Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experiences: What Students Should Expect

Last Updated on February 27, 2019 by Laura Turner

Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experiences (IPPE) are designed to provide pharmacy students with what is often their first experience with direct patient care in a pharmacy setting. They are an important first step in students’ journey to becoming capable practitioners ready to shoulder the tremendous responsibility of providing health care to their patients. Another important function of IPPE is to prepare students to succeed in their Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences (APPE).
IPPE are required by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), the body that accredits pharmacy schools to award the Doctor of Pharmacy degree. While they are part of every pharmacy school’s curriculum, specifics can differ substantially from school to school.
While IPPE may take a variety of forms, depending on the institution, there are some similarities between schools. Normally, IPPE begins early in the curriculum. This is usually during or immediately after first year, but some schools start as early as the summer before matriculation, even before the didactic portion of the curriculum commences.
Many schools prefer to concentrate IPPE in blocks at the beginning and end of the first few years of pharmacy school. This allows the student to treat the experience much like a real job. Others choose to spread out the activities throughout the semester, similar to a didactic course requiring a set amount of time each week.
ACPE requires that IPPE be done in a variety of settings. This is typically accomplished by having the student work/volunteer in both retail and institutional pharmacies. Preceptors agree to train the students in pharmacy operations and provide opportunities for the student to develop their professional skills. Preceptors play a tremendous role in the quality of the IPPE experience.
Getting ready for IPPE
For many student pharmacists IPPE will be their first professional experience of any kind in a pharmacy. These students should expect to spend a great deal of time learning how the pharmacy runs, and becoming oriented to the workflow and layout of the dispensing area. While some students might consider this “pharmacy technician” work, it’s important that student pharmacists master the many functions related to preparation of prescriptions or drug orders. After all, they will be supervising these activities one day as pharmacists!
Students who have significant prior experience as a pharmacy technician may be allowed to perform professional functions, such as patient counseling, clinical monitoring, physical assessment or medication therapy management (MTM). Depending on state law and preceptor preference, IPPE students may also be permitted to take prescriptions over the phone, transfer prescriptions into or out of the pharmacy, or verify the accuracy of a prescription awaiting the pharmacist’s final check. Students should follow their preceptor’s guidance at all times and be sure not to overstep the boundaries of what they have been given permission to do.
For students who have never worked in a pharmacy, one good way to prepare for IPPE is to learn the most common sig codes. Knowing the basics of reading prescriptions will allow students to focus on learning higher order tasks related to the processing of prescriptions. A good reference can be found here. Students might also want to review basic medical terminology and pharmacy calculations before the start of IPPE.
Another excellent topic for students to familiarize themselves with prior to starting IPPE is the top 200 drug list, found here. Many students report finding it difficult to learn brand/generic matching, indications, etc., without the benefit of practical experience – the very experiences that IPPE is meant to provide. One tip is to learn some of the common suffixes for different drug classes. This is much easier than simply memorizing 200 drugs. A great resource for this can be found here, though it is worth keeping in mind that not every drug follows the trend of ending in the “correct” suffix for its class. A pocket guide to brand generic matching, common sig codes, and other handy information can also be helpful during IPPE. Students can request a free brand/generic guide from Mylan Pharmaceuticals.
Making the most of your IPPE experience
Students who have worked as technicians before starting pharmacy are often in great shape to maximize the IPPE experience and grow professionally. Students should familiarize themselves with how to access and use common drug resources, such as Lexi-Comp, Clinical Pharmacology, or Micromedex. Access may be provided by the IPPE site or through the student’s College of Pharmacy. Even seasoned pharmacists do not know every fact about every drug on the market, so knowing how to access information quickly is important.
The sheer volume of drug information may be overwhelming at first, but remember that IPPE is not only about learning the drugs. Preceptors understand that students have many years ahead of them to learn about the drugs and hone their therapeutic knowledge. Since IPPE is often students’ first chance to work in a pharmacy, they should spend time working at every work station in the pharmacy and gain a solid idea of how the pharmacy functions. Students would also do well to take this opportunity to develop their interpersonal and communication skills as much as their drug knowledge and patient-care skills.
Preceptors may not be able to spend every moment of IPPE training their students, but students shouldn’t be discouraged. Education can come from many sources and it would be foolish to disregard a source of help/knowledge just because it doesn’t come from a pharmacist. The pharmacist’s time is valuable and if students have little or no pharmacy experience, it is very appropriate for them to learn the basic tasks of the pharmacy from support personnel. Once students have mastered the basics, they should approach the pharmacist for additional opportunities to grow. Every student will grow at a different rate based on personal experience, aptitude, and other intangible factors. A good preceptor will understand this, and allow the student to grow to their potential.
Mind your manners!
Specific positive behaviors for IPPE’s include showing up on time, focusing on the IPPE activity assigned (no texting, please!), dressing professionally (nothing screams “I don’t care” like a dirty/wrinkled white coat), addressing the pharmacist and staff with respect, and showing empathy toward patients. In a community pharmacy students’ ability to interact with patients and pharmacy technicians will be crucial to success. In an institutional setting students should be able to stay on task without constant supervision, work well with others, and behave professionally with other members of the health care team, from physicians to janitors!
Professionalism could easily be the difference between a successful IPPE experience and a frustrating one. Deficits in knowledge can be overlooked if students work hard and are polite and professional. Most preceptors will not overlook tardiness, laziness or other negative behaviors. Students should remember that everyone they encounter at their IPPE site is potentially evaluating them and comport themselves accordingly.
Many pharmacy students use this chance to start networking with their future colleagues. Many a pharmacy student has found a part time job or summer internship through a contact they met on IPPE. Even if students are already employed elsewhere or have jobs lined up at other sites, remember that pharmacy is a small world, so be careful not to burn any bridges. Students should remember that their preceptors are busy people and value their time accordingly. Students should be appreciative and be sure to thank their preceptors for the time they spent teaching them.
IPPE is a great opportunity for students to focus on learning as much as possible, growing professionally, and starting the valuable networking process. For more information on IPPE, interested readers are encouraged to visit the website of schools they are interested in attending and the SDN pre-Pharmacy and Pharmacy forums (Be sure to search IPPE or Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experience to find many threads on this exact topic).
Chivas Owle is a pharmacy student at the University of Florida. Sarah M. Lawrence is a PGY-1 resident in Community Pharmacy and Clinical Assistant Professor at Sullivan University.

3 thoughts on “Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experiences: What Students Should Expect”

  1. It’s a great article and especially enlightening how other schools set their IPPEs up and the reasoning behind it. I’m a P1 and I’m glad I got to read about it before I embark on my first IPPE at the end of this year.
    Just had a comment though – I thought the Apothecary Tales’ blog post about it was really inappropriate. All he basically does is mock the IPPE requirement in a condescendingly crude way, littered with foul language and a pretty disgusting attitude about it. Not sure why it was included in this article.

    • Anon, thanks for your comment. I agree with you that the language obscures the humor in the blog post we linked to, so I’ve removed the link. I’m glad you liked the article and thanks for your honest feedback!

    • Anon, I am so glad you liked the article and found it helpful. I originally included that link because I found it funny and I thought a bit of humor might be appreciated. I also thought he candor on the subject might be illuminating, essentially a “don’t do this” sort of thing from a pharmacist’s perspective. The language was unfortunate though, so I am glad it was removed. It’s inclusion wasn’t meant to offend I assure you.

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