Alumni Interview: Kelsey Billups

Below is an interview with Kelsey Billups, a 2011 Graduate of Virginia Tech, and a 2015 Graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University Pharmacy School.

What led to your interest in Pharmacy?

I always knew math and science were my strengths and what interested me the most. I contemplated pursing a physical therapy or pharmacy career during my first year at Virginia Tech. My academic advisor enlightened me about the diverse, growing field of pharmacy during my first semester. He suggested I shadow a pharmacist and see if it was something that interested me. I followed his advice and never turned back!

What activities did you participate in as an undergrad that shaped your preparation for pharmacy school?

I found my time as a student athlete and active member in the community to be very helpful in preparing me for pharmacy school. Once I started pharmacy school, I realized my definition of “hard work” was different than most. I also found my time management skills allowed me to get my work done and have fun while doing so. During my time as an undergraduate, I became very involved in the community of Blacksburg. I realized how much I enjoyed volunteering and was able to continue this passion at VCU. At VCU, I was able to look back at my leadership experiences in Blacksburg and use what I learned to create service opportunities for my pharmacy classmates. I also felt that this gave me unique experiences to talk about during my residency interviews.

What are some words of wisdom about the application process? What would you have liked to know ahead of time? What do you wish someone would have told you before you began applying?

I would suggest that everyone be themselves and to put the process and the involved interviews into perspective. Although it may seem stressful, it will not be the most nerve-wracking thing you do in your life. I would also share that the interviewers are really just trying to get to know you as a person and make sure you are a personable candidate. The faculty members involved in the interviewing process really want to make sure you are open to learning and would be an enjoyable student to teach.

How do you balance the demands of pharmacy school with additional obligations and challenges?

I always found it helpful to make a list and prioritize the things you need to get done. And most importantly, put FUN things on that list, not just items related to school or work. I would suggest students make this list in the order of what needs to get done that day/night and then what could be pushed back a day or two. I think students also need to be realistic and only take on things that they are confident they can handle. I would advise against joining organizations or partaking in events that they are not passionate about. Life will get busy, and you want to make sure you are spending your time on things that you truly enjoy.

What do/did you enjoy most about pharmacy school?

I enjoyed my fourth year of pharmacy school more than any other time period of those four years. I was finally able to step out of the classroom and have my own patients and own medical team to collaborate with. During your fourth year, you also find yourself working with incredibly driven pharmacy preceptors and potential role models. As a former student athlete, I viewed some faculty members as a coach to pharmacy. I’ve felt lucky to have made some of the relationships that I did during my last year at Virginia Commonwealth University.

What was your favorite undergraduate class outside of the pharmacy school prerequisite classes?

Creative dance! There’s a video out there somewhere of a dance routine I performed with 3 of my very good friends. I would advise students to take different, fun classes. Get your prerequisites in, and then do something different. Explore.

What made the pharmacy school you chose the right fit for you?

For me, it mostly involved being close to home and being able to pay in-state tuition. Graduate school is a very expensive endeavor, so staying in Virginia was important to me. There are 3-4 pharmacy schools in Virginia, and I believed VCU gave me the best opportunity to reach the goals I had for myself once graduated.

What helps you manage your stress and stay motivated?

I use some of the skills I developed as a student athlete to manage my stress. I segment my weeks and tell myself to take one day/project at a time. It is easy to get overwhelmed if you take a “thousand-foot view” of your busy upcoming schedule. Personally, it is much more manageable this way. I also am constantly telling myself, “Is this the most high stress environment I’ve been in?” The answer is usually no. I sometimes think about the challenging situations I’ve been through as a student athlete or the hostile environments I played soccer. It helps put a simple presentation or task into perspective.

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