MedicalPharmacy

PharmD to MD: How to Make the Switch in Pharmacy School

I sit here and write this article after a long day of rotation in the intensive care unit as a student pharmacist. I have spent the majority of my day reviewing electronic medical records, observing electrolyte patterns, and learning from talented peers and mentors. But during lunch, I spent time talking to my friends on rotation about our future career plans. Eager to pursue post-graduate pharmacy careers, they shared their struggles with perfecting the best CV. 

My current stressors are a little bit different—I have just completed 9 medical school interviews, received one medical school acceptance (so far), and finally get the chance to relax and enjoy everything I am learning on rotations. Because one day, in 2023, I will be a pharmacist and a medical doctor. I will be able to combine what I gained from 4 years of in-depth exposure to the science behind drug formulation, pharmacokinetics, and clinical pharmacology with diagnostics and medical treatment. 

I am in my 6th year of a 2+4 PharmD program on a path to pursue post-graduate education and become a medical doctor. So why did I go to pharmacy school in the first place? In high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I guess I was pretty good at science and math, and I always thought I would enjoy learning about the pharmacology behind medications. High school me was 100% correct; throughout the past six years in my life as a college and pharmacy student, I loved the science. The information I learned in pharmacy school, supportive friends I have made, and my close connections with faculty mentors is simply invaluable.

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Medicine is a calling. A calling which is not unique to me as a pharmacy student. I sometimes hear my friends say they have toyed around with the idea of going to medical school after too, but decided against it due to financial and time restrictions. Only attempt to go into medicine if you are completely fascinated with the 15 minutes of pathophysiology we get before a heavy therapeutics lecture. Only go into medicine if you enjoy telling patients at the pharmacy about their medications and long to know more about the disposition of their care. Only go into medicine if you literally cannot imagine yourself waking up and doing anything else for the rest of your life.

For me, I decided to pursue this path during the summer of my PY1 year when I began my job performing medication reconciliations in the emergency room. I became increasingly curious about the prognosis of the patients I encountered and desired more involvement and direction in their care. It dawned on me that as a future pharmacist, my impact would be strong, but narrow. However, as a physician, the opportunities for impact would be endless.

Okay, so I wanted to be a doctor. All of my friends were in pharmacy school, pharmacy school didn’t give us premedical advisors, and there aren’t many people with similar training living in my city. Where did I turn to find out what to do? The internet. Internet results were scant and rather discouraging. I found old threads about pharmacists working in retail deciding after years of work they wanted to go back to medical school, but that situation was a little bit different than mine. 

One thing you will learn as a pharmacy student choosing to go down this path is that people are mean. Internet threads were filled with comments of negativity regarding the insanity of this career move with respect to debt and time spent as a student. Friends, family, significant others will be confused. More importantly, the ‘about me’ section of your dating app will appear confused because you will not know how to explain your plans in a short one-liner. 

I hope that I can help at least one person in my situation—another pharmacy student, excelling in pharmacy school and craving more; a pharmacy student who will entertain pursing a path less traveled. I want to help you justify this decision and show you it is never too late to pursue your dreams.

I have created a mapped out guide to getting through pharmacy school while simultaneously pursuing matriculation into medical school. Disclaimer * I would not recommend this path for someone just starting out in college, only go this route IF you changed your mind like me in pharmacy school. 

PY1 Summer: Shadow physicians to confirm your interests, work in a pharmacy—you’ll have to complete intern hours if you want to become a licensed pharmacist—and start research with any of your professors. They will be happy to have you!

PY2 Year: Tend to your pharmacy needs by studying to get the A. C will get PharmD, but will be harder to get into MD. Continue research, and take any pre-med classes not satisfied by pre-pharmacy curriculum. I had to take physics II. 

PY2 Summer: Drop everything in your life and dedicate a whole summer to MCAT prep. You will need it.

PY3 Year: Keep doing research. Explore clinical opportunities like travel aboard trips. Ask faculty and employers to start writing letters of recommendation for medical school. 

PY4 Year: Application and Rotations

  • May: AMCAS applications open. Work on personal statement and writing about your extracurricular experiences
  • June: Submit AMCAS
  • July: Write school-specific secondary essays. Choose an easier rotation this block.
  • Aug/Sept/Oct/Nov/Dec/Jan: Medical school interview season 
  • Jan-graduation: Enjoy rotations and study for NAPLEX—After all you are a pharmacist!

This process has not been as easy as I make it look in this mapped out version. Life gets in the way, and plans have to be altered. My goal is to make this look less intimidating to my future pharm and medical doctor colleagues. 

“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.” -Sigmund Freud

T
Tess Calcagno, PharmD, is recent graduate of Duquesne University School of Pharmacy and an incoming first year medical school at the University of Miami. Combining her background of pharmacy along with the clinical knowledge she will glean in medical school will make Tess to be a well-rounded medica... Tess Calcagno, PharmD, is recent graduate of Duquesne University School of Pharmacy and an incoming first year medical school at the University of Mia...
Hello Tess,

You wrote a great article about how to go from PharmD to MD. Like you, I went from PharmD to MD. I am 1 year away from an attending physician and would like to give a different take on a small piece you wrote.

"Only attempt to go into medicine if you are completely fascinated with the 15 minutes of pathophysiology we get before a heavy therapeutics lecture. Only go into medicine if you literally cannot imagine yourself waking up and doing anything else for the rest of your life. "

What is quoted above is very common thinking among premeds, but these 2 sentences sometimes do not reflect the realities of medicine/surgery. While pathophysiology is important for almost all fields, some physicians are more fascinated by procedural/surgical skills. It can be burdensome to listen to pathophys when it has 0% chance of real use in your particular field.

Your last sentence is why I decided to write this reply, as I have heard this over and over again from not only pre-meds, but from medical students, and a few residents/attending physicians. Around 40-50% of attending physicians are burned out at any given time (per Medscape) and a large percentage of non-burned out physicians would consider either another specialty or a non-medical field. Medicine is simply another job, although it can be a very rewarding. While I enjoy medicine, I can also see myself in entrepreneurship/business, sports, or social/non-profit sectors. It may be naive to tell others to only go into medicine if this is all they can imaging themselves doing for the rest of their lives.

I hope you would consider rewording that statement for your future advice to medical school hopefuls.

Best,
Greg
Best of luck! It is worth it.
Well written and interesting. You are too cool. You are developing your skills to help others in need, a very special set of skills indeed. You have an inquiring mind and you are inspirational. Your love for people and the sciences will challenge others to do and to be what you are doing with your life and who you are.

I read a book about a cop who got burned out. He advanced in the police department as was expected, only to find himself lost in all the tragedy and politics he encountered. Immersed in a deep depression he began to see a psychologist. Eventually, after weeding through a number of issues, it dawned on him that he was drawn to police work originally because he loved helping people. As he succeeded and climbed the ranks, he felt removed from his heartfelt reasons for police work. He emerged from his depression when he realized he still wanted to be a cop, though not a high ranking officer.

You are following your mind and heart. I have no doubt you will have a positive impact in others' lives. Guaranteed.
P