- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2008

There’s a new pharmacist in Germantown, but she’s determined not to be a stranger for long.

Giao Phung is one of CVS’s newest druggists. She works in an area where she has lived for six years, and her ready rapport with customers - she already knows many people by first names - is making trust-building easy.

“As a pharmacist, you are the first line of communication with the patient,” she said. “You’re always going to be there whenever people need you. That’s how you build trust in the community.”

Miss Phung, 24, graduated from Howard University’s six-year program at the School of Pharmacy in May, but the career she is just embarking upon has been a long time in coming - ever since she worked as part of a traveling health-care team in the country where she was born. Since moving to the United States from Vietnam at the age of 10, Miss Phung traveled with her aunt seven times to remote regions of Vietnam to set up missionary health clinics.

“In my country, seeing a doctor is very hard,” she said. “You have to have money - you have to know someone. Being a pharmacist here is what I would do when I went over there.”

Now she fills prescriptions and counsels patients about medications. And said she loves the emphasis that her company places on patient education.

“That’s why I’m attracted to CVS,” Miss Phung said. “We’re doing a lot of community outreach, and I wanted to do as much of that as possible to give back to the community.”

Miss Phung is only one of the 38 percent of fellow Howard-graduated pharmacists to get hired by CVS, one of the largest employers of pharmacists, with 23,000 working at 6,300 stores nationwide. The pharmacy and the university have teamed up to train and hire pharmacy students and graduates, with internships at CVS, guest lectures and mentorships from CVS pharmacists and a $300,000 donation from CVS to build a new lab in the school.

“If we were going to be training students to practice in the workplace, then we needed to have a training experience that simulated the real work place,” said Beatrice Adderly-Kelly, dean of the College of Pharmacy, Nursing and Allied Health Services at Howard of the lab, which will begin operating this fall. “This new lab will really do that for us.”

As the number of prescription medications on the market grows and the population ages, the demand for pharmacists to dispense them grows as well. CVS has increased its pharmacy hires by 45 percent over the past three years, and the CVS-Howard pipeline both fills the CVS-staffing need and provides jobs to graduates. Even if graduates don’t go on to work at CVS, the pharmaceutical industry is in such great need of pharmacists that they don’t have trouble finding jobs, said Mrs. Adderly-Kelly. And starting salaries are attractive, too: $70,000 or more.

CVS and Howard officials say the new lab will aid the school’s mission to train pharmacists with practical training in a simulated pharmacy environment.

“These types of facilities are very important for students to get as much experience as possible before graduating,” said Papatya Tankut, CVS vice president of pharmacy and professional services. “We’re always looking for skilled pharmacists who can work with our patients. They’ve become an integral part of the health-delivery team.”

She said that besides filling prescription bottles, pharmacists must make sure patients know what medications they take and how to take them, how the drugs might affect them and how different drugs might interact with each other.

The number of medications makes chemical interactions between drugs more common than in the past, and CVS Area Vice President Gordon Howard said pharmacists at his company are taking a more active approach to their jobs by emphasizing patient education. Recent Howard graduate Joe Shin agreed.

“As pharmacists, we’re the experts on the medications,” he said. “We take the scientific information and help people understand what they’re taking. We give it that personal touch.”

Mr. Shin, 28, graduated from Howard in May and is working as a pharmacist’s assistant at a CVS pharmacy in Annandale until he takes his licensing exams in August. While in school, he worked on rotation at the Food and Drug Administration, Andrews Air Force Base, Howard University Hospital and an apothecary.

“I love science and I love math,” said Mr. Shin, who already had a degree in life sciences before he attended pharmacy school. “I also wanted to do something where I could have an impact on society in general. So it only made sense for me to go into pharmacy.”

Now he arrives at work at 8 a.m. - Mondays tend to be busy, he said, because of the weekend slowdown on doctor visits - where he puts inventory in order, fills prescriptions and checks on insurance claims. He calls doctors throughout his day to get prescription instructions clarified for patients.

“We have a big role on what goes on in a health care system,” he said. “There’s a good synergism between the two - the doctor and the pharmacist. We work together.”



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