What’s Next For VHS ’19: Becoming A Pharmacist

By on July 8, 2019


It was an honors chemistry class sophomore year that got Lauren Brown thinking about a career in pharmacy, but it was working as a pharmacy technician at Terry’s Family Pharmacy that sold her on it.

“I was able to see, first hand, what the career was,” says Brown, who graduated Verona High School with the Class of 2019.

Brown is headed to the University of Rhode Island this fall to begin her pharmacy education, and it will take her fewer years than most students become a Doctor of Pharmacy. Instead of doing four years as an undergraduate and then three or four years of pharmacy school, Brown has locked in to URI’s six-year Pharm.D program.

It’s a promising career choice. Pharmacists work in drug stores, and a lot of other places too, from research labs to medical centers, to ambulatory care facilities, nursing homes, psychiatric hospitals and industry. Some pharmacists work with people and some with animals. The choices are so varied that Pharmacy Is Right For Me, a website created by the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, has put together a quiz to help potential students to find the path that best suits their interests.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has a fairly rosy outlook for pharmacy employment. It expects the number of pharmacist jobs to expand at a rate of 6% per year through 2026. The BLS report notes that the median annual wage for pharmacists was $126,120 in May 2018. Young people who aren’t sure about a long college commitment might want to know that the BLS also predicts 12% growth in pharmacy technicians, the job that Brown has been doing in summer and during the school year. While salaries for pharmacy technicians ($15.72 per hour on average) are lower than those for pharmacists, you don’t necessarily need a college degree to be one.

URI offers what is known as a “zero-to-six” program: Brown will complete her general education requirements in her first two years at the university and then transition to its College of Pharmacy without having to take the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT) required to get into Pharm.D programs elsewhere. While there are many pharmacy colleges across the United States, the programs–especially the accelerated ones–can be highly competitive. Brown applied to eight schools in the northeast, and was accepted at six and waitlisted at two, including Rutgers University’s highly regarded Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy.

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To earn her degree, Brow will spend three years in pharmacy studies and then do a one-year clinical rotation through many of the situations where she might likely work as a pharmacist, including hospitals and retail stores. “The rotations give you a sense of where you might want to go,” says Brown, who doesn’t yet know what her choice might be.

Brown’s coursework at VHS, which included the notoriously difficult AP Chemistry class, as well as AP Calculus and Statistics, bolstered her application, as did her work at Terry’s. “They said it was good that I already had experience in the field,” she recalls of one application interview. One change she would have made to her high school classes: Take AP Bio before senior year, so it could have shown up on her college transcripts.

Brown wants Les Gwyn-Williams, who has owned Terry’s for the last 35 years, to know how grateful she is for the experience at the store. “Thank you for allowing me to have this opportunity,” Brown says. “I don’t think I’d be where I am without it. It prepared me for the future.”

“Lauren has proven to be a very capable pharmacy technician,” says Gwyn-Williams in return. “We have come to rely on her knowledge and easy going manner in the pharmacy department. Her work ethic is excellent. She shows up on time, ready to work, and we have never had to ask her to put away her cell phone, which in this day and age is almost incredible. Lauren’s communication skills enable her to explain medication directions to our elderly customers in a simple way they can understand and put them at ease. She will be an asset to her future employers and a success to any task she tackles.” That’s already the case: With Terry’s closing, Brown found a new summer job at Livingston Pharmacy, another independent retailer. “They were impressed with what I know,” she says.

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Science classes and a heavy work schedule didn’t prevent Brown from doing other things as a high school student. She was a cheerleader all four years at VHS and was involved with the Youth Group at Our Lady of the Lake Church. Brown’s message to the students she leaves behind at VHS: “Try your hardest from freshman year. Take classes that will help you in college.”

“What’s Next” is a series of profiles about what members of each Verona High School class intend to do after graduation. MyVeronaNJ has been publishing the series since 2010 and you can read all of them here.

Photo courtesy Terry’s Family Pharmacy

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