Summer internships, pharmacy placements, part-time jobs, shadowing opportunities — land one of these elusive experiences is a stressful yet invaluable part of student life. We are constantly told that relevant experience makes your resume more desirable to a potential employer and provides valuable insight into your future career. However, an easier and just as valuable way to gain real world experience is to attend industry conferences.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to attend the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Science and Research Summit in London. The Industrial Pharmacist Forum (IPF) student group, which I was a part of, was sponsored to attend as we had organised a Q&A panel – “Getting into the pharmaceutical industry”. The conference occupied an entire floor at County Hall. There were multiple areas where various talks would be held and one communal area for networking and poster viewing. The conference began with a keynote from Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, where she outlined issues around antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and progress in resolving the problem. The talk really changed my understanding of AMR and the role of the pharmacist in antimicrobial stewardship, not to mention how extremely useful it was in helping me relate my knowledge to practice. An added bonus was hearing her affirm the importance of pharmacists in healthcare — it really helped reinforce my belief in my degree and future career.
The rest of the day went by quickly as different specialists from all areas of pharmacy provided updates on new technologies such as CAR-T therapy, the evolving role of the pharmacist, the importance of communication between different sectors, the Falsified Medicines Directive and more. I was amazed at the ability of each speaker to capture my attention and how applicable my knowledge was to their topics. The breadth of topics showed me just how flexible pharmacists can be.
During the lunch break the IPF student group held a Q&A panel to give students insight into the pharmaceutical industry. The panellists gave inspiring stories about their dedication, determination and sometimes, luck. One panellist detailed his long and convoluted journey as he first became a hospital pharmacist before landing an industry job, and how his passion for diabetes care became his motivation throughout the process. One of the key messages that came across as a result of the workshop was that even if you didn’t manage to get an industry internship you should stay positive as this is not essential for getting a job in industry. More importantly, you should use your time to develop your skills to help with future applications.
If you do decide to attend a conference in the future (I highly recommend you do) here are a few tips:
- Look for sponsorship opportunities: organising a conference is expensive business. Unfortunately, this means that the price of entry will be a little higher than what the average student can happily spend. Not many sponsorship opportunities exist to fund students to go to conferences. Ask your head of department to find out if your school of pharmacy would be happy to sponsor you. If they do, just be sure to let them know what you thought of the experience.
- Don’t be afraid to reach out: conferences possibly have the highest density of specialists and authority figures per area. Understandably, it can be quite intimidating to talk to someone at the top of their field. We tend to think that we are learning a lot from them, but we don’t have anything to give back in return. Personally, I don’t believe this to be true. As a student, you represent the next generation of healthcare. People will be curious as to how you view the profession and your opinion on how the profession is evolving.
- Do your homework: the night before the conference, spend some time doing research. Every conference will have a programme that will have a list of speakers and the times they are speaking. If there happens to be a speaker who you would like to have a conversation with, look up their interests and experiences, ask for their comment on recent technological advances and the current landscape. If you arrived prepared, it will increase the chances of you having more meaningful conversations with people.
- Dress to impress: as the saying goes “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” As aspiring pharmacists, it only makes sense to dress professionally as you represent both yourself as an individual and your school of pharmacy.
Overall, my experience with this conference was extremely positive. Having the chance to hear the leaders of our profession talk about the future was a huge source of inspiration for me.
The range of topics discussed at a conference will ensure that at least one session will capture your interest or teach you something new. I hope that more students will take advantage of opportunities like this, not only to enhance their CV, but to gain a better understanding of the future of the profession and become the driving force to develop the role of the pharmacist and provide the best care to patients.
Source: Tsz To Sham
About the author:
Tsz To is a third year pharmacy student at King’s College London who is enthusiastic about empowering students. He is also the conference lead for the Industrial Pharmacist Forum Student Group.