An Externship in Public Health
In recent years, career options for pharmacists have grown beyond the traditional settings of retail drugstores and hospitals.
In recent years, career options for pharmacists have grown beyond the traditional settings of retail drugstores and hospitals. As the possibilities have expanded, government agencies like the FDA, the CDC, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) are providing unique opportunities for pharmacists and student pharmacists. The United States Public Health Service (USPHS) provides a pathway through which students can work in these federal agencies called the Junior Commissioned Officer Student Training and Extern Program (JRCOSTEP). Through JRCOSTEP, students are given a temporary assignment within the USPHS during school breaks.
This past summer, I was granted the opportunity to serve as a Junior Commissioned Pharmacy Officer through JRCOSTEP, with my assignment taking place at the FDA Center for Devices and Radiological Health in Silver Spring, Maryland. During my 3 months at this station, I developed my interpersonal skills and furthered my knowledge of the regulatory pathway for medical devices, drugs, and combination products. My main duties during my externship were to review allegations against medical devices such as fetal monitors, transcranial magnetic stimulations, and infrared lasers while ensuring that manufacturers were compliant with pre-marketing regulations. I also collaborated with the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research to create a presentation and research project about combination products.
Because all the different centers at the FDA are located on one large campus, I was able to easily visit different divisions and speak with many physicians, pharmacists, nurses, and engineers whose insights helped to broadened my knowledge about specific medications and devices. I was also able to meet PHS pharmacy officers who worked at the FDA and other federal agencies. It was an incredible opportunity to network with other commissioned officers and hear about current public health and pharmacy issues. I learned about the role of the USPHS responding to global crises and providing humanitarian health services for natural disasters, terrorist activities, and other threats.
One noteworthy highlight of my externship was my participation in an endurance-training course at the Naval Support Academy in Annapolis. There, several PHS officers and I took turns leading a team through a challenging 3-mile trek in the forest. Additionally, near the end of my internship, I presented my summer-long research project at the 2017 Salute to Science Poster Exhibition at the FDA, where I met students from all over the world and formed what I hope will be lasting many friendships.
My externship through JRCOSTEP was an invaluable experience, proving not only educational and interesting but also rewarding and fun. It gave me a unique perspective on the profession of pharmacy as I became more familiar with careers available to pharmacists throughout the federal government, and it provided me with experience that will undoubtedly help me develop as a student and future pharmacist.
Jennifer Tsan is a PharmD candidate at the Touro College of Pharmacy.