Written By: Chelsea McFadden, Second-Year Student Pharmacist

Best characterized by the Churchillian phrase “[…] a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) is unfamiliar to many students when they enter the School of Pharmacy. Recently retired from the USPHS Commissioned Corps, Capt. James Bresette, PharmD ’97, began fielding numerous inquiries from students across Maryland’s three schools of pharmacy who were interested in pursuing careers with the organization, but were not sure where to start. He believed that the most effective way to address their questions was to connect the students with each other, as well as with current USPHS officers, and in 2014, he launched a teleconference series with two student pharmacists from the School to shed light on the many opportunities available to pharmacists with the USPHS.

Getting an Inside Look

Francis Nguyen, PharmD ‘16, and Huan Tran, a fourth-year student pharmacist and Senior Commissioned Officer Student Training and Extern Program (SRCOSTEP) recipient, partnered with Capt. Bresette to create a network between the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy (UMSOP); the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore (UMES) School of Pharmacy; and Notre Dame of Maryland University (NDMU) School of Pharmacy and launch the teleconference series. Through the teleconference series, junior officers with the USPHS share their experiences in the Commissioned Officer Student Training and Extern Program (COSTEP), as Indian Health Service (HIS) residents, and as new Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) graduates to help current students better understand what career opportunities might be available to them in the future. These calls have aided students applying for the Junior Commissioned Officer Student Training and Extern Program (JRCOSTEP), SRCOSTEP, USPHS rotations, and IHS residencies, as well as illuminated the diversity of careers available within the USPHS.

Following My Passions

It was truly divine intervention that brought Capt. Bresette and I together at the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) Annual Meeting in 2016. I was speaking with a friend about my interests in global public health, international development, cultural competence, and underserved populations, but noted that I was not sure which path might be best to take to help fulfill my goals. The beauty of being at APhA’s Annual Meeting was that I was in the perfect place to make connections with an organization like the USPHS, as several of its agencies were in attendance. I met Huan Tran and Kenneth Doan, a third-year student pharmacist at the School, who introduced me to a group of graduates from the School of Pharmacy who have gone on to serve in the USPHS Commissioned Corps. Through my interactions with that group, I had an opportunity to meet Lt. Eric Wong, PharmD ‘13, Lt.  Kinbo Lee, PharmD ‘15, and Capt. Bresette, with whom I spoke about my interests in global public health and community development on an international and national scale.

Capt. Bresette told me that the USPHS has agencies across the country that practice pharmacy in a manner that I found very interesting. He spoke with me about the IHS, and explained how I could work in states like Arizona and Alaska serving Native American tribes. He also mentioned deployment opportunities for disaster and emergency relief efforts across the country, and told me about some agencies that offer international locations. Hearing the officers’ experiences and learning how much they truly loved what they do further solidified my interest in the USPHS. They have a balanced work life and gain a sense of purpose from knowing that their work is making a positive impact in the lives of others. That was all I needed to hear to sell me on this career opportunity.

Making My Mark

After speaking with Capt. Bresette about my interests, he asked me to lead the teleconference series. I was honored to be offered this role, and graciously accepted. The conference call series became my baby, and I started to think about ways that we could expand and improve upon it from previous years. I wanted to increase student interest and awareness about the multitude of opportunities available with the USPHS, diversify the series by including officers from new agencies, and expand it to other schools of pharmacy. And, I am happy to report that I have been able to accomplish some of these goals by identifying more officers to speak on our series and leveraging established relationships to expand the series to those officers’ colleagues. We have now heard from an officer with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one who transitioned from civilian status to the commissioned corps, and senior officers from the USPHS University Point of Contact Program. Overseeing the series has also put me in contact with officers from numerous agencies, exposing me to areas of pharmacy that I did not even know existed. More than ever, I believe it is crucial that pharmacy students realize just how many different career opportunities are available to them after graduation.

Spreading the Word

I currently have two colleagues from UMES and NDMU who co-lead this series with me. Our group also launched a Facebook page titled USPHS Student Opportunities Conference Call Series (Maryland) where students can request access to join and view upcoming conference call times, call minutes, and other informational materials. The conference calls are held on a monthly basis throughout the fall semester to aid students applying for opportunities such as COSTEPs, IHS residencies, and Food and Drug Administration rotations, as well as to expose students to the multiple routes available for them to become a commissioned officer. Even if students are not interested in the public health service, I highly encourage them to attend at least one conference call, as they truly are excellent networking and development opportunities. Our final call of the season will be held on Tuesday, November 29, from 6-7 p.m., but we are always open to holding more calls in the spring if students are interested.

In addition, I am looking for more students who are passionate about the USPHS to serve as future co-leads and to continue expansion of the series. I encourage student pharmacists to realize the importance of the USPHS’s mission – “to protect, promote, and advance the health and safety of our Nation” – and learn how they can mold their education to align with this mission. For any questions about how to get involved with this series, please feel free to contact our team:


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  • This a valuable shared project among Maryland’s three pharmacy schools led and implemented by a talented team of student leaders from the three institutions. The team’s successful expansion of student and USPHS officer voices and perspectives has produced a USPHS student opportunities conference call series rich in informational content beyond what is publicly available. The thoughtful and careful series planning has yielded a diverse and uniquely targeted exchange among the USPHS officers and the students. Compliments to the team of McFadden, Sindhi, Huynh and Andre for their efforts.

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