The seminal moment in Ivana Milian’s pharmacy education came when she least expected it. Weeks into her first patient care rotation at the Bruce W. Carter VA Medical Center in Miami, she, along with a medical resident, walked into the neurology clinic exam room to meet with a Bell’s palsy patient. She expected the medication consult to follow a similar script as other patient visits that day, but the events that transpired changed her perspective of pharmacy.
“Right then and there, that was the first time a patient said ‘thank you’ to me,” said Milian, Pharm.D., a 2017 graduate of the University of Florida College of Pharmacy. “I had never been with a patient that had been so genuinely grateful for me providing medical care to him.”
Disconnected from family, the patient depended upon the caregivers at the VA for medical and emotional support. The encounter solidified in Milian’s mind that she wanted to join a health care team that was patient focused.
“Everything you do in your career, you have to ask yourself, ‘how does it affect the patient?’” Milian said. “This was something that was emphasized by my preceptor at the Miami VA and other preceptors I have worked with on my rotations.
“The collective experiences [on rotations] have reinforced my decision that yes, being a pharmacist was a great career choice, and I am positioned well to serve patients.”
Milian’s revelation mirrors similar experiences University of Florida College of Pharmacy students go through during their required pharmacy rotations. The college’s Preceptor Program affords pharmacy students valuable opportunities to immerse themselves in pharmacy practice at sites in Florida and around the world. To prepare students to be the best clinicians, the College of Pharmacy’s rotation requirements exceed the minimum standards established by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education for Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experiences, or IPPE, and Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences, or APPE, rotations. At UF, first-year students complete a three-week IPPE community pharmacy rotation; second-year pharmacy students complete a four-week hospital pharmacy rotation; and fourth-year students complete 11 months of rotations at community, hospital and elective practice sites.
A preceptor leads each training site and provides education and mentoring to the student. During the summer months when both APPE and IPPE students are on rotation, anywhere from 200-300 preceptors are overseeing student rotations, but more are needed to support the college’s enrollment that is approximately 1,100 students.
“Preceptors are vital to the success of our students and our program,” said Karen Whalen, Pharm.D., BCPS, C.D.E., a clinical professor and interim director of experiential programs. “We are always recruiting new preceptors to fill our need for community pharmacy, hospital practice, adult medicine and ambulatory care rotations. In recent years, our students have requested more elective rotations with pharmacists in nontraditional roles, such as management, consulting, clinical research and the pharmaceutical industry, so we welcome new preceptors in these areas, as well.”
The college provides preceptors with learning objectives to help set expectations and ensure minimal competencies are met. While the positions are volunteer based, Whalen said many preceptors find the experience incredibly rewarding.
“What I love about preceptors is that they are invested in our students and want them to succeed,” Whalen said. “Especially our alumni. They are proud alumni, and they want to make sure each generation gets better and better.”
Laura Smoot, Pharm.D., a 2001 graduate of the UF College of Pharmacy, has given back to her profession by serving as a pharmacy preceptor for 15 years. As the pharmacy education coordinator at the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System, she matches pharmacy students from multiple universities with rotations at hospitals in Gainesville and Lake City as well as VA outpatient clinics. In addition, she precepts multiple students a year in a month-long hospital pharmacy administration rotation.
“I think a lot of people do not realize the impact they can have as a preceptor,” Smoot said. “In many cases, it is a lifelong impact that you can have on someone’s career. You do not always see it at the time, but 15 years into it, I can look back and see that I changed someone’s career direction and helped them define and reach their goals.”
Smoot admits that she would not be where she is today without mentors and preceptors guiding her career path. A preceptor helped steer her toward a specialty residency program in Columbus, Georgia.
The career guidance Smoot depended upon from her preceptor is the same advice pharmacy students today are seeking from their mentors.
“Preceptors are critical to our education,” Milian said. “Rotations are the foundation for the rest of our pharmacy careers and a good preceptor can mean so much to our personal and professional growth as a pharmacist.”