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Combining Pharmacy and Public Health

There are so many different types of careers within the field of pharmacy—from research and drug development to pharmacy informatics! To highlight some of the more unique career settings in the industry, we’re introducing a new page on our website—Novel Pharmacy Practice Settings—where you can explore these unique career pathways.

In addition to learning more about unique pathways on our new webpage, we’ll also be featuring pharmacists who work in these unique settings on our blog. Today we’re excited to spotlight Patrick Brown, Pharm.D!

Dr. Brown is the Senior Program Manager at the North Carolina Division of Public Health, working to coordinate the COVID-19 response and vaccination efforts across the state. Learn more about how Patrick got to his position and the advice he has for other students.

Please describe your novel practice setting. What makes your career path unique?

I joined the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services as a Senior Program Manager in the Division of Public Health. Right now, I am exclusively focused on COVID-19 response, specifically working to support our COVID-19 response efforts in long-term care facilities and vaccine rollout into those facilities. I am also the operational lead for North Carolina’s community pharmacy vaccine rollout.

What led you to this career path? What steps did you take?

I entered pharmacy school thinking I wanted to be an independent pharmacy owner. But, when I was getting closer to graduation, I realized I wanted to get a broader perspective of pharmacy before making any major career decisions, so I pursued a community pharmacy residency. My residency really made me realize that I like the bigger picture stuff more than the day-to-day pharmacy operations. So I came back to UNC after graduation to pursue a fellowship where I got to continue to explore that. From there, I joined Mutual Drug, where I was lucky to spend almost five years supporting independent pharmacies in various roles. From there, I started to really think that maybe I would be interested in broadening my horizons. This opportunity came up at the NC Division of Public Health, and I decided to make the jump and move into more of a public health role. 

What does a typical workday look like for you?

Right now, most days are meeting heavy, with a focus on coordinating our vaccine rollout. It’s been an all-hands-on-deck approach at the state, and there are many moving pieces, to say the least. Most of my day-to-day is working to connect the dots between all the different teams working on vaccines and Long Term Care response at the state to our frontline providers.

Describe the most exciting or rewarding aspect of your novel practice role.

Right now, it’s being a part of the vaccine rollout. It’s a once-in-a-century moment. As overwhelming and tiresome as it can be, it’s pretty incredible to be helping to coordinate this effort.

Describe the most challenging aspect of your role.

It’s all of the moving pieces. This is a monumental undertaking, trying to roll out vaccines to the 10+ million North Carolinians. So it’s about the speed at which we have to move, especially since I joined after the rollout had already started.

How can someone learn more about this unique practice setting and the career opportunities it presents for pharmacists? 

There are a surprising number of pharmacists involved in this effort. If pharmacists are interested in public health, I think the biggest thing is finding ways to network outside of conventional pharmacy circles. Go to meetings, lectures, and symposiums that aren’t just pharmacy-related but are healthcare-related. The other thing is to look into jobs that don’t necessarily have ‘pharmacist’ in the title. Throw your name in the hat. The hiring manager may have never considered a pharmacist for a role, only for it to prove to be a perfect fit. That’s how I found my way to this current position.

What advice would you give to a current student pharmacist who is interested in pursuing a similar type of practice role in the future?

There are many dual-degree MPH programs available at pharmacy schools across the country. For students who are really interested in public health, that would be an excellent way to broaden their horizons. And always keep an eye out for internships or fellowships and lean on the student affairs offices to connect with others in similar roles. Make sure to find ways to network with public health students.

Share a brief story about a time you had a positive impact on a patient, population, or community in your role as a pharmacist.

In my current role, the most impactful thing we are doing is trying to help long-term care facilities gain access to COVID-19 vaccines. It’s been especially rewarding to connect long-term care facilities and group homes that have not been able to get their residents and staff vaccinated to pharmacists in their communities that can help. The relief in someone’s voice when they hear that a vaccine event has been scheduled for them can be quite powerful. We still have a long way to go, but it’s nice to contribute to the effort to get back to normal. 

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