Friday, June 17, 2011

The Pharmacy School Depression

You slave through several years of undergrad, study for hours and hours for the PCAT and finally earn your pharmacy school acceptance letter. To yourself you think, "I know pharmacy school will be hard, but at last my stress will be reduced because I've finally made it, I'm a pharmacy student!"

Alas this is not the case.

Sure, for the first few weeks of class you ride the wave of accomplishment, taking pride in earning admittance to a school few others enjoy. It's a wonderful feeling and ultimately you feel pretty damn good about yourself.

Only it will not last.

By December that stretch of unbridled joy will seem but a distant memory. Replacing it will be stress-induced insomnia coated with a bitter taste of self doubt.

One of the things that your school will not tell you, nor your friends, is how emotionally and mentally taxing pharmacy school is. If not for the material, than for the expectations of the school or the manner in which courses are taught.

You find yourself sitting next to a dual Ph.D. on one side and on the other sits the wiz kid who powered into pharmacy school riding a 4.0 after two years of undergrad. Suddenly you are no longer a big fish in a small pond... and you come to the realization that there are individuals, perhaps several, in your class who could mentally wipe the floor with you.

The first round of exams come and... they're not what you expect. Maybe you do well, maybe you do not, but you quickly realize these are not the same type of exams from semesters past.

Dozens of hours of studying and sleepless nights may yield a mere sixty percent on an exam. Material you thought you knew like the back of your hand vanishes under the complexity of exam questions.

Doubt sets in.

"Do I belong here?" you begin to wonder. "Did they make a mistake? Maybe I shouldn't do this... maybe I can't do this."

You moods became more variable as your patience wains. It's not common for you to suddenly snap at someone under even mild stress. Self-doubt clouds your mind from exam to exam as you scrape together the will to continue.

At times you do not think it will get any better. Friends speak of struggling during studying and exam taking, yet they proclaim earning an "A" while you quietly mumble about your "C". Socially you distance yourself as you internally chastise your inability to maintain pace with your friends.

You have the Pharmacy School Depression. Mentally you have been broken... perhaps you are merely a shell of who you once where.

The semester draws to a close and you feel as if you are on your last bits of sanity. Suddenly the tough facade that everyone else has erected begins to crumble.

The dual Ph.D. you sat next to? Barely scraping together Cs in a class... and wondering if pharmacy is for him.

The wiz kid? Can memorize the material, yet cannot figure out how to apply it in several courses.

One friend mentions how they almost withdrew from school towards the start of a spring semester. The other mentions that they scored well below you in some exams... only never mentioned it.

You come to realization that you are not alone. No matter what someone's intellectual pedigree may be, no matter how enthusiastic or how cocky someone will be, at some point they will have to face this bout of Pharmacy School Depression.

There is no escaping it. There is no denying it. For some it becomes encompassing and they do drop out. For others it becomes even more serious requiring hospitalization.

Yes, it does happen.

For those who survive, it is almost as big of an accomplishment as being accepted into pharmacy school. And as you walk out of an exam room for the last time, you look back on what this year has brought upon you.

Are you the same person? Are you better off? Or worse off? Can you still do this?

The last question is an easy answer... Yes. For you are not alone, and actually never were alone. We all suffer for with it, but few speak out.

So upcoming first year students, when you are in the greatest depths of self-doubt and despair remember that you are truly not alone.

We've all been there... whether we want to admit it or not.


Anonymous said...

Graduated over 15 years ago. Your assessment is entirely correct. Keep your head up, keep working hard, and you will make it. There are plenty of "how to succeed in college" resources. Most of them have a certain amount of truth. Figure out what works for you and then apply it. Best wishes and good luck.

Anonymous said...

if not today, then tomorrow somewhere along the road

Anonymous said...

So who ends up acing all the tests in pharmacy school?

...The Asians?

Unchained Pharmacist said...

My experience has been that those who got B's and C's can often apply what little they've learned where as the A's can only regurgitate.

One thing to watch out for is I've seen people (myself included) become less self-confident because of the grades we've got. For example, during rotation, I was asked to dose adjust some patient's cipro. When asked why, the obvious answer was age and renal function. Because it was too obvious, I answered "I don't know, but I'll find out." It took the almost the rest of the rotation for the resident to think that I'm not a waste of life. Don't let this happen to you.

DRxUGdealer said...

I agree and wish I had learned this sooner. When the overachievers in my class announced their grades, I did feel inferior. My best recommendation is if someone asks you how you did just to compare their score with you, just say "fine". They'll eventually stop asking.

