Residencies open the door for diverse careers in pharmacy

Every spring, over a hundred UCSF PharmD students receive their diplomas and embark on budding careers as pharmacists. Thanks to the ever-growing ways in which pharmacists contribute to the delivery of health care, from administering vaccinations to helping patients manage complex medication lists, many School of Pharmacy graduates choose to specialize further with pharmacy residencies, preparing them to contribute to different subfields of health care.

“Pharmacists are becoming more involved in clinical decision-making and direct patient care, which necessitates more advanced pharmacy training,” said Mandy Brown, PharmD, director of UCSF’s PGY1 (post-graduate year 1) Pharmacy Residency Program. “So there’s an increased demand for residency training to meet the future of our profession.”

Pharmacy residency programs like UCSF’s aren’t a strict necessity for a successful career in the field, but the additional training opens up a variety of ways for pharmacists to help patients, whether through research, education, or policy, or through patient care outside of traditional pharmacies.

UCSF’s PGY1 program builds on the training provided in pharmacy school by exposing pharmacists to specialties like long-term care and emergency care, in addition to general pharmacy responsibilities, like sterile compounding and order verification. Some residents also take electives with the California Poison Control System, housed in the School’s Department of Clinical Pharmacy, or UCSF Health’s Investigational Drugs Service.

“I chose to pursue a PGY1 to further expand my clinical knowledge and pharmacy workflow skills,” said current UCSF PGY1 Francesca Alcala, PharmD. “And I chose UCSF’s program specifically because the preceptors are very invested in learners’ growth and development through the feedback that they give.”

Exploring specializations through practice

Alcala’s schedule varies depending on the rotation, but for in-patient rotations, she usually begins her workday by checking on her patients and attending rounds. She then shares medication recommendations for discussion with her colleagues, including attending physicians, nurse practitioners, other pharmacists, and medical interns.

Following these mornings of on-the-ground pharmacy care, Alcala’s afternoon agenda may include discharge counseling, topic presentations, patient case discussions, research project meetings, administration committee duties, or teaching.

“A common misconception is that a PGY1 is primarily focused on clinical rotations, but there’s another layer of work and activities that residents do as well,” she said. As her experience shows, preparing data for publication and designing lessons in pharmacy education might not seem like typical pharmacy duties, but they are vital for pushing the field forward.

Most UCSF PGY1 residents go on to also complete PGY2 (post-graduate year 2) residencies, and Alcala is no exception. She will begin UCSF’s PGY2 Oncology Pharmacy Residency Program in the summer of 2022, where she intends to further explore medication options in hematology (the study of blood and blood disorders) and oncology (the study of cancers).

“I’ve worked with some of the [PGY2] preceptors already and gained insight into UCSF’s operational model during my PGY1, so I feel excited and prepared for what to expect later this year,” she said. “From my PGY2 experience, I hope to gain even more insight into how chemotherapy medications get to our cancer patients.”

Forging individual paths through careers in pharmacy

On the other hand, some UCSF PGY1 residents enter the workforce after just one year of residency. Eugene Burbige, PharmD, who completed his first year of pharmacy residency at UCSF in 2021, considered pursuing a PGY2 in psychiatry, but chose to head directly into his current position as an acute care inpatient pharmacist at UC Davis Medical Center.

“It’s easy to get into the cycle of constantly applying for these kinds of educational opportunities,” said Burbige. “But I just felt prepared with what I wanted to do and what my goals were, and in the end, a PGY2 didn’t really line up with those.”

For both Alcala and Burbige, the years after PGY1 will bring even more opportunities to deepen their patient care abilities, setting them up for a lifetime of ongoing professional growth.

“The diverse range of experiences in UCSF’s PGY1 residency program really helped me learn how to manage my time effectively and to feel comfortable in a wide range of pharmacy environments,” said Burbige. “So here, at UC Davis, even if I don’t know how to do something, I’m confident that I can figure it out, persevere, and contribute in the end.”


School of Pharmacy, PharmD Degree Program

About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.