Putting the students on the right career path

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With its commitment to academic excellence, student centeredness and the education of the whole person, the ultimate goal of the Lebanese American University has been to better equip its graduates for the future. Adopting the university’s mission and culture of constant self-improvement, the School of Pharmacy strives to adapt its offerings to market needs.

“It is of strategic importance to the school that its graduates have a high and predictable chance to gain employment and achieve ongoing success in their careers,” says Dean of the School of Pharmacy Imad Btaiche. “Being ‘work-ready’ takes more than just earning a degree … as in their recruitment employers are placing more emphasis on the emotional intelligence, and other soft skills, of their prospective employees.”

With this in mind, Clinical Associate Professor Aline Saad, and Assistant Professor and Chairperson of Pharmaceutical Sciences Roy Kanbar, worked with Dean Btaiche to formalize such skills into a full-fledged course, the “Career Opportunities” elective created three years ago. Offered to second and third-year students, its aim is to provide budding pharmacists with insights into different career paths, strengthening their verbal and written communication, as well as their leadership and entrepreneurial skills.

A special focus is placed on emotional intelligence, which includes the four key elements of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. “People with emotional intelligence tend to be more successful, especially in management and leadership positions,” Btaiche explains.

“Pharmacists have to interact daily with patients, which means that they need to acquire soft skills―like compassion and empathy―that allow them to deliver the information to the patient in the most adequate way,” says Saad. “The interdisciplinary nature of the profession also requires that we prepare the students to be successful team members,” she adds.

For Kanbar, the importance of starting this course lies in the fact that students are so involved in their studies that they do not take the time to think of the next step. From the beginning, the one-credit elective encourages them to plan ahead by introducing them to a diversity of career pathways. Once they are exposed to a wide array of specializations in the field, from academia to industrial, community and clinical settings, the students are asked to develop a career vision, explaining why they believe themselves best suited for the path they have chosen.

“This course is a wakeup call for the students,” explains Kanbar. “We want them to put a plan together, look at the different options available and hopefully be ready once they graduate,” he says.

Fourth-year pharmacy student Diana Frangieh agrees. “I never really thought of what I wanted to do. Then I wrote my career vision, and I now think I have found my path,” she says. Frangieh will apply to Pharm. D. as she would like to pursue a residency and work in a hospital setting, preferable in cardiology. “In addition to having a clearer idea of what my future could be like, I have also learned to be more self-confident.”

As another practical step, the course includes mock job interview sessions, allowing students to fine-tune their interviewing techniques. “The first time, faculty members played the role of the potential employers, but this year we have gone even further. Based on the students’ preferences, they were matched with real ‘volunteer’ employers who assess them,” Saad explains.

“We want our students to stand out, to succeed in any field they choose to engage in and to lead change when needed. Besides being compassionate and ethical, they need to be innovative in their approaches,” she concludes.