My College Story: The Windy Road to a Pharm.D

Morgan Anderson's College Story: The Windy Road to a Pharm.D

Morgan Anderson

Morgan Anderson followed in her father’s footsteps and attended St. Olaf College, a small liberal arts college in Northfield, MN. She didn’t stay for the duration of her undergraduate degree, though. When her career aspirations made an about-face, from veterinary science to pharmacy, she transferred to the University of Louisville to complete the classes she knew would be required for her to attend pharmacy school. After being accepted to Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science before completing her bachelor’s degree, she studied hard and earned a Doctor of Pharmacy degree (or Pharm.D) in 2015.

Q. Did you always know that you were going to go to college?

Yes. I grew up with the expectation from my parents that I would go, and I honestly never second guessed it. When I was younger I wanted to be a veterinarian and I knew that would require me to go to both undergraduate and graduate school.

Q. How did you choose your college? What did you like about that school over others?

I chose St. Olaf because it was a great fit when I visited as a junior in high school. My dad went there too, but he never pressured me to go. It was pretty far away from my hometown, but I loved the feel of the campus and the opportunities that they could provide me academically. They had a new science building they were working on, too, and I thought that was really exciting since I was pursuing a STEM career.

It is a beautiful campus snuggled into a small town in Minnesota, so it also felt like a safe place to grow and learn. While I did get a great scholarship there, it was still more expensive than my alternative school options. I was lucky that my parents were able to help me pay for school, so I chose to attend in spite of the cost.

Q. What's one piece of advice you wish you had before applying to college?

I think I only visited and applied to four places. While I have no regrets and I truly believe I would make the same choices all over again, I wish I had visited more campuses. I spent hours reading through college books at school and at the bookstore, but visiting the campus is the only way you can really get a feel for the school. So it wouldn’t have hurt to open my mind to some more possibilities and checked out some more options during my junior year [of high school].

Q. You ended up deciding to transfer. What factored into that decision?

As a sophomore I had some health issues, so I had to go back to Kentucky a few weeks before spring semester ended. I ended up deciding that the best decision for me in terms of my health and long-term career goals was to continue my education closer to home at the University of Louisville. This allowed me to save a significant amount of money and also take summer classes so I could complete my prerequisites for graduate school a year early.

If I had not transferred I wouldn’t have been able to apply and begin pharmacy school a year early like I did. The bonds you make in undergrad are strong, so it was a terribly difficult decision. My St. Olaf roommate remains one of my best friends and I actually met my husband there as well, so it was very hard to leave… I think it worked out the way it was supposed to though.

Q. What would you tell other students who are considering a transfer?

I think transferring was one of the hardest decisions I had to make as a young adult. I would encourage other students to weigh the impact of a transfer on their day-to-day happiness against the impact on their long-term goals. There are a lot of reasons why students consider transferring schools, and each situation is unique, but I think it comes down to that main issue.

Q. What did you find to be the biggest challenge when transitioning from one college to another?

When I transferred to UofL, I actually started by taking a class during the summer semester. This gave me a chance to get to know the campus a little bit before fall and I think that worked in my favor. It’s hard to hop into a school as a junior because everyone already has their friend groups worked out and their routines set. I knew the easiest way to make new friends was to participate in extracurricular activities, but I was so focused on my graduate school goals that I didn’t join any clubs or organizations that year. I was lucky in that UofL was in my hometown, so I knew some of the students from high school. It was really nice to spend time with old friends that year!

Q. If you could go back and do one thing differently in your postsecondary education, what would it be? Why?

I think I wouldn’t take myself so seriously. Yes, grades are important and they can directly impact your opportunities, but I think I would let myself relax a bit more if I did it all over again. I would join some more clubs and give myself a longer leash. If you spend all your time worried about future goals, you can sometimes miss out on great things that are happening right now!

Q. What was your favorite experience in college?

I think the relationships I developed during my time at St. Olaf were my favorite part of the college experience. Friendships build really fast and deep when you live on a campus far away from your hometown! I met a lot of truly wonderful people and I will cherish those friendships forever. Obviously meeting my life partner was a high point for me as well. He’s from Chicago so it’s crazy to think we never would have met if I had chosen to attend a different school.

Q. Did you work during college? What positions? Do you feel like you were adequately prepared to enter "the real world?"

I didn’t start working until I transferred back to UofL. Sometime during my second year of school I changed my career plan from veterinary medicine to pharmacy. That summer I started working part time as a technician at a pharmacy. Having that job experience helped me a great deal when I applied to pharmacy school, so I am very glad I chose to do it. While the pay was also nice, I was very lucky in that I didn’t need to work to help pay for [my] undergraduate degree because of the help I was receiving from my parents. I only worked the summers after my second and third year. During the school year I focused on my studies.

Q. What is your current career and how did your education prepare you for your position?

I am an infectious disease clinical pharmacy specialist! My focus is on antimicrobial stewardship which is all about using evidence-based medicine to ensure patients get the right antimicrobials at the right time.

To get to this position, I completed a doctorate in pharmacy in 2015 and then two years of pharmacy residency. The first year is most often focused on general hospital pharmacy practice while the second year is when you choose your specialty focus. Residency is not required to practice as a pharmacist in a hospital but it generally is if you want to work in a specialty field, [like me]. Overall it was quite a lot of school and training to get to where I am today!

When I changed my focus to pharmacy in undergrad, I knew that I wanted to do infectious diseases and would therefore need two years of residency after graduate school. This helped motivate me to complete my required courses and apply to the graduate program early so I could be done faster! Not all healthcare graduate programs allow early admission and I think it may be even less common now, but I got lucky.

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