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Friday, July 14, 2017

The PCAT -- Just Below The Surface

In the year and half since we announced the new PCAT requirement, I've had MANY conversations with prospective students and applicants about the exam.  It usually starts out like this:
Applicant:  What is the minimum score UCSF requires on the PCAT?
Me:  We don't have a minimum score requirement. It's simply an additional data point that is part of your file.
Applicant: Well then, what's the average score?
Me: We don't have an average score since this is our first year -- but don't ever compare yourself to someone else's "average" anything. 
It's true. I'll admit, it's frustrating when prospective students want to know the average and then immediately determine their own worth/value based on the number. Am I better than the average? Am I below the average? This happens for any number of categories: PCAT score, GPA, age, etc.  Instead, I wish more people would ask "What's the range? The high and the low?" And then determine whether they fall into that range. (And if they don't fall within the range, then perhaps ask follow up question about special circumstances, experiences, etc.)

I get it. I get it. Knowing the "average" is easy. But it's rarely ever the measuring tool WE use when assessing a candidate for our program.

Now that we've been through an admissions cycle with the PCAT results as part of the process, I can provide you with some insight: Having PCAT scores did not make the process any easier.  In fact, it was a bit more challenging with an additional piece of information.  We, in fact, advanced MANY candidates with very low PCAT scores to the interview stage of our process. Why? Because we employ a holistic approach to our review -- meaning we look at EVERYTHING. Some candidates had very low scores but something else in their application stood out -- perhaps it was their academic performance in classes, perhaps it was their passion for the profession, perhaps it was strong work ethic.

  • The PCAT is ONE piece of a very large puzzle.
  • Your PCAT score doesn't define WHO you are or WHAT you stand for. Right? (Hopefully.)
  • You're much MORE than a score or a GPA. Right? (Hopefully.)
While your PCAT score gives us a glimpse into how you might have peformed on the exam, there's SO MUCH it DOESN'T tell us, like your...
  • Ability to make a difference in the lives of future patients
  • Capacity to enrich the entering class
  • Desire and commitment to support individuals who are underserved, including vulnerable populations, in today's healthcare system 
  • Potential for leadership; interest in being a leader in pharmacy school and in the profession
  • Life experiences and perspectives you bring to patient care
  • Passion for the pharmacy profession
  • Ability to communicate with patients
  • Understanding of the changing needs in healthcare
  • Willingness to be a bold, innovative member of a healthcare team
  • Interests and hobbies outside of the pharmacy profession
  • Experiences that informed your decision to pursue a PharmD degree
  • Desire to be a life-long learner
  • Ability to carry yourself in a professional manner
  • Ability to separate yourself from the rest; what makes you unique
  • Integrity, honesty, and ability to uphold high ethical standards
  • Reliability and dependability
  • Enthusiasm for healthcare and patient care
  • Ability to overcome barriers, push through challenges, and persevere through difficulties
  • Desire to work with other individuals from differing backgrounds, opinions, and perspectives
  • Compassion for others
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Well-rounded-ness; your "balance"
  • Tenacity; your grit; your determination 
  • Unique life experiences
  • Interest in teaching and sharing
  • Meaningful extracurricular activities and involvement (your true investment in an organization, versus just being a member)
  • Vision for the future of pharmacy practice
Consider this the next time you dwell over the PCAT or your results:  it's ONE piece of a large puzzle and what it measure is fairly limited in that grand scheme of your candidacy.

Friday, March 24, 2017

In Their Own Words: Reeti

(Note: It's been awhile since I posted a profile from one of our Admissions Committee members -- so I was excited when Reeti jumped at the chance to provide advice to prospective students. First, she's very interested in the admissions process, which always makes for a great committee member. Second, has a background that's a little different than most applicants, which she briefly explains below. This nontraditional background really allowed her to look at applicants who've had varied and diverse experiences. As a result, our entering class is quite unique!) 

Name: Reeti
Hometown: San Jose, CA
Previous institutions attended: UC San Diego; University of Illinois-Chicago
Undergraduate Major: Biochemistry

Why did you apply to be a member of the Admissions Committee and what have you enjoyed the most?
I come from a nontraditional background compared to the majority of my classmates since I completed a master's degree before starting at UCSF. Those additional few years allowed me the time I needed to figure out what exactly in Pharmacy I wanted to do. I wanted to serve on the Admissions committee so that other nontraditional applications can get the same opportunity I have by coming here.

