5 Hardest Pharmacy Interview School Questions and Expert Answers

As is the case with many professional programs, to gain admission into pharmacy school, applicants generally must go through an interview as part of the review process. Whether this is in MMI Interview (Multiple Mini Interview) format, a traditional one-on-one interview, interviewing with a panel of experts, or any other interview type, you will likely face some tough questions. The interview is the admissions committee’s chance to understand who you are as a person – what your strengths and other assets are, what values you maintain, whether you’re a mature professional, how effective a leader or communicator you are, and so on. Such interviews are part of the larger process of “holistic review”, whereby candidates are evaluated on much more than their academics (though academics are still very important). Even your extracurriculars, work experience, volunteering and other efforts have already been examined at this point, via your application package, so your general interpersonal skills and overall demeanor are under particular scrutiny in the interview component of your evaluation as a candidate.

As such, the questions asked at such interviews are often very challenging; they are supposed to be designed to probe your sense of ethics, your priorities, your ability to adapt and persevere in the face of adversity, and so on. That said, there are some questions that still stand out as particularly difficult, though they are often quite different varieties of difficulty. That is to say, some are difficult because they may seem vague, others may present you with a tough ethical choice, and some may ask you to reflect on things you’d rather not reflect on (particularly in front of an audience and in a high-pressure situation!). It is crucial that you persevere, however, and that you prepare yourself for these kinds of questions. If you’ve made it to the interview stage, then you are one of the stand-out candidates, and this is your chance to demonstrate why you have what it takes to succeed in this program and this profession.

These are 5 of the most difficult pharmacy school interview questions and expert responses. Each question or question type is difficult for different reasons, and these reasons will be discussed along with the response to each question. It is important to note that it’s not really possible (let alone advisable!) to try to memorize questions and answers like this. Not only is that highly ineffective, it’s also quite unlikely that you would get these exact questions (with the exception of numbers 1 and 2, to be addressed shortly). Rather, focus on the types of question being asked and the kinds of issues each question type addresses. Having a strategy for question types is a much more effective way to prepare for your interview. As always, we strongly recommend “perfect” practice with experts who can give you objective commentary and evaluation of your responses, helping you hone the skills needed to take on any question. Here are the 5 pharmacy school interview questions we'll tackle in this post. Scroll through, or jump to a particular question through the links below:

Pharmacy School Interview Question #1: "Tell Me About Yourself."

Pharmacy School Interview Question #2: "Why Do You Want to Be a Pharmacist?"

Pharmacy School Interview Question #3: Scenario - Selling Syringes Without a Prescription

Pharmacy School Interview Question #4: Scenario - Ethical Sources of Funding

Pharmacy School Interview Question #5: Scenario - Alternative Medicine

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Pharmacy School Interview Question #1: "Tell Me About Yourself."

Discussion

“Tell me about yourself ” is probably the most common “question” interviewees face. It is an incredibly vague request, and intentionally so! It is an open-ended prompt that can be taken in any number of different directions, and the interviewer(s) want to see where your mind goes when prompted in such a fashion. While everyone’s answer to this question will be completely unique, based on their own experiences, values, and priorities there is a good rule of thumb that offers some general parameters and guidelines to bear in mind:

It’s not a list, it’s a story

Don’t simply recite your CV or information from your application. While it’s absolutely fine to discuss things that are mentioned in your application, you don’t want a dry recitation of your activities, scores, presentations, etc. The interviewer(s) will have that information, if it’s an open interview; if it’s a closed interview, the interviewer(s) won’t have access to that specific information, but you still shouldn’t simply run down a list of items or factoids about yourself. You need to take this opportunity to let your best qualities shine through!

That said, you also don’t want to try to outline your full autobiography, either. It’s acceptable to take a few minutes for “Tell me about yourself”, 3-4 minutes should be maximum length, but any longer than that, and you’ll risk losing your audience’s attention. That’s one reason you need to put a lot of time and effort into thinking through how you’ll respond to “Tell me about yourself” – this is your chance to advance your best self and demonstrate for the interviewer(s) who you are at your core, and who you aspire to be as you pursue the path to your chosen profession. But you must also do this in a concise and compelling way. You need to work with this prompt until you know you can cover the points you want to cover in 3-4 minutes, but you also don’t want your answer to sound over-rehearsed or wooden, as that can seem inauthentic to your audience.

