having the patients best interest in mind is so important for us because sometimes it can feel as if were the only ones who care. Not because other professions don’t care. But because they’re so busy, they have so many other demands in the medication side of things. They kind of just want it to be something that works they just want to press a button and make things work.
But pharmacists, we are trained medication experts and we are necessary to the healthcare establishment. Without us surely patients, more patients would be dying if we were not involved. And so we are quintessential to this process we are part of that last step, the gatekeepers if you will. And without us surely more people would be hurt.I believe pharmacy to be a great profession and I know that there is a lot of negativity online about where our profession is going and the opportunities that are not happening as it were. But being on the other side by helping pharmacists find those jobs.
I can tell you there are so many amazing new opportunities happening. They just aren’t on Indeed they aren’t in the typical retail settings. They are more so happening behind closed doors. Those are exciting things there are opportunities happening where there are very cool projects happening there’s lots of innovation going on. But those aren’t necessarily getting the spotlight it’s mainly people saying things like oh our jobs are being taken away from us, innovation is happening. Change is happening but as you as a student if you’re in the stage of your process of your pharmacy career. There are so many cool and interesting things that you can get involved in. you just have to start asking the right questions to the right people.
So really, if there is one thing I would have you do after watching this or reading this or however you are consuming this content. I would encourage you to check out my book. I try to make this available for free for students as a digital copy, you can grab my book, Indispensable at freerxbook.com. This is kinda like a comprehensive guide to help you to think about where is it that your career is going and what you would like to get your career more involved with. I would love it if you would read it and let me know if you like it. I’d love to start a conversation with you and ultimately help you create a career in which you are indispensable.
My name is Alex Barker, founder of The Happy PharmD. Thanks again for listening, watching, reading, whatever it is that you are doing. And I hope you have a great day.”
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