In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes applicants make?

Thinking that they need to be anyone but themselves. I've always viewed graduate school like a relationship -- the application process being the initial "getting to know you" phase; orientation is like the first official day that you are together; the 3 years of didactic coursework representing the years spent building a strong foundation; the year of rotation is a bit like an engagement and then graduation and residency being like a marriage. If you are willing to put in all this work to end up in a lifelong relationship, then it is best to just be yourself so you know that this is the right fit for you.

What stands out to you on an application?

For me, it's the composition of the entire application. Everything matters and has equal weight. It's important for me to know that, while you can succeed at UCSF academically, you can also find a balance, enjoy your time here, and contribute something to the UCSF community.

What are your pet peeve(s) when interviewing an applicant or reviewing a file? (What drives you crazy?)
Using a filler word like "um". It's best to either take a breath or pause while you think of the right response as opposed to filling that word in. Also, presenting yourself appropriately. There have been very qualified candidates who have either dressed too casually or dressed well but not bothered to clear their hair away from their face so that interviewers can make eye contact with them. Lastly, when an applicant has chosen to apply here because of the ranking.

What characteristics are necessary in order to succeed in UCSF’s PharmD program?

Patience, perseverance, flexibility, an ability to grow, being comfortable with the uncomfortable, and being capable of finding balance in your life with activities outside of the program.

What type of student makes the best fit?
Someone willing to learn, who doesn't come in with a completely locked in idea of what they want to do without at least giving all the opportunities that the program has to offer a chance. Regardless of how old you are in the real world, when you enter the pharmacy world, every applicant is a newborn and has the most chances presented to them. If you are completely closed off to all new innovations and career choices, you might regret not trying things out before deciding it's not the best fit for you.

What tools or resources would you recommend to prospective applicants?
I found a great list of potential interview questions on several online blogs. It's also important to research the school you are applying to in order to answer that ever important question -- Why here? What do we have that interests you as an applicant? Also, using an online recommendation letter holder (with a small subscription fee) was one of the best things I did.

What single piece of advice would you give to a prospective applicant?
Again, BE YOURSELF. You are awesome and if you are any version other than yourself, admissions committees will see through it. The worst feeling is pretending to be what you think the program wants you to be and realizing too late that you would have been happier being the true you.

Why do you think you were admitted into UCSF’s PharmD program?
I believe our program is unique in that grades and extracurricular activities are not the sole factors in an excellent applicant. After 3 years here, I can safely say that I learn as much from my colleagues and fellow students as I do from my professors, and it is their life experiences that make our program what it is. I believe that my time spent in doing my MPH in Epidemiology in the Midwest allowed me to work in a completely different setting and population than I had been accustomed to in undergrad and helped me realize my niche. I think the committee saw that I would be able to bring a public health perspective into our program which is something different and unique, much like our program.

What do you do for fun?
I love working out to get some time away from the stress of school and to practice what we preach as healthcare professionals. I am an avid fan of food and love to cook and experiment, while also expressing my foodie love by trying a new restaurant in San Francisco every week. I have also recently been bit by the travel bug and, inspired by my fellow classmate's amazing travels, have started a Wanderlust List of places to visit.

(To read all previous "In Their Own Words" profiles, click the "committee profiles" label link below!)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Prerequisite Requirements - Moving Forward

A proposal that was in the pipeline for several years can finally be announced.  With the transition to a new curriculum beginning in 2018, our prerequisite requirements have also changed. (Note: This is effective for applicants applying in 2017, for entry in 2018 -- and beyond.)  We've shared these changes with many prospective students already during recent presentations and events. It's always been "proposed" but now it's official! I think you'll like the changes....

I've always believed that sharing the "why" is as important as the "what" so in addition to outlining the changes, I also want to share background information that helped inform our decision to makes these changes.

Physics: (Eliminated)
Eliminated. Zilch. Zero. Nothing. No. More. Physics.  I know many are happy to hear this. It seems to be the one subject that causes much rumbling. Not surprisingly, even the strongest of science students tend to struggle a bit with physics.

Background: The specific concepts of physics are not anticipated for future curriculum content. When and should these concepts arise, they can be addressed within the curriculum as part of introductory or preparation sessions.