How do you compose an answer to this question that is sincere, reflective, and that highlights your best qualities? By crafting a compelling narrative, using anecdotes organized around those qualities, values, competencies, or priorities that you think best represent who you are at your core. In general, people love stories, and offering an answer that allows your interviewer to “see” you as a leader, educator, collaborator, etc., will do much more for the impact of your answer than a loose string of events, benchmarks, or scores.

To understand the kinds of qualities you should consider, you should first think about the kinds of qualities typically sought in candidates for professional programs like yours, particularly in medical professions. They generally want people who are – or have the potential to be – empathetic to others, compassionate in the face of suffering, able to defend their ethical principles, attentive to detail, able to communicate complex information to non-specialists, leaders and collaborators with others, oriented to serve one’s community, etc.

As well, another great place to look for and reflect on such qualities is in the mission statement for the school where you’re interviewing. All institutions have a statement of mission, vision, and/or values, and demonstrating how you align with the institution’s mission, vision, and values means demonstrating that you’re a “good fit” – a key evaluative principle in interviews like this. Representatives of the institution wants to know that, when you graduate, you will act as a positive ambassador for their program, as you go out into the professional world and hang that university’s diploma on your wall.

So, draw on these resources and come up with three values, qualities, etc., that you think best represent you, and which you can support with anecdotes and narratives from your own experiences. 

Pharmacy School Interview Question #2: "Why Do You Want to Be a Pharmacist?"

Discussion

This question is meant to evaluate your priorities, your reasons for pursuing this profession, and the amount of mature reflection you’ve done in considering this path. Of paramount importance is that you display intrinsic motivation; that is, you are genuinely motivated by the work and ideals you’ll be advancing, rather than being motivated by things like money, power, authority, etc. 

Here’s an expert answer:

There are a number of reasons why I want to become a pharmacist, but chief among them is the importance of the pharmacist as a representative of the healthcare system and as a mediator between patients and physicians with regard to many treatment options. A pharmacist is responsible for so much more than just filling prescriptions. They must ensure the accuracy and compatibility of various drugs, ensuring there are no conflicts or allergic reactions. They are the responsible for educating patients about medications of all kinds (prescribed and over-the-counter). They provide consultations to ensure patients are using medication appropriately. Finally, they serve the community in a number of different ways, from providing flu shots to running methadone treatment programs. In many ways, pharmacists are on the front-line of defense in patient safety, ensuring any treatments truly do facilitate wellness and not unintentional harm.

Being responsible for so many aspects of patient care in the realm of medicinal treatments means that precision, attention to detail, and problem-solving capabilities are required. As indicated in my CV, I have contributed to several research projects, which required careful and exacting measures, as well as the ability to self-correct, when needed. I find this process incredibly rewarding – seeing the results of my work, deciding upon next steps in light of seeing such results, and having a clear path to obtaining those results are all validating and inherently interesting. We learn so much from classes and textbooks, but I’ve found that experimentation, precision, and hands-on learning are much more effective with regard to my own learning needs.

Finally, being a pharmacist means being a member of the community, and this brings the opportunity for cultivating long-term relationships with patients. It is not uncommon to work with the same patients for years, ensuring their care is effective and advocating for them, if necessary. I value this aspect of the role immensely – such relationships are so important for advancing patient compliance with treatments, and this kind of personalized attention can result in better patient outcomes. Many patients want to feel heard and supported by healthcare representatives, and that isn’t always possible when physicians are working through a long list of patients with limited time for each. This leaves open the potential for a gap in care, or for patients to feel like they haven’t been heard effectively. Pharmacists have the duty and the opportunity to facilitate conversation about treatments, offer expert advice, and – most importantly – hear patients’ concerns and help them feel heard.

Together, these roles demonstrate how integral pharmacists are to the wider healthcare institution and to their own communities. Taking on such duties and responsibilities is a privilege, and each offer a distinct role for pharmacists in terms of patient care.

Check out our video to find out how to craft your own unique answer!

 Pharmacy School Interview Question #3: Scenario - Selling Syringes Without a Prescription

You are a pharmacist at a small, independent pharmacy. A patient approaches your counter and requests needles and syringes. They do not present a prescription, and based on the records you can access, they are not receiving treatment for diabetes. Do you sell the syringes or not?

Discussion

This question poses a tricky hypothetical dealing with a potentially controversial issue, which can cause some interviewees a lot of anxiety. On the one hand, you may want to help this person and understand their needs, but you likely don’t want to come off sounding like a potential enabler, if they are seeking needles and syringes for the purpose of injecting illegal substances. However, there are ways of answering this question that balance compassion and justifiable, ethical behavior.

