Making the most of your intern year

young person waiting to start their career

The completion of a pharmacy degree is no small feat, and graduates should be ready to hit the ground running in the next milestone, writes Tim Roberts

As pharmacy schools around the country begin to wind down on another academic year, graduation and the exciting prospect of internship is front of mind for many student pharmacists as they finalise their studies.

The completion of a pharmacy degree is no small feat, graduates should be immensely proud of their achievements and be ready to hit the ground running in the next milestone step of their pharmacy career – the intern year.

Having worked closely with a number of young graduates in the space of pharmacist and intern education, here are some tips to aid with transition into the intern year and how to make the most of this important foundation year!

Get comfortable in your new professional role

When first commencing in your intern year, your number one focus should be on the day-to-day operations of your pharmacy and establishing your role amongst the pharmacy team. This process will be different for everyone and can be dependent on your working history within the pharmacy – but regardless of whether you have worked into the team for a few years or a few weeks, everyone (including you!) will be adjusting to your new role and responsibilities.

Most importantly – take this time to get to know your patients, especially when you are first getting started in the role. Take every available opportunity to introduce yourself to your patients and explain what your role is in the pharmacy, for your loyal regulars you are going to be one of the people they most consistently see when they pay a visit.

Make sure you let them know that you are always available for chat and you look forward to helping them manage their health and their medicines for the coming year (and beyond).

Identify your mentor(s) and capitalise on learning opportunities

Your intern year is your opportunity to learn ‘on-the-job’ and learn from those around you. Your preceptor will be a fantastic resource to you in providing mentorship and guidance – but, remember – anyone in your pharmacy can be a mentor or a valuable source of knowledge too.

Seek information out from everyone in the pharmacy and identify who the ‘go to’ people in your team are. You will find a valuable mentor in your preceptor and in other members of the team, don’t forget to reach out to your intern training provider (ITP) for additional guidance and mentorship too.

It is important to approach all tasks and projects in the pharmacy with an open mind, ready to learn new career skills.

Work with a view to building a strong foundation of skills across all aspects of the pharmacy operation, these will serve you well throughout your intern year and will also be highly transferrable to future pharmacy settings as you progress through your career.

Approach all of your pharmacy projects with relentless drive and determination, when you identify a project that you are passionate about – make sure you let your preceptor/employer know about it!

Develop a game plan and set out your goals

Your intern year is an important professional milestone – and with the dynamic and ever-evolving roles that pharmacists play, it can also an extremely busy year! Make sure you take some time to look at the bigger picture and plan for where your intern year is taking you.

Having a ‘roadmap’ for your year will give you a reference point to turn to for guidance and help you manage your priorities as your internship progresses. 

Upon commencing your intern year, take a calendar and map out when the major touch-points for the year are going to fall;

  • When do you plan to sit your intern exams?
  • What are the major projects/programs that your pharmacy will be involved in for the year and when will they be running?
  • When will you attend ITP workshops and work through program requirements throughout the year?

A little bit of planning early on in the year will make sure that you stay on track, minimise stress and maximise your work life balance.

In addition to planning the milestones for the year, it can also be highly motivational to incorporate some of your professional goals into your game plan.

Your intern year can present you with many opportunities to lay the building blocks of your professional resume, which will give you a competitive edge for the rest of your career – what is your passion in pharmacy and what can you do improve the health of your local community?

Work with your mentor(s), your preceptor and your colleagues – let them know what your goals are and how you are going to achieve them.

Seek honest and open feedback from your preceptor

Your intern year is an important year for professional growth and an opportunity to foster good habits that will stick with you throughout the rest of your professional career.

Make sure you work closely with your preceptor and other supervising pharmacists to seek constructive feedback and evaluation throughout the year – in the busy pharmacy environment this can often be overlooked – so take some time at the beginning of the year to discuss your expectations for feedback with relevant supervisors, and try to set aside some time on a regular basis to have informal discussions about how things are going.

It is important to keep your preceptor in the loop as to how you feel you are developing in your professional role, including providing feedback to them on the areas of practice you would like to have more focus on. Setting up the guidelines for feedback and evaluation with your preceptor early in your intern year is a win-win for both parties and is a positive first step to setting up your working dynamic.

You can also utilise the existing preceptor evaluation framework through your intern training provider (ITP) to support you in this process and turn regular tasks such as reviewing your training plan or completing your supervised practice paperwork with your preceptor into opportunities for two-way communication and feedback.

The best professional relationships between interns and preceptors involve communicating openly and communicating often – getting the balance right in your intern year will also help set you up to be confident as a preceptor yourself, when the time comes!

Grow your professional network

Starting out in your professional career is the best time to begin cultivating your professional network. This will put you in the best position to hear about exciting future opportunities, find potential mentors and to achieve your professional goals.

Networking in your intern year can come in many forms. You can network with your peers at intern training workshops and events throughout the year to learn from others experience and showcase your own learnings.

Get to know the industry representatives that visit your pharmacy regularly, take them time to engage with them to find out new opportunities for the pharmacy business. Find out about local community and seniors groups, which may present you with an opportunity to grow your network (and the network of your pharmacy).

NAPSA crowd at Pharmacy Connect 2017

In addition to networking with industry peers, your intern year is also a great chance for you to meet other local health professionals and engage in education focussing on the wider health sector. Just as building your relationships with your patients is crucial in your intern year, so is getting to know the local prescribers and allied health professionals in your community.

Introduce yourself to the local medical centres, dentists, optometrists, podiatrists and any other valuable health linkages you can establish in your local area; once you have made yourself known, you can start working together to find the best solutions to care for your shared patients. Get to know your local Primary Healthcare Network (PHN) and check to see if they have a calendar of events – this can be a great way to make new connections with professionals in your area.

Most importantly, engage in industry events and continuing professional development opportunities to not only stay up-to-date with the latest in pharmacy practice, but also to meet other like-minded industry professionals. Large industry events such as APP Conference and Pharmacy Connect can provide you with an opportunity to meet other pharmacists and interns from around the country in a relaxed learning environment, while also giving you the chance to step back and look at wider pharmacy industry trends in both Australia and abroad.

To all graduating pharmacy students in 2017, wishing you a bright and prosperous pharmacy future as you embark on this important phase of your professional life.

Remember to keep the patient at the centre of everything that you do, allocate time to reflect on your personal and professional development throughout the year, and don’t forget the importance of the role you play in optimising the health and wellbeing of your community!

To learn more about the Guild Intern Training Program please visit or if you would like to chat about your professional goals in the intern year, please contact one of our clinical tutors on

Tim Roberts B.Pharm (Hons), AACPA, DipBusMgt is National Manager, Intern Training Program, Pharmacy Guild of Australia.

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