Microbiology: (Added)
We now require microbiology with lab.  This shouldn't cause too much alarm since many schools require this -- and MOST of our applicants and admitted students complete this subject anyway.

Background:  Infectious disease therapeutics has become an educational cornerstone to all practicing pharmacists. Whether in the retail, institutional, industry, or research arena, a mastery of the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases by pharmacists remains paramount. Given the extraordinary role that pharmacists play within the discipline of infectious diseases, students should now enter the PharmD program with prior exposure to basic microbiological principles. The ACPE standards also highly encourage this biomedical science subject be addressed in the pre-professional curriculum as a requirement for admission into a PharmD program.

Math: (Changed)
Previously, we required Calculus I and Calculus II.  We now require only Calculus I but have replaced Calculus II with Statistics.  This should be welcome relief for those who aren't to fond of calculus.

Background:  Pharmacists are amongst the many health professionals and scientists expected to evaluate issues in medical and biological sciences that are addressed by collecting and exploring relevant data. The application of this population-based information to decision making regarding individual patient care requires biostatistics, a content area consistently taught throughout the PharmD program and required by ACPE as an element of the core curriculum. Therefore, a fundamental understanding of basic statistics is required so that successful competency of biostatistics can be achieved by our students.

Our current brochure has been updated to reflect these prerequisite changes but we're aware many previous documents (and Course Prerequisite Agreements) don't reflect the updates.

For more information on all our subject area requirements, please visit our Academic Prerequisites page.

As always, if you have prerequisite questions, contact us via email at admissions@pharmacy.ucsf.edu

Pharmacy Info Days -- Coming At You - Spring 2017!

It's that time of year again -- we go on the road to share important information about our PharmD program! This is particularly helpful for prospective students who are interested in learning more about our program as well as gaining a better understanding of what it takes to submit a competitive application.

Although we'd love to meet you in person, we realize this is not possible for everyone -- particularly those located out-of-state. No worries. We now have an ON-LINE option.  We will be streaming live from the Fresno location on March 4, 2017.

Attendance is free for all four events -- but preregistration IS required.

2017 Dates & Locations & Dates are:
  • Online:  Saturday, March 4
  • Fresno: Saturday, March 4
  • Long Beach: Saturday, April 29
  • San Francisco: Saturday, May 13
Of course, the typical areas will be covered:
  • Career opportunities in pharmacy: pharmacist panel
  • Overview of the doctor of pharmacy curriculum
  • Why pharmacy? a student pharmacist panel
  • Preparing a competitive application
However, what these events ALSO provide are opportunities to meet with (and ask specific questions of) admissions representatives, current students, pharmacists, and other students who are also applying to pharmacy school. 

For more information and to register to attend, please visit our Pharmacy Information Day website.

We look forward to seeing you!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A New Curriculum -- Change Is In The Air!

(If you are a regular reader of this blog, over the next several years you're going to hear a LOT about our new PharmD curriculum. It's pretty exciting so we plan to share information with you on a very regular basis. For those applying in Fall 2017 -- for entry in 2018 -- this is particularly important as you'll see below. Dr. Tina Brock, a key player in this transition, agreed to a Q&A as a way to introduce prospective students to the new curriculum and the motivation behind the transition.)

Is it true that UCSF is changing its PharmD curriculum?

Yep!  It’s true. The Pathways Curriculum, which we launched 10 years before the first generation iPhone, has served us well for many years.  But, like mobile phones, health care and education have gone through many changes since that time.  We want to be responsive to the new healthcare environment and also to the feedback our stakeholders have provided for how best to educate the 21st century pharmacist.  So we’re designing a new curriculum.

Change is in the air! Why now?
San Francisco is a city known for change. And we think the time is ripe for what we’re doing with our PharmD program. The new curriculum allows us to take advantage of opportunities available between different fields of science, between different health professionals, between patients and communities, and between foundational training (the PharmD degree) and advanced training (like residencies, fellowships, masters and PhD degree programs and certifications, such as pharmacotherapy specialties).

But why would an already strong PharmD program like UCSF need to change?  Is something wrong?
The current PharmD program at UCSF is very strong, but the truth is, health care isn’t as good as it can be.  And we take seriously our responsibility to make it better.  We believe that every person deserves access to quality medicines and healthcare services. To achieve this goal, new models in education, practice, and research are necessary.  And where better to create, test, evaluate, and share these new models than a health sciences campus with a legacy of achievement like UCSF?  Something would be wrong if we didn’t change.