Here’s an expert answer:

In this scenario, I’m a pharmacist and a patient has asked to purchase needles and syringes, despite not having a record of diabetes. My primary concern here is the well-being of this customer, and I want to help them as effectively as possible, while also advocating for their personal safety. One thing to mention right away is that in my state/province, it is legal for pharmacists to sell needles and syringes over-the-counter, so there are no legal implications in this particular transaction [Note: obviously, you’d want to confirm this in your own location].

The first thing I’d need to do is gather more information, as there are any number of reasons this person would ask for these supplies. First, the prompt says that they do not have diabetes, but I’d like to double check to ensure I haven’t missed anything. As well, it is possible that they are purchasing these supplies for someone else who does have diabetes. So, I’d try asking the patient why they need such supplies, who they are for, and related questions, to ensure that they get the right supplies for their purposes. There are other injectables besides insulin, which are legal and appropriate (for example, B12 injections). Additionally, in some cases, people need to give their pets injections at home, too, so that is another possibility that I could ask about.

If this patient was reluctant to disclose the reason for needing these supplies, or in the unlikely event that they admitted wanting to use them to inject illicit substances, I would need to carefully consider my actions moving forward. While I wouldn’t want to enable the use of such substances, there are wide-ranging implications when safe, clean needles cannot be accessed. In particular, the transmission of Hepatitis C and HIV are very real possibilities, which would affect not only this one person, but all those who come into contact with, or potentially share needles with, this person. Even if there is no threat of Hepatitis C, HIV, and other such conditions, re-using needles can lead to very serious infections, which can be deadly. In such cases, harm reduction is of paramount importance, but I’d also want to educate and advocate for this patient and encourage other routes.

If it turned out that there was a mistake and this patient did have a condition that warranted use of injectables, or if they were purchasing them for someone else who did (a family member, pet, etc.), then I would sell the needles and syringes without hesitation, ensuring the patient had all the information necessary for safe use and disposal of these items. I would also make a note on their file about this transaction, so that there is no confusion in the future.

If, on the other hand, I suspected or was informed that these supplies would be used for injecting illegal substances, there are a number of things I’d want to do. I firmly believe in the principles of harm reduction, wherein the overall safety of illicit drug users is given priority, to the extent that such is possible. After volunteering at a safe injection site for 3 years, I have seen the drastic decline in transmissible diseases from needle sharing. In that spirit, I would sell the clean needles and syringes to this patient, but I would first request a private, one-on-one consultation with them. In our consultation room, I would invite the patient to sit down, and I would ensure my demeanor wasn’t judgmental, that my tone was calm, and that my body posture was not overly dominant or hard-edged – I want to create a safe space, where this person knows that their safety and health are my top priorities. I would take the time to discuss the options that exist today to help illicit drug users wean off of these substances, such as methadone clinics. I would give them pamphlets and literature on the different kinds of counselling available, as well as any resources that exist to financially support such detoxing (if needed). After this, I would also provide the patient with a Naloxone kit, as well as training on how to use it, just in case they or someone they know were to overdose. I would also remind them not to use alone, as this greatly increases the chance of death in the case of an overdose, particularly with the current trend of mixing Fentanyl into other illicit substances, without the user’s knowledge. Once I’ve gone through all of this with the patient and am sure they understand, then I will sell them the needles and syringes.

Following up on this, hopefully I’ve been able to get the patient’s phone number as part of their overall file; if so, I’d like to call them a few days later to check in on them and see if they are okay, and whether they’ve given any thought to the materials I’d provided. If they’d like my help, then I would offer it; I’d also respect their wishes if they wanted me to leave them be – though I’d emphasize that I would make myself available to them whenever they may try to move toward sobriety. As well, I would ensure my staff have proper training on harm reduction methods and understand the reasons behind my actions. I firmly believe that drug addiction is a health issue, rather than a personal or moral failing, and we must be compassionate while also continuously advocating for healthier choices. If a person is going to get well again, they need to be alive for that to happen; keeping them as safe as possible in an inherently dangerous situation is very important – they can never get clean if they pass away before they are able to take the steps toward sobriety. Perhaps, treating them with care and compassion – rather than stereotyping and hostility – will be the push they need to act in their best interest and start down the road to recovery.

