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Following the Beat in Pharmacy

June 03, 2024

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Nicole Procopoi graphic

By Nicole Procopoi
PGY1 Pharmacy Resident at Legacy Meridian Park

Growing up, music had always been a big component in my life. It started with late nights with my dad and his accordion. As I grew up, I was inspired by my father’s love of music and began learning how to play classical piano.

Pharmacy residency has, in many ways, mirrored my musical journey with the piano. I remember the first day I touched a piano’s keys. A wave of excitement flooded my thoughts as I looked forward to everything that I could do and all the music I could produce with those 88 keys. The same feelings were running through my mind on the first day of residency orientation. All the co-residents were excited to see what we could learn from our various rotations. Many tools and resources were given to us. But could we become masters of our trade? Only time would tell.

On the first day of piano lessons, my fingers clumsily ran around the keys. They were making noise but not music — yet. They were trying to figure out the best way to dance on the keys in order to make music, but the frustration built up as I couldn’t play a tune that was going on in my head. This is when my teacher stepped in and started to introduce me to important foundational concepts about playing the piano, including notes, time signatures, tempo and fingering. Without these basic concepts, there was no way to understand and interpret the sheet of music that lay before me.

Stock image photo of piano
Similarly, as a pharmacist, if you cannot grasp the basic concepts regarding patient care, can you give your patients the best care possible? This is where my time in general medicine started. I was introduced to global patient review and consult management, which incorporated looking at a patient’s medications, monitoring renal function (and other crucial labs), and reviewing provider notes, among other things. It took time and practice to become accustomed to seeing the world through these lenses, but through them I learned that it is important to learn basic concepts when mastering both the piano and the practice of pharmacy. These concepts will stay with you throughout your whole career.

After some time, I was given the opportunity to perform at a music recital. Everything that I learned and memorized was used to perform for my audience. The anxiety started creeping through my body as I stepped up to the piano; it was high and hard to turn down. Everyone was looking directly at me as I sat down, let out a breath and pressed the first key. From first contact with the keys, my fingers went on autopilot to play the music I had worked on and memorized for weeks on end. The applause after finishing was the greatest reward for all the work that was put into mastering the pieces.
Once I returned to piano lessons after the recital, I sat down with my piano teacher to review the performance. There were some parts where my dynamics or tempo were off. But these criticisms could be fixed with various tools, including the metronome, which was initially my worst enemy but had since become my best friend in playing music. Feedback from others is often bittersweet, but it is given to help you improve for the next performance or the next time you go into work. Good preceptors during residency will want the best for you and will provide feedback that will help you improve your work performance. Although it may be difficult to change habits, the support given to help you succeed is strong. That, in turn, will be beneficial for your work.

Much later in my musical career, I switched from playing classical music to playing songs using chord charts. This switch gave me the ability to play with other musicians on my church’s music team. Playing with others on the same team is a whole new dynamic. Lead vocalists, guitarists and drummers all play instruments much different from the piano. They can clash if each person wants to lead while playing. When each musician knows their role on the team and stays on beat (with the help of the metronome), beautiful music is made that others can enjoy. Working as a team with pharmacists and technicians has been a major part of residency. You’ll find people with strengths different from yours that you can tap into for wisdom. This can help you learn and succeed. If you are not able to work well with others, can you be successful?

Overall, my journey in piano and pharmacy, respectively, have been long ones requiring much patience and grace with myself. It is impossible to become a master quickly. But with perseverance and dedication, it is possible to become confident in your skills.

Difficult moments in a career are bound to happen. For me, some memorable situations included having my mind draw a complete blank during a recital on a song I had memorized after playing the first measure. Sure, it felt like the pressure was high to succeed at the next performance or task, but it further motivated me to perfect my skills so that I could succeed and be a mentor to future students going through similar situations.

Ultimately, it is up to you to use the tools you are given. Will you succeed in achieving your ultimate goals? Or will you give up at the first hint of failure? You will have many people to support you during the process, in both good times and hard times. That is something that has made me extremely grateful. Without this support group, I definitely would not be where I am today.


Thank you to everyone who believed in me as I was learning to play those keys or verify those orders! I am grateful for your patience and feedback because it made me a better pianist and pharmacist.


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