I’m intrigued… what are some of the key features of the new curriculum?
When we started this, Dean Joe Guglielmo challenged us to work “from a blank canvas.” (You can see more of his thoughts about that in this post.)  Instead of making our first generation iPhone better, we’re leapfrogging to the 6S Plus!

Some of the features we’re most excited about include:
  • Didactic courses organized as integrated systems blocks across multiple scientific disciplines
  • Synthesis weeks to integrate concepts between the blocks
  • A seminar series focused on cutting edge frontiers of science and practice of therapeutics
  • Authentic interprofessional activities embedded throughout the didactic and experiential courses
  • A depth project introducing background knowledge in a focused area, leading to the design and executive of an implementation project
I heard that the UCSF PharmD program will now be 3 years.  I know there are other 3-year PharmD programs out there, but that sounds crazy -- why would UCSF do that?
The vision for the new curriculum is 12 quarters over 3 calendar years.  It’s essentially the same number of quarters, but don’t worry, it’s definitely not our current curriculum squeezed into one fewer year. That would be crazy!

Our faculty, alumni, and student stakeholders created vision for what a UCSF PharmD graduate should be.  We researched changes in pharmacy’s national accreditation standards and professional guidance as well as new roles for all health professionals.  In the state of California, there have also been some exciting opportunities.  SB 493 has expanded the scope of pharmacist practice and created a new Advanced Practice Pharmacist recognition.  In addition, the California State Board of Pharmacy is no longer requiring intern hours in excess of those earned as part of the curriculum.  These opportunities provided a chance to realign our academic calendar.

We also know that while our fees are among the lowest in the state of California, the cost of living in San Francisco is a challenge for many.  To enable us to continue recruiting the most talented and diverse pharmacy students, we wanted to ensure that we make every moment you spend with us count.  By accelerating the trajectory from the classroom to the clinical setting and developing enhanced opportunities for specialty training, we feel that the 3-year program will offer great value.  And, of course, there will be strategically placed breaks for rest and rejuvenation!

When will these changes take place?
We anticipate that students admitted into our program to begin in Summer 2018 will be enrolled completely in the new curriculum.

But the transition from our current pathways-model to the new curriculum has already started!  We’ve been piloting new courses and teaching methods towards this goal since June 2014.  One example is our Clinical Microsystems Clerkship which partners pharmacy students with medical students to address systems challenges in clinical settings like the UCSF Medical Center, San Francisco General Hospital, and the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Health Care System.

As we gather evidence about the successes, we’re committed to bringing these innovations into the program as quickly as possible.  This gives our current students the opportunity to benefit from the new model, too.

Ok, so what’s the downside to all this?
Our target is to train future pharmacists to be therapeutics experts; problem-solvers who can tolerate the ambiguities of real world challenges, who demonstrate self-directed, lifelong learning skills, and who are prepared to lead the charge towards patient-centered quality improvement across the

But as in all areas of life, some people will find this change to be exhilarating while others will find it to be uncomfortable.  Individuals who are open-minded, flexible, and have strong team skills will be more likely to thrive in this environment. We understand that we may lose applications from good students who prefer a more traditional route.

Also, although we’re using strong scientific evidence and expert opinion to guide the development of the new pharmacy curriculum, it’s unlikely we’ll get everything right the first time.  This may be irritating or frustrating to some.  Students interested in gaining expertise in continuous quality improvement models, may find this to be an amazing opportunity, however.  We are looking for pioneers who are ready to embrace change!

How can I get more information about the new curriculum? Please check out the PharmD Curriculum Transformation Project website.  Rest assured, we’ve had students involved with this project since the very beginning and this will continue for some time.  We want to make certain you have the information you need to determine if UCSF is a good fit for your professional and personal goals.

Interprofessional Health Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program

The application deadline for our Interprofessional Health Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program is fast approaching.  For more information on this incredible PharmD-preparation program, please visit our website.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

In Their Own Words: Jennifer

(Note: When Jennifer applied and interviewed to be on the admissions committee, we asked her to describe herself. Her answer: "I'm shy but hardworking."  Indeed, she is on the quieter side, but she's laser-focused in her approach to work and involvement on the Admissions Committee. We can always count on her to tackle admissions responsibilities with thoughtfulness, thoroughness, and of course, a level of seriousness that reflects how important she considers her role.)  

