The secret to great interns

48653728 - young female pharmacist talking to a customer at the counter pleasantly.

Interns aren’t just a low-priced replacement pharmacist or dispensary tech, writes Elise Apolloni

Intern pharmacists are quite possibly the most rewarding part of my job as a community pharmacist and employer. As a profession though, I think we get it wrong sometimes.

Interns are not cheap labour, or a replacement pharmacist, or a dispensary technician substitute. They are the future of our profession, and I wanted to take some time to share my philosophy on interns, and why you can’t afford not to treat them accordingly!

Intern pharmacists are usually in their first year post graduation from university, and have 12 months to convert all the beautiful theoretical knowledge they cram during university into real world practice.

It is a steep climb and it is often a year of our lives we reflect on and think, “Well, I am glad I won’t have to do that again!”.

I have had the pleasure of mentoring nine interns in my six years as a pharmacist, and countless more in an informal capacity. This year, I have two interns in my business and I can’t imagine life at work without their enthusiasm and smiles!

I rarely have trouble finding outstanding interns to fill positions in my pharmacy now (in fact I am booked out until 2019 for internships!) but colleagues often ask me, “So, what is your secret to having great interns?”.

And here it is: it is about treating your interns like they are your legacy in the profession.

Let’s talk about legacy. To me, legacy is about what people say and think about you at your funeral. Not everyone will like what you did or how you did it, but it is those closest to you that know what you are really about.

It is a bit morbid to reflect on, but would you leave a legacy of being too busy for your co-workers? Or being a dictator that they can’t relate to? Or professionally suffocating people into a situation where they hate their job?

With legacy front of mind, you make the experience of an intern pharmacist less about you and your level of convenience, commitment and care-factor and more about them.

What was your intern year like? I was pretty lucky with my preceptors and placing with Capital Chemist.

Some of us have a horrific experience. No patient contact, little opportunity to innovate, surrounds that squeeze the last glimmer of passion from your perception of pharmacy. It can be a dark place.

Is that what you could be doing to an intern you hire in haste, thinking they are an ‘easy breezy’ solution to all your staffing/dispensing problems?

Do you owe it to yourself and your profession to make sure your potentially awful intern experience is never replicated on your watch? If you had a fantastic intern year which has provided a strong foundation for a successful career, wouldn’t that be something worth passing on? What a legacy to leave behind!

When I take on an intern I don’t think about making my job easier, or reducing my workload, or efficiencies.

Quite the opposite—I make a commitment to meet with my interns to discuss different scenarios, email out case studies, assist with internship training program requirements, have the tough conversations with them when their performance isn’t aligning to competency standards, and being their sounding board for this critically formative year of their career.

There is also a lot of enjoyment: interns are clinically current and able to keep you up-to-date in addition to your CPD learning, they are passionate about pharmacy (particularly if you structure your interview and recruitment process to measure enthusiasm and commitment to pharmacy as a profession) and they may even end up being your retirement plan in a few decades if you can hand the baton of looking after your community’s health to them down the track!

To all the wonderful preceptors out there that create a warm and supportive environment for interns to blossom in—well done! And to those that are still becoming the preceptor they want to be, make sure you take some time to reflect on your legacy and feel empowerment from the privilege of the chance to shape an intern into hopefully an even better version of yourself.

And isn’t that just the best bit—when someone you nurtured and trained can eventually do your job even better than you can? I can only hope that and more for all of the pharmacists that join me through my career!


Elise Apolloni is a community pharmacist, partner at Capital Chemist Wanniassa and credientalled diabetes educator. She is the recipient of a Canberra Women in Business award in 2016 for ‘outstanding community spirit’.

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  1. Bruce ANNABEL

    Elise you are absolutely right! I have the pleasure of interacting with many brilliant pharmacist interns employed by my clients who place them ‘out the front’ engaging patients and learning what ‘professional pharmacist service’ actually means. They aren’t thrown in to the dispensary as a cheap ‘dispensing chemist’, in lieu of a dispense tech, to keep the wages down which is a sad indictment on many employers. I come across some of these interns who are frustrated unable to display their skills and learn while under huge pressure to bang out scripts. Your approach is the right one and you are developing the professional service pharmacists the profession and industry desperately needs to ensure relevance in the health spectrum and a sustainable future. Oh and by the way pharmacy financial results of pharmacies with this approach is outstanding!!

    • EJ

      Agreed! As an intern or pre- reg in the UK the best learning curve was being out the front as much as possible. It was a win-win-win all around!

  2. David Haworth

    Bravo. You have demonstrated that the secret to a great intern is a great preceptor.

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