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During the yearlong program, residents spend rotations being exposed to a variety of experiences including adult medicine, pediatrics, critical care, ambulatory care, and administration.

Published Jun 21st, 2023

By Carol McPhail

When Kate Dorsten moved to Mobile a year ago to complete her pharmacy student rotations, the Birmingham native was impressed by the collaborative culture she observed at USA Health.

“I saw firsthand the team-based approach taken to patients and how clinicians in this health system are dedicated to every learner’s instruction,” said Dorsten, who graduated from Auburn University’s Harrison College of Pharmacy.

Now she is poised to begin the next phase of her training as one of two pharmacy residents in a yearlong program at USA Health. “My long-term career goal is to work in a role that has both clinical and administrative functions,” she said. “I enjoy working with rounding teams and providing patient education, but I also am passionate about improving processes that enable clinicians to provide the best patient care possible.”

On July 1, USA Health will welcome Dorsten and Julia Goudeau, a graduate of the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy, as the third class of participants in the PGY-1 program, which is accredited by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

ShaRhonda Watkins, PharmD, M.B.A., BCPS, director of the program, said pharmacy school graduates are not required to complete a residency, but doing so enables them to specialize and practice at the top of their pharmacy license. “It helps to have that deeper clinical knowledge and work as part of a multidisciplinary team that focuses on patient safety,” Watkins said. “In some states, pharmacists can work alongside primary-care physicians to help fill gaps where access to healthcare is limited.”

During the year, pharmacy residents spend five-week rotations being exposed to a variety of experiences including adult medicine, pediatrics, critical care, ambulatory care, administration, and pharmacy practice. They can choose electives in emergency medicine, surgical trauma, and pediatric intensive care. Residents also gain experience conducting research in practical areas of institutional pharmacy.

“Our program is designed to capture pharmacists either who have just graduated from pharmacy school or who have decided to take a nontraditional route and pursue a career first and realize that they would like to pursue a more clinical route,” Watkins said. “Once the PGY-1 residents complete the program, they can apply for more specialized training in a PGY-2 program in areas such as ambulatory care, infectious diseases, critical care and more. Similarly, residents can begin their careers in a clinical setting such as a hospital or clinic.”

As the new residents prepared to enter the program, an outgoing resident offered some advice for success: Take each task as it comes. Try not to get overwhelmed. Remember to breathe. Don't be afraid to ask questions.

“USA Health is a teaching health system, so take advantage of the learning opportunities,” said Linda Tran, PharmD, a Mobile native and outgoing resident. “Rotations can be tailored to your interests; all you have to do is ask!”

Tran, who graduated summa cum laude from Auburn’s Harrison College of Pharmacy, said her co-resident, residency program director, preceptors and department provided a strong support system during her PGY-1 year. “They provided consistent encouragement to ensure my success and growth,” she said. “Although it wasn’t always easy, I am grateful for the opportunities that I received and the experiences that I had throughout the year.”

Tran attended the 2022 Midyear Clinical Meeting of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, rounded solo on several medicine teams, presented her research at conferences and taught a three-hour lecture to second-year pharmacy students.

She will transition from her residency to a position as a clinical pharmacist in the medical intensive care unit at University Hospital. Her professional interests include critical care, emergency medicine, infectious diseases and academia.

“Take every experience you are offered. Learn as much as you can, because this is the time to do it,” said Amanda Sweat, PharmD, who also is finishing up her PGY-1 year. “Once you are settled in your career, you won’t get the chance to explore a random opportunity you have interest in for five weeks at a time.”

Sweat said she appreciated the safe space and patience that her preceptors and attendings provided for her to learn so much in a year. “I also loved learning alongside the medical residents,” she said. “I felt that we were in this together and that it was OK to ask questions and learn from each other.”

Sweat plans to pursue a PGY-2 year in ambulatory care at Sacred Heart Health System in Pensacola, Fla. “Ambulatory care is getting popular and is a branch of pharmacy where we work in a clinic setting with other pharmacists and physicians, and sometimes in a collaborative practice agreement,” Sweat said. “We can see more complicated cases – patients with hypertension, diabetes and more – or more simple cases to help physicians with their patient load.”

USA Health’s pharmacy ambulatory care PGY-2 residency at the USA Health Family Medicine Center is a separate program that helps second-year pharmacy residents develop expert-level, evidence-based knowledge in the area of chronic disease management.

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