Check out our video for how to address an ethical dilemma in the news

 Pharmacy School Interview Question #4: Scenario - Ethical Sources of Funding

You are the CEO of a large pharmacy chain that is struggling to generate funds. You are approached by a famous fast food company that is willing to meet all of your financial demands in exchange for opening a chain store in a few of your pharmacies. What will you do?

Discussion

Here is an ethical dilemma of a different kind, wherein the fate of your business may be tied up in the path you choose. You must balance the needs of your pharmacies with the ideals of the medical profession. 

Here is an expert answer that takes both of these considerations into account:

In this scenario, I’m the CEO of a financially struggling chain of pharmacies, and a representative from a famous fast food company has approached me with an offer to set up one of their restaurants inside my stores, which will help alleviate our financial struggles. Here, I am concerned about the future of my business, but the overall well-being of our patients and upholding the values of the medical profession are my top priorities.

The first thing I would do is thank the representative for approaching me with this offer, and let them know that I will need some time to think over their proposal. There is no need for me to make a decision on the spot, and – actually – though I’m the CEO, I would need to take this proposal to my Board of Directors prior to taking any action. In any case, there are several things that I need to bear in mind before moving forward and making a decision, so I would need to gather as much information as possible before speaking to the Board.

First, I need to know as much as possible about this fast food chain. Is this a company that offers only food that is high in fat, calories, salt, sugar, and other things that do not align with health and wellbeing? If so, this would be a problem. As part of the healthcare industry, my primary concern must be the health of patients. It would be a violation of the principles we stand for to bring something so unhealthy into a space where health is meant to be the top priority. We know that such fast foods contribute to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions that cause a lot of suffering. We do not want to appear as though we support such an industry by having them set up shop in our pharmacies.

That said, the idea of food options in the pharmacy isn’t an inherently bad one, so long as the health and well-being of our patients is the priority. Certainly, there are some medications that must be taken with food, and so patients could grab something to eat at the same time as they are picking up their prescriptions. Or, if we are very busy and there will be a long wait time for their prescriptions to be ready, they can have some food or beverages to pass the time as they wait. So, if the fast food company were one that offered genuinely healthy options – such as a smoothie kiosk, a place that offers genuinely nutritious salads or sandwiches, or something similar – then there wouldn’t necessarily be any conflict. While we usually associate fast food with unhealthy food, there are a number of businesses that exist today which don’t follow the high fat, salt, sugar, calorie model of more traditional fast food restaurants. Indeed, having healthy choices available exclusively could have a positive impact; perhaps patients would choose to purchase something there (since it’s readily available and convenient), rather than making an additional stop somewhere with fewer or no healthy options.

As I’m doing this investigation, I would also want to look into our finances, to see if we’ve already made all the reasonable cuts that we can make, while still running our business effectively. For example, have we gone paperless yet? That can save a good deal of money in the long run. Are there utilities we can cut down, such as putting back rooms on a sensor, or using energy efficient lighting and appliances? Finally, are there any resources we could potentially access as a struggling business in the field of medicine, such as grants or business loans? I would want to consult with the Board of Directors about all of this, assigning groups to look into each of these types of options and brainstorming their own possible contributions to this larger plan. As part of this, I would also ask them to contribute their opinions regarding the proposal from the fast food company.

So, if it turned out that this was a company that offered only healthy fast food options, as long as it was agreed upon by my Board of Directors, I would consider taking the offer. This would help us continue serving our patients, while also making healthy food choices accessible to them, thus advancing the ideals of healthcare providers. If, however, it was a more traditional and unhealthy fast food company, I would have to decline the offer on principle. It would be hypocritical to advocate healthy, positive choices on one side of our stores, while making very unhealthy options available on the other side.

That said, this proposal would give me the idea of approaching some of those healthy fast food chains, to see if they might want to partner similarly. As well, it would give us the opportunity to really reflect on our finances to see if there are additional cuts that we can make. We are clearly in a dire situation, and we cannot help patients if we go out of business or cut our staff down so much that we are unable to meet patients’ needs. So, I would collaborate with the members of our Board to think through some potential cost-cutting measures, while also looking into grants, loans, refinancing, or other ways to improve our financial situation.

 Pharmacy School Interview Question #5: Scenario - Alternative Medicine 

A member of your family decides to depend solely on alternative medicine for treatment of his or her significant illness. What would you do?