Name:  Jennifer
Year:  Class of 2016
Hometown:  Huntington Beach, CA
Previous institution attended:  UC Berkeley (Go Bears!)
Undergraduate Major:  Molecular and Cell Biology – Neurobiology

Why did you apply to be a member of the Admissions Committee and what have you enjoyed the most?
I wanted to be a member of the Admissions Committee because it was an opportunity for me to positively impact UCSF, and thus the future landscape of pharmacy. Also, your fellow classmates can truly define your experience in pharmacy school, especially because they tend to be your main support system during times of high stress; I really wanted to have input on who I thought would be a great fit because these are the people who I will have to rely on as MY future colleagues.

I’ve really enjoyed meeting applicants and seeing how different everyone is in terms of personality, interview style, and life experience. I’m excited for the incoming class!

What surprised you most about UCSF’s admissions process?
I was surprised by how involved with the process the students actually are and how much my opinions matter! I was also glad to discover that everything Joel has stated in his blog and at info sessions is true; we don’t say one thing and then do something different behind the scenes. For example, we really do look at applicants holistically and your soft skills are just as important as your grades.

In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes applicants make?
A lot of applicants think that they’ll be more competitive if they can get a letter of recommendation from a well-known individual; however, if that person can’t give specific examples for why you’ll be a great pharmacist, his/her letter doesn’t add much value to your application. Ask for letters from people who know you well and can speak in detail about your skill sets and strengths.

I’ve also seen a decent number of grammatical errors in essays -- so please make sure that you ask a handful of people to proofread your work. This means planning ahead and having your application ready for people to read weeks before the deadline.

For re-applicants, make sure that you’ve shown growth from previous years. We want to know what you’ve been doing differently!

What stands out to you on an application?
I like to see dedication, resilience, and creativity. It’s okay if you weren’t the president of five different campus organizations, but we do notice when you’ve invested time in activities outside of school and that you’re passionate about what you do.

What are your pet peeve(s) when interviewing an applicant or reviewing a file? (What drives you crazy?)
A weak handshake is my number one pet peeve because it makes it seem as though you don’t want to be there (but if you’re sick, it’s okay to let your interviewer know and skip the handshake entirely!) Keep in mind that a firm handshake shows confidence and can set the tone for the rest of your interview.

My other pet peeve is when a candidate rambles instead of answering a question directly. If you didn’t hear or understand a question properly, you can always ask for clarification.

What characteristics are necessary in order to succeed in UCSF’s PharmD program?
Be adaptable, hardworking, innovative, and personable.

Once you’re here, I can’t stress enough how important it is that you know your own capabilities and limitations. Don’t overexert yourself. If you ever need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Everyone wants you to succeed and there are plenty of resources to help you meet your goals.

What tools or resources would you recommend to prospective applicants?
Network and talk to as many people as you can about the field of pharmacy and about the programs that you're interested in; volunteer/work in a pharmacy-related setting if you can before applying. Pharmacy experience is definitely NOT required to be admitted to the program; however, you should be 100% sure that this is an appropriate career/lifestyle choice for you before you start your applications. Pharmacy school (and the application process) takes a LOT of time and money, so be sure that this is something you are ready to commit to (and make sure you let us know about all of this in your application!)

What single piece of advice would you give to a prospective applicant?
Take the time to truly learn why you’re a good fit for a program and why a program is a good fit for you. As I mentioned previously, pharmacy school is a big investment in terms of time and money, so be confident that this is what you want to do for the next 4 years.

Why do you think you were admitted into UCSF’s PharmD program?
I still ask myself this question every day and unfortunately I will never know the real answer. I may have been admitted because I was able to show that I understood the value of pharmacists from multiple perspectives and I saw the opportunity for pharmacists to be in significantly expanded roles in the future. Maybe my application was slightly unconventional. Or maybe they just really liked my 'human condition' essay?

What do you do for fun?
I’ve really been into escape rooms recently. Basically, they lock you and your friends in a room and you have one hour to find clues and solve puzzles to obtain the key to escape. Also, Cal football — I’ve had season tickets all four years of pharmacy school (you'll hear that it’s all about balance).

(To read all previous "In Their Own Words" profiles, click the "committee profiles" label link below!)
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