Your patient is pregnant and has the plague. Thankfully, it’s not 1593 and there are a number of antibiotics available. But how well has each performed for expectant mothers? What are the risks of birth defects or complications?
Professionals turn to people like Emmy Tran ’17 for insights into this kind of public health question. A 2017 pharmacy graduate from the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), Tran is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science Education (ORISE) fellow in the Birth Defects Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) where she is part of a team that analyzes associations between medications and birth defects.
Since pregnant women are often not included in studies that determine the safety of new medications, one of Tran’s roles as an ORISE fellow is to analyze observational studies, such as the National Birth Defect Prevention Study. She mainly works on projects focusing on medications commonly used during pregnancy, like benzodiazepines, opioids, influenza antiviral medications, and the antibiotics considered for plague. She reads journals, collaborates on manuscripts and articles in the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, and provides a pharmacist’s insight to her public health colleagues.
“Every day is different,” said Tran. “I enjoy investigating drug use patterns in specific populations and feel like I’m contributing something unique by adding a pharmacist’s perspective to the team.” There are less than 40 pharmacists CDC-wide, and Tran is one of two in the Birth Defects Branch.
Tran herself earned a dual PharmD/MPH degree while at MUSC, which she encourages for students interested in the kind of work she does. She also recommends creating public health related projects during rotations, such as writing newsletters or conducting small studies. On top of her didactics, she was also a Dr. Raymond S. Greenberg Presidential Scholar, which provided her with experience in partnering with outside organizations to meet the needs of the community. Opportunities such as these help students who are passionate about public health stand out from the crowd.
Getting a rotation at CDC can be challenging, since the program is coordinated entirely by volunteer support and the limited spots are highly competitive. She advises three things for students interested in getting a CDC rotation:
- Show an interest in pursuing an MPH/already have one
- Have a strong interest in a career in government
- Have experience in public health activities either in their extracurricular roles or within the projects they choose during pharmacy school
While she doesn’t have the immediate satisfaction of helping patients directly each day, her contribution to the overall health of thousands brings its own rewards. The job also offers an important benefit often in short supply in pharmacy.
“I work full-time, but I do have flexibility in making my day-to-day work schedule,” she said. “I know work life balance for pharmacists can vary depending on the work setting, and I can confidently say that I am happy where I am!”