You know the friendly pharmacist who is available to counsel you through all you need to know about your prescription? Rigorous academic training was required to get where this health care professional is today. We recently caught up with Jeff Ikeda, who has experience in both retail stores and hospitals, to learn more about his experience as a pharmacist.
ExploreHealthCareers.org (EHC): Thanks for your time, Jeff! For these interviews, we like to start at the very beginning — What inspired you to enter the health care field?
Jeff Ikeda (JI): My family doesn’t have many health issues, so I never had much exposure to health care or medicine growing up aside from the occasional antibiotic now and then. Then in high school I started working at a pharmacy as a technician and was amazed at just how many different drugs there were and how specifically targeted they could be for various disease states. It was overwhelming but the pharmacists I worked with could just rattle off so much information about each drug from memory. I wanted to have that same knowledge. I wanted to be able to answer people’s questions about medications and be able to help them navigate their doctor’s plan for them.
EHC: What education was required to get where you are today?
JI: I am a Doctor of Pharmacy and I currently work as an outpatient pharmacist at the Veteran’s hospital in Richmond, Virginia. Having worked in a pharmacy in high school, I narrowed my focus to pharmacy early on so my first step was to apply to colleges that had pharmacy schools (pharmacy school is a post-graduate professional program) affiliated with them and ended up at Virginia Commonwealth University.
At the time, pharmacy schools didn’t require a bachelor’s degree so long as you did well in the prerequisite courses (mostly biology and chemistry) and had a decent pharmacy college admission test (PCAT) score. I finished my prerequisites in two years and took my PCATs. I ended up getting an interview at VCU’s pharmacy school. I was wait listed and ultimately rejected that year. So I took a third year of undergrad at VCU and enrolled in more high level chemistry classes to strengthen my transcripts and was then accepted into the school of pharmacy.
Pharmacy school itself is a four year program, three years of classroom course work and one year of rotational experience in various pharmacy settings.
EHC: Once you graduated, in what type of pharmacy did you get your start?
JI: Prior to getting a job at the VA, I worked for a retail pharmacy in a grocery store chain. Actually, all my pharmacy work experience had been in retail pharmacy up until this point. The grocery store chain was being bought out so I used it as an opportunity to explore areas of pharmacy beyond retail. Someone I had worked with already worked at the VA and had told me about it. I went and took a tour of the hospital and its operation and took the plunge. I submitted my application, got an interview, landed the job and haven’t looked back since.
EHC: Do you have any advice for students interested in going into your field?
JI: The field is very competitive now. Many more pharmacy schools have opened up since I graduated and the job openings haven’t been able to keep up with the increased graduates. If you plan on going in to pharmacy, plan on pursuing further education (residency program after graduating pharmacy school) or to work very demanding hours and metrics to retail standards.
EHC: What do you wish you knew before you became a pharmacist?
JI: The value of networking. I was never a big fan of the idea and wanted to make my way on my own achievements alone. But my professional history would prove that rather than achievements, it was who I knew that helped me land the jobs I’ve had.
Also, take advantage of all opportunities offered while in school. Once you’re out and working, you will have few chances to do things vastly different from your job.
EHC: Last question for you: How do you stay up to date on happenings in the health care field?
JI: The exact amount varies by state but you’ll be required to take a certain number of Continuing Education courses, which will help you keep learning throughout your career.
I use a site called Pharmacist Letter. They’re short and concise courses on a wide range of topics that help keep you up to date. The hospital also has access to web-based databases that come in handy when I need to research different drugs.