The Importance of Getting Involved in Professional Pharmacy Associations During Pharmacy School

My favorite part of pharmacy school is getting involved in professional pharmacy associations; Attending events, assuming leadership positions, and learning more about what pharmacy associations have to offer has been the highlight of my four years and will continue to be the longest in my career as a pharmacist.

During Orientation Week in my first professional year (P1), more than 20 organizations with chapters at Mercer University stood before us to read their acronyms and their various premises, and we felt the decision about which organizations to join. Since then, I’ve learned that each association provides unique reasons for students to join, most of which should overlap or match students’ specialized interests. Most students join one or two institutions, but I choose to join each association associated with my future career goals.

I chose the National Pharmacists Association (NCPA) because my background in pharmacy was in community pharmacy only, and I knew this was a definitive practice area where I was hoping to find a job. I also joined the American Pharmacists Association – Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA- ASP) because this organization, as the largest pharmacy association in the country representing all areas of practice, serves as a voice for pharmacy to advocate for the profession, and I wanted to be part of that voice.

The Georgia Pharmacy Association (GPhA) and the Tennessee Pharmacists Association (TPA) also appealed to me because on my way to school
In Georgia and being from Tennessee, these are the two states most likely for me to practice in, and I wanted to be aware of what’s going on in the profession in those states. In addition, I joined the American College of Veterinary Pharmacy (ACVP) and the Alliance for Pharmacy Compounding (APC) due to my interest in these two areas.

Attending conferences marked the beginning of my participation in pharmacy associations. I made it my goal to attend as many as possible, which resulted in going to 11 conferences in my first year of pharmacy school while balancing time constraints with other responsibilities. Each conference is not only an opportunity to travel to interesting locations across the country, but also an opportunity to network with fellow attendees, find inspiration from session content, and meet influential leaders in the profession.

The biggest concern I hear from fellow student pharmacists who hesitate to attend conferences is cost, which I believe the benefits of attending far outweigh. Budgeting for these types of events and making them a priority to attend will only produce positive results as students will undoubtedly meet future colleagues, contacts/resources or employers at these events.

Almost every association has student leadership opportunities, and I’ve sought to learn more about them and how to build essential leadership skills. I ran for regional elected office just two months into my P1 year, which included addressing 500 people and campaigning for myself all weekend, resulting in me winning the position of APhA-ASP Region 3 Coordinator of the 2018-2019 Regional Meeting. A whirlwind of other leadership opportunities followed, not only within the APhA-ASP, but in other organizations as well. After this success, I felt ready to run and apply for other positions to pursue my first achievement.

During my time in student leadership, notable positions I have held have included Chair of my APhA-ASP Chapter at Mercer University, Member of the National Standing Committee on APhA-ASP Communications, NCPA Chapter Secretary at Mercer University, Member of the Student Council at ACVP, Innovator and President GPhA Student Leadership Council. Each position requires additional time – and often travels – but provides an opportunity to make connections and build leadership skills that will be valuable no matter what practice setting I choose. With the limited exposure to high-profile leadership positions I had before pharmacy college, I learned a lot on the job, pushed myself to succeed, and sometimes surprised myself with success.

Leadership and involvement in associations can open doors and I often use these examples to encourage other student pharmacists to take advantage of these opportunities as well. I was offered a job as a pharmacy intern at Innovation Compounding, an independent pharmacy out of Atlanta, Georgia, after meeting the owner while attending the APC Compounders conference on Capitol Hill. In addition, my connection with the CEO of the Pharmacy Quality Alliance (PQA) turned into a rotation in the organization, and a recommendation from an employee who held a similar leadership role in NASPA became a year-long internship.

In addition to job opportunities, participation and leadership can also lead to scholarships, which is always an advantage when you live on a student budget. Almost every organization offers scholarships to students, and the required qualifications often include participation or leadership.

Finally, my knowledge of future career paths that I didn’t even know existed has grown. The value of associations in the pharmacy profession is unparalleled, each serving as a collective voice stronger than individuals in a particular field of practice. More specifically, the organizations in which I participate focus on legislative advocacy, and efforts are made to bring about positive change in legislation that will advance our profession and break down barriers to existing practices.

Pharmacy students often hear the phrase “pharmacy is a small world.” The opportunity to network with fellow association members can develop into jobs, internships, rotations, and connections for the future that will be valuable for the remainder of the student’s life. Societies also allow members to stay up-to-date with the profession, providing learning opportunities – such as continuing education and webinars – to benefit fellow members who are a great source of knowledge and advice. Perhaps most importantly, associations provide inspiration for inquiry and leadership through innovation in the profession.

Eminent pharmacists are always leaders in associations, and in order to join the ranks of these individuals, it is first necessary to seek a seat at the table as well. Associations allow me to be a better pharmacist in the future, and only through my membership and leadership in these organizations can help me in my quest to accomplish more in patient care and the profession.

Savannah Cunningham He is the 2022 Mercer University Doctor of Pharmacy candidate, NASPA intern, ACVP Student Board Member, Executive Director of the GPhA Student Leadership Council, and Walgreens Pharmacy intern.

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