What do you do?

Career Profile By Hank Hoang, PharmD

If you have spent any time in Washington, DC, you know the most frequently asked question you will hear is, “What do you do?” On e-Harmony, my occupation is listed as pharmacist, so people are always puzzled when I tell them I work for the government. Did you know that according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than half of all student pharmacists end up in dispensing roles at chain or independent pharmacies. But work for the government? Now there’s a conversation starter.

What exactly can pharmacists in government do? As it turns out, a whole lot! Over the last 2 years, I have worked as a pharmacist and an analyst at two different federal agencies in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

My work
Most pharmacists know what FDA is, but not many know about the opportunities there. Pharmacists are frequently relied upon for their knowledge of what they know best: medications. With training in pharmacology, pharmacokinetics, infectious diseases, and more, pharmacists play an active role in medication review, dissemination of medication information, and serve as a focal point for public inquiries regarding regulated products.

My first government position at FDA incorporated my perspectives and experience from community pharmacy into medication safety communication plans, used to educate patients and advocacy groups on the drug approval process, and was leveraged to conduct focus groups with clinicians across the country. Being on the cusp of new and current drug issues is exciting, but influencing policy and providing input on the development of these messages is a truly empowering experience.

Currently I work at another HHS agency, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), where I lead a team of public health analysts with a variety of backgrounds ranging from statisticians, health economists, and epidemiologists. The team oversees certain aspects of the Health Center Program, and there is a good chance some of the prescriptions you filled this week were from a HRSA-funded health center. The 1,400 health centers operate more than 10,400 health care delivery sites in every U.S. state and the District of Columbia.

For some of the most vulnerable individuals and families, these health centers are where they find services to promote health and diagnose and treat disease and disability. Check out https://findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov to find the closest health center near you or your pharmacy.

Research-savvy health policy pundits at HRSA are comingled with a variety of health care providers to improve health care and advance quality of care measures. Clinicians, including dentists, nurses, and pharmacists, infuse their valuable perspectives on current clinical guidelines, practice trends, and influence the development of clinical measures. For example, medication measurements include the appropriate use of asthma medications, lipid therapy, and antithrombotic treatment of vascular diseases. At HRSA, these measures are used to assess quality performance and advance the value of care throughout the Health Center Program by aligning with national standards set by organizations, including Medicare, Medicaid, and health insurance or managed care organizations.

An exciting time
As you explore new and exciting career opportunities, don’t discount the need for pharmacists in health policy and the overarching impact they have on public health. It’s an exciting time to pave the way for pharmacists in the value-based health care model, as patients and payers recognize the benefits of involving pharmacists in health care decision making.

What’s more, it just might lead to a captivating conversation the next time somebody asks, “What do you do?”