Discussion

Controversial or “hot” topics like this are common in interviews of all sorts. Interviewers want to understand your sense of right and wrong, your ability to explore ideas with which you may or may not agree, and your openness to multiple perspectives. There are a few things you want to ensure you do in answering such questions: acknowledge the validity of both “sides” (for and against) by presenting the pros and cons of a particular approach; represent opposing arguments fairly; offer a firm evaluation from your own perspective, without coming off as adversarial with regard to those who may disagree; when possible, think toward the future – if there are cons or negatives that aren’t expressly addressed in your position, demonstrate how you might resolve these. 

Here’s our expert response:

The issue of alternative medicine has been around for a while, but seems to have intensified in recent years, particularly with the rise of Google and social media, where any number of opinions can be supported by anecdotes from others, even if these anecdotes are not exactly scientific in nature or evidence-based.

Those who support alternative medicine often believe that this is a more “natural” way of treating illness, as compared to medical treatments offered by the healthcare establishment. They also tend to be wary of institutions more generally, suspecting that the profit motive impacts the moves companies (like pharmaceutical companies) make, rather than the desire to heal or cure. As well, alternative treatments can often be prepared at home, using household items that most people can easily access. Thus, for those living at, near, or below the poverty line, and those who lack prescription coverage, these alternatives offer low-cost options to those with low socio-economic status.

On the other hand, those who oppose alternative treatments mainly do so because of the lack of scientific evidence confirming the validity of such treatments. Either there is no evidence and there have been no studies on an alternative treatment, or the evidence that has been collected suggests that such treatment is ineffective or that any relief experienced is just the result of the placebo effect. As well, alternative treatments lack the rigorous oversight and quality control measures of medical treatments, so treatments sold by others may be inconsistent or have small amounts of any “active” ingredient, and treatments created at home could be vulnerable to all sorts of contamination, imprecision, or other errors that are accounted for when producing medical treatments in a laboratory.

Finally, it is critical that we understand that recourse to alternative treatments is frequently the result of a fracture in trust between a patient and their physician or the medical establishment as a whole. Along with the potentially inaccessible cost of treatments, this is one of the key factors in comprehending why some people make this move. Internet boards are full of people discussing their (actual or perceived) struggles with the medical establishment, and such boards often act as both sounding boards and echo chambers, reinforcing suspicions and suggesting other ways of moving forward outside the formal institutions of medicine.

With all this in mind, I would first want to speak privately with this family member, to understand the reasons behind their use of alternative treatments, to the complete exclusion of traditional medicine. I would be very careful with my tone of voice and body posture, and ensure that I’m actively listening, to ensure I don’t come off as judgmental or condescending, and I’ll want to keep the above concerns in mind. Ultimately, I’d want to show my support for evidence-based medicine, but I also need to keep my family member’s autonomy in mind.

If they are pursuing alternative medicine because of the cost of traditional care, I would validate their concerns, but also try to see if there are any cost-cutting measures that could be taken. For example, some drug companies offer medications at reduced cost for people who are financially struggling, but you must contact the company directly to learn about such opportunities. If they are open to this, I would remain with them as they made the call, just in case they need moral support or additional information.

If they are pursuing alternative medicine because of a fracture in trust, I would want to hear them out and understand what happened – was this a one-time occurrence that was particularly negative? Was it a series of events over time? Understanding what led to such a fracture is key in thinking through how to resolve it. If possible, I would recommend other physicians or healthcare facilities, while still supporting my relative’s autonomy in making such decisions.

Finally, if they are pursuing alternative medicine because they feel they have experienced results from these treatments, I would validate their experience, but I would also want to know exactly what was in their treatment – what the active ingredients are, what measure of active ingredients are in the treatment, etc. It’s true that many alternative treatments haven’t been studied scientifically, and while it’s very unlikely that the treatment is causing a significant change, I wouldn’t want to rule it out entirely if it hasn’t been studied. Much more likely, however, is that this relative is experiencing the placebo effect. As long as no harm is being done, then there is nothing inherently problematic about the placebo effect. If this were not a life-endangering condition, and my relative is experiencing the placebo effect, then I probably wouldn’t pursue the issue further. If, however, we are dealing with something that is or could be life-threatening, I’d want to have a detailed, private conversation with them about the risks of this kind of treatment. I’d offer evidence-based information (including articles, if accessible) and try to understand why they find this treatment preferable. While I respect my relative’s autonomy, I would at least want to plead my case for evidence-based medicine – in doing so, however, I would be very careful about my approach, ensuring it’s clear that I’m coming from a place of love, not of condescension or frustration.

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Image Credit: Ryan Lackey, via the Creative Commons License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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