And this isn't just for P1s, it even effects all the way through graduation and licensing.

Thanks for getting this out into the pharm world. It'll definitely help those that see it.

Anonymous said...

I'm entering a pharmacy program next year and I'm stressed already because of constantly hearing people taking a class where the average is 42%. That doesn't even make sense..

DisasterCh1ck said...


All that Unchained said, plus this:, my perspective, as a "old-school" BS Pharm who then went to grad school in immunology, is that you're being indoctrinated to check & double-check. And that's OK, because you need to get it right. We didn't choose pharmacy because we have the self-assurance and arrogance needed to cut someone open to fix the problem like a surgeon does. Rather, we attack problems in a thoughtful, considered manner. And you want your pharmacist to operate that way, because it has to be right.

My joke to explain pharmacists to outsiders is simple: "you WANT your pharmacist to have a touch of OCD." Most laugh & agree.

Hang in there, you will reach a point where things begin to "click" and you'll be back in rare form, with the vision for where the profession is, and where it needs to go.

Anonymous said...

I always love your encouragement. Light at the end of this tunnel almost seems true.


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Anonymous said...

I vividly remember having an emotional breakdown several times right before the beginning of a semester. The sheer thought of delving back into the non-stop cycle of study-exam-work was just too much. I would come back to life over break and to face it again and go back for another round was really hard... but eventually it was over, and I could not have been more proud that I had made it. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Pillpharmer said...

I wish I could have read this during my first semester at school. I thought I was an idiot and didn't deserve to be there. I even now feel worse since I failed a class and am I year behind. But I'll keep trucking and doing the best I can.

Marci said...

I work for a pharmacist job placing company- and trust me there are a lot of jobs that pay very well! If you like money, it will be well worth it. Look out for our website opening up in October- Goodluck and keep up the good work! It will be worth it.

Erin said...

I start my program in, uh, 10 days and this is nice to hear. While logically, I know it's true, I can only imagine how easy it is to become sucked it. I've actually had more pharmacist friends than not tell me one of the hardest parts of pharmacy school is not being pulled into the competition and drama of the performance of classmates. Thanks for this, I'm sure I'll be returning to it in a few months.

Anonymous said...

Are you kidding me!? Get a grip, pharmacy school is CAKE compared to Med school, go ahead give it a try I dare ya. And then if you finish med school you've got those great GME years ahead of you !

Anonymous said...

that person above me just proves how ignorant people can be.

Anonymous said...

I'm the type of person that is willing to work hard for something if it's worth it. Salary wise, I feel like it will be worth it. But I am also the kind of person that refuses to become the "live to work" rather than the "work to live" person. I am struggling to decide if I should try for this. I am currently in my 3rd year undergrad doing Biology. If I can talk to someone that would advise me on what to do via email I would appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

I feel like im definitely going through this as being a first year student. I can see some of these changes psychologically. I would love to talk to someone about this my email is you I would really appreciate this

Anonymous said...

This was created a long time ago but thank you for posting this. I'm a P1 ( I'm in a four year program). This first semester I failed a class and now I'm a "ptween". This is encouraging.

Anonymous said...

my pharm school P1's averages are around 85-90% and the tests are hard and requires lots of memorization. People are all about grades nowadays just to have a better chance to get a residency.

Anonymous said...

I was kicked out of pharmacy school because I felt so incredibly stupid compared to the "A" people, and just stopped trying. Wish I would have read this years ago.

Anonymous said...

Just started my P1 year and I had to read the post twice because I could not believe how accurate it is. Already feeling the pharmacy blues but trying to push forward with my head up high. Going to be tough, but I know I will come back and read this to keep me going.

Anonymous said...

Wow... This post was created years ago but is still true today. I'm in my second year in pharmacy and reading what you said and all the other comments it's very comforting. I'm from the philippines and pharmacy is just as hard anywhere else in the world I suppose....Everything you was like my first year in pharmacy written there, that's exactly how I would describe and tell my story. The pride, then came the shock, frustration, doubt, depression....everything I felt! Thank you so much for this and I will hang on.

Anonymous said...

Wow... This post was created years ago but is still true today. I'm in my second year in pharmacy and reading what you said and all the other comments it's very comforting. I'm from the philippines and pharmacy is just as hard anywhere else in the world I suppose....Everything you was like my first year in pharmacy written there, that's exactly how I would describe and tell my story. The pride, then came the shock, frustration, doubt, depression....everything I felt! Thank you so much for this and I will hang on.