Two summers ago I made one of the best decisions of my life and applied to do a Camp America summer. I vaguely remember signing up around Christmas whilst procrastinating to avoid an assignment, non-comittally thinking I'd build my online profile and maybe go no further.
Fast forward to May of the next year, and I'm at my PharmSoc ball in a tuxedo with a passport and boarding pass in my pocket, ready to board my flight just a few hours after the ball finishes (I left the tuxedo at home though). The destination was Santa Cruz, California, and little did I know what a long journey I had ahead of me. After getting on the biggest plane I have ever seen, I had a long conversation with a neighbouring passenger about his plans out in the states whilst my other neighbour swallowed what I can only hope was prescribed medicine before sleeping at the most ridiculous angle for the next 7 hours.
My plane landed at LAX late, and the queue for customs was huge. Los Angeles Airport, like the city, is ridiculously hard to navigate and as a result, I missed my connecting flight to San Jose. I had to divert via San Francisco and this involved two MegaBuses, one of which had Xanax tastefully sprinkled all over the floor by my new neighbour who seemed to like his sleep even more than his predecessor.
When I arrived at camp, I was part of an adventure unit who took 30-40 children rafting, surfing, kayaking, hiking, climbing, and camping. That sounds fun, but imagine having 10 pubescent younger brothers assigned to you who can't quite look after themselves and all want to hit each other with the nearest stick or sprint down the nearest ravine without consequence. Although with that said, I soon realised that working with kids can be one of the most rewarding things you can do in life. Working on paediatric wards during my pre-reg I constantly see those kids' personalities in my patients - although not all of them are there because they like sprinting down ravines.
Each team leader carried a medipack and being the absolute pharmatron that I am I noticed that in some packs the EpiPens had expired. Although not classed as an "essential part" of the kit we had been trained in their use and were expected to administer them if required. I explained to camp leadership that I was not prepared to use these EpiPens as I could not guarantee that I would not cause further harm to the patient if I used one. The contents were visibly cloudy. Using my knowledge of the device I explained the risks of bacterial growth and degradation of contents to staff but was told that I still had to continue with the expedition. I documented my concerns in writing and stated that if I had a child in my care with known anaphylaxis I would not be prepared to take them on the expedition until suitable medical devices were provided. As a result, the camp ordered in new pens within the week, and the following cycle I had a child in my care with known anaphylaxis, in an environment full of bugs and plants that bite and sting. Although I never had to use the pen I felt that I had used good judgement, whistleblowing where appropriate and ensuring that the lives of those in my care were as safe as possible.
The week after I got back from camp I had my first interview for pre-reg and I found that values based answers flowed from my mouth without me even having to think about it. I had so many answers at my fingertips to questions that asked me for "examples of a time when you have demonstrated..." Although my definition of clinical governance raised more than a few eyebrows.
A couple of months ago I interviewed to be an associate of the GPhC on their accreditation and recognition panel and was asked that age-old "describe a time when..." question. So far I thought the interview had gone alright, but their choice of the question's specifics (not disclosed here for obvious reasons) took me by surprise. I was a little stumped and thought for a while. And then a bit longer. Out the window, cranes turned over the overcast city of London and a car horn beeped in the distance, puncturing the silence I was sat in. I'd been quiet for too long. And then without thinking, without knowing where the sentence was heading, I began to hear my mouth form the words: "Two summers ago I applied for Camp America..." My mind flashed back to the bright Californian sun, the friends I had made there, the kids I had helped find their feet and the things I'd learned, and all of a sudden an example came rushing to mind.
I know that's all probably a bit poetic, but my point is you don't need pharmacy experience to ace an interview. You just need experience, and the more enjoyable and memorable the experience, the easier it is to remember. So don't get hung up if you don't land a placement at your favourite pharmacy, or carrying out an audit for some company sat behind a computer screen. Sure those are great experiences, but the experiences that set you apart at interview are the ones you can recall and re-live. People love stories, it's how we remember things - favourite holidays, days out, shopping lists... even interviewees.