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CAO Choices, the future, and what studying Pharmacy is really like 🤓

Updated: May 16, 2019

Hey guys!

So for those of you who might be considering studying Pharmacy and who might be looking at their CAO entries at the moment, I have done a bit of a low-down on pharmacy as a course (so far) but this is just my own personal view, so keep that in mind and make sure to look at the information provided by the different colleges you are looking to apply to. Hopefully you will have been to lots of open days by now too, as they can be really helpful. If you can see a careers guidance counsellor too that might be helpful. For anyone who is not familiar with the CAO, it is just the online system we use in Ireland to apply for college courses.

There are a number of reasons why I wanted to study pharmacy... I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do by the end of fifth year and so I saw a careers guidance counsellor. We talked about what I liked, I did some aptitude tests, and to be honest I loved all of my subjects and actually thought I might study language because I loved Spanish so much. Then the more we spoke about it, the more I realised that I would miss the science side of things if I didn’t study it in college, because I’m quite a logical type of person. I also realised that Spanish could still be in my life without majoring in it. I wanted to do something that fascinated me, but am squeamish and knew medicine wouldn’t be for me, and loved the idea of knowing how to treat disease and how drugs work, as well as to have the opportunity to make a difference in my career. I went to the open day in TCD and found out that pharmacy is a 5 year master’s degree programme, which integrates placement and experience, and really wanted to achieve a high level of education coming out of college, so to come out with a masters degree in a subject area that interested me after 5 years was very appealing, and really steered me in the direction of pharmacy.

Having said that; WHOA I was so not ready for what first year hit me with. It hit me like a tonne of bricks! 🧱 For anyone interested in the content of the course, we did a LOT of chemistry in first year which I struggled with at first because it was like learning a whole new language. However now that I’m fluent in chemistry speak (lol) I pick things up much easier! We also studied physiology, pharmacology, practice of pharmacy, biology, maths, physics, biochemistry, and some pharmaceutical analysis. We did a lot of lab-based work and really in first year I think we touched on a bit of everything - a foundation of scientific knowledge to build upon. We did some dispensing (learning how to actually dispense medicines) and also had exams where our lecturers/PhD students pretend to be patients and we have to respond to them (we have these every year). We also had a module called pharmaceutics which taught us about the different formulations medications can be in and we were even examined in how to make medicines such as suspensions, solutions, and suppositories. I have definitely not included everything but this just gives you an idea of what to expect!

Second year brought in cardiovascular pharmacology as well as the pharmacology of drugs like antibiotics, antifungals and antivirals. We also continued with chemistry labs and lectures, and we made different types of medicines in pharmaceutics such as creams and ointments (lots of fun 😫). We continued to learn how to dispense different types of medicines and prescriptions, and had exams in dispensing and practicing being a pharmacist too. We did lots more biochemistry and dealt with topics such as steroids, genetics/DNA, lipids, cholesterol, iron... In our practice of pharmacy module we also covered topics such as oral health, wound management, asthma care, compression hosiery... On top of that we did immunology, and lots of other interesting topics which I won’t bore you with, but if you want more information just drop me an email.

Third year has been really interesting. We covered topics in pharmacology such as depression and anxiety, with some guest lecturers who practice in this area. We also covered Parkinson’s, dementia and schizophrenia, along with other neurological illnesses, and the treatment of such. We also covered respiratory and gastrointestinal pharmacology, which was fascinating. I don’t mean to list things but just it might be interesting to know what you’re letting yourself in for if you’re considering pharmacy as your degree! We also learned about diabetes and other endocrinology, as well as about contraceptives, cancer treatment and lots of other interesting topics! I think the content of third year has been the most interesting this far as so much of it is so clinically relevant, and you can really see how the knowledge applies in terms of dealing with patients and in terms of drug research and development also.

As for fourth and fifth year... I have a lot more ahead of me to learn, and over the two years, will complete 12 months of placement, as well as complete other modules. I have definitely left out some modules I’m sure in my descriptions above but I just wanted to give people a type of overview.. even if you’re not considering pharmacy, it’s kind of interesting to know the level of detail that your pharmacist studied right? Also, if you do study pharmacy, having a part-time job in a pharmacy during the course is a real benefit and i can't recommend it enough, it has really helped me with my studies and with learning about people and just developing skills of the working world in general. Whatever . course you decide to do, working part-time is a huge benefit to you. Plus, think of the dolla bills!

Pharmacy student working in a pharmacy, learning in the dispensary
Me on my lunchbreak at work!

Pharmacy as a course has certainly pushed me to my limits, and I have to say, I really enjoy it, even though it is difficult. Whether or not pharmacy is for you, I think with your CAO choices you have to pick something you are interested in, and that will challenge you. I do also think it’s important to like where you’re going to college too! I had always wanted to go to Trinity College so was really happy with my choice. If you really want something, you should go for it! And don’t go spontaneously changing your choices after exams because you feel they went badly - if the course you really want isn’t even on your course list for the CAO, you definitely won’t get it! If you’re not in, you can’t win 😉 and we can all tend to be pessimistic at times, as humans, so air on the side of optimism, while still having a backup plan that you’re happy with.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure you are well informed about what to expect and really try to visualise yourself learning the types of topics that the course outlines, and carrying out the various labs/projects/work placements etc that it may entail and determine if that is what you want from your third level education. I think some people really just like the sound of a course title and stick it somewhere on their CAO without really considering what that course involves. You are in control of your choices, and you do not want to be stuck with a course you do not want to do, just because you put it further down your CAO list and did not think it would matter because your points would be further above this level. You should really properly consider every option you put down, because it’s your life, and it’s in your hands 💛


Lauren x

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