If you had told me 6 years ago that my career as a pharmacist would involve riding in helicopters, traveling to remote villages in El Salvador and Nicaragua, watching bald eagles soar overhead as I worked as a fill-in pharmacist in a small town in Alaska, and assisting with Hurricane Sandy response in Brooklyn, I would have said that you were crazy! After all, it had been my experience that most pharmacists enter prescriptions, call insurance companies, dispense medications, counsel patients, and assist with OTC product selection.
FDA rotation changes everything
I vividly remember entering my last year of pharmacy school and wondering what I might end up doing with my pharmacy career. When I began pharmacy school, I thought that community pharmacy was how I would spend my career as a pharmacist. I had worked in community pharmacies since the age of 15, first as a cashier, and then as a technician and intern.
As I progressed through school, I became less convinced that this was what I wanted to do. I researched other areas of pharmacy practice and participated in a few summer internships in hospital and industry settings, but as I began my first rotation, I was still feeling a little lost as to what I might do after graduation.
As I stepped foot into my first day of rotation at FDA, little did I know that my dream career was soon to be revealed. I remember being nervous, walking through the metal detectors, and placing my bag on the x-ray machine. But shortly thereafter, I found a welcoming environment with many friendly faces. I couldn’t figure it out—I had never seen so many happy pharmacists in one location. I was intrigued. I also saw for the first time pharmacists wearing the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps uniforms.
By the end of my first week at FDA, I knew that a career in the USPHS was perfect for me and I started the application process immediately. After graduation, I was lucky enough to begin my dream career as a USPHS pharmacist stationed at FDA.
You may be wondering why I decided so quickly to join the USPHS. As I explored this unique career, there were a few things that immediately caught my attention; the ability to deploy on a humanitarian mission or to a public health emergency, the unique duty stations and ability to switch duty stations throughout your career, and an outstanding work–life balance that I had not seen elsewhere. The duty stations are plenty and each has the ability to provide a rewarding experience, just as my first 5 years as a USPHS pharmacist at FDA have provided me.
While my day-to-day work may not currently involve direct patient care, I keep my clinical practice up-to-date with a part-time job in a community pharmacy. I also have participated in a few amazing deployments. In 2009, I joined the equal partnership humanitarian mission called Continuing Promise on the U.S. Naval Ship Comfort and dispensed medications and counseled thousands of patients in El Salvador and Nicaragua. In 2012, I deployed to an Indian Health Service clinic in Juneau, AK, and assisted an understaffed ambulatory clinic. Shortly thereafter, I was deployed to assist with the Hurricane Sandy response in Brooklyn, NY, serving as a night shift pharmacist at a medical center for displaced nursing home patients.
Step out of my comfort zone
Thus far, my career as a USPHS pharmacist has been nothing short of amazing. If I had not branched out to explore a variety of career options during my rotation experience, I am afraid that I would not have found out about USPHS pharmacy. I currently precept students and encourage them, as I would encourage each of you, to step out of your comfort zone and find not just a job, but a career that you find exhilarating.
In my opinion, the most amazing thing about the pharmacy school experience is the ability to explore all of the seemingly endless options that you have after graduation. Maybe, just maybe, your dream job is one rotation away!