USP experts discuss non-traditional careers in Pharmacy beyond the Pharmacy Counter

Pharmacy Times® interviewed Diana Kwan, PharmD, proof of concept research manager, Digital & Innovation, USP, and Misti Spann, PharmD, chief scientist, Nomenclature and Labeling, USP, to learn more about unconventional career paths in pharmacy. such as those in the USP.

Alana Hippensteele, MA: Hi, I’m Alana Hippensteele Pharmacy Times. Every year in March, thousands of student pharmacists across the United States are “matched” to hospital and community pharmacy residency positions. In 2023, the match day is March 15.

On this Match Day, many student pharmacists will move into traditional pharmacy roles. However, there are many other non-pharmacy careers that students are less familiar with.

Today, USP staff pharmacists Diana Kwan, PharmD and Misti Spann, PharmD, share stories about some of these options. Diana Kwan, Digital & Innovation concept research director; and Misti Spann is Principal Scientist, Nomenclature and Labeling. Today, they’re joining me to discuss some non-traditional pharmacy careers beyond the pharmacy counter.

You are both trained pharmacists working at USP. Diana, can you start by reminding the audience what USP does, and then talk a little bit about your background and your role?

Diana Kwan, PharmD:Sure, thanks, Alana. For those unfamiliar with USPs, we set quality standards for medicines, dietary supplements and foods around the world. For example, we have standards for compounding and handling dangerous drugs. Patients may be familiar with our USP-certified work in dietary supplements. I have been very fortunate to work in various roles at USP for about 7 years with my wonderful colleagues, including Misti here. In my first role, I was an intern at pharmacy school, working on a patient safety project during a wonderful summer in DC. I later returned as a full-time employee and liaison between USP and our expert volunteers, focusing on drug classification and patient safety. In my current role, I work in USP’s Digital & Innovation division as a researcher to develop research reports on science and technologies that can support USP’s understanding and decision-making, such as “permanent chemicals” or PFAS, as well as technologies. virtual reality for training and ChatGPT, the newest open AI chatbot.

Hippenssteele: That’s really interesting. Misti, can you tell us a little about your background and your role at USP?

Misti Spann, PharmD: Of course. I actually have a non-traditional background. I was a chemist for several years and then became a quality manager in the pharmaceutical industry. And I did it for over 13 years before becoming a pharmacist. And now I have been a pharmacist for almost 9 years. I did hospital pharmacy for a while, and then I started finding ways to combine my quality chemistry and pharmacy experience. That led me to NIH before I came to USP, and USP was looking for someone with a specialty in chemistry and pharmacy. And that’s how I ended up in the role I have today.

Hippenssteele: That is very interesting. Misty and Diana, what is your best memory or experience of recent years in terms of your contributions to public health?

Kwan: My favorite memory is working in the early years of COVID, because the work felt so meaningful to me. I helped with the toolkit for managing COVID vaccines. It helped pharmacists maximize the number of doses prepared, which was crucial when vaccines were in short supply, and this was a huge team effort. I also gained international experience working with pharmacopoeias around the world, including members of the WHO World Pharmacopoeia International Meeting. Because you have to remember, there were a lot of unknowns at the beginning of the pandemic. We wanted and needed the best information at our fingertips, including which drugs were being tested and worked for COVID. So I helped develop a dashboard to identify monographs of investigational drugs for COVID-19.

Spann: I also helped with the COVID-19 work. An asset named Visual Inspection Guide was created. It was included in the international version of USP’s vaccine management tool for COVID vaccines. I had to use my background and industry to help create something to help pharmacists how to audit and inspect their vaccines to see if they were counterfeit or substandard. I was really happy to contribute in that way. Additionally, I helped our Expert Committee draft a standard for updating expiration date formats that will become official on September 1st of this year. And it will be a big game changer for the industry and for us to help our patients understand when their medicines expire.

Hippenssteele: And that is really important. Yes, interesting. So Diana, what are some other roles or professions for pharmacists at USP?

Kwan: I believe that pharmacists bring a unique and valuable experience and perspective to USP. It’s a great place to bring it. You can use the training you have received at school and help fulfill USP’s truly important global mission. We have pharmacists working with our expert volunteers in our Science division, doing important work. We also have pharmacists working in our Legal, Public Policy and Scientific Affairs departments, shaping our public policy and science. Within Digital & Innovation we have pharmacists working to translate our standards into electronic systems and software and machine-readable data workflows. So there are many options.

Hippenssteele: Yes, that’s really interesting. So Misti, do roles for pharmacists at USP and other less traditional roles for pharmacists include opportunities to continue working directly with patients?

Spann: Some yes and some no. It really depends on the definition of work. But they all have a patient impact. And that’s something that’s important to us as pharmacists, to be able to have a big impact on the patient, whatever the role. And so here at USP, that’s what we do. We don’t do direct patient care, but we have a big impact there. But there are other positions that may exist in clinics and other settings that are non-traditional and will involve direct patient care.

Hippenssteele: Good Diana, what innate talents or abilities are critical or at least helpful for a successful pharmacy career? And do you think that hard work alone is enough?

Kwan: Oh, hard work is really important. But other skills that have helped me are curiosity, I think. Not just understanding what’s in front of you, but understanding global trends on issues that people care about. Also, being helpful, trying to add value and having pride. Pharmacists are playing a role in all areas of healthcare, now more than ever.

Hippenssteele: And Misti, what other opportunities do you know of that offer exciting alternative pathways for those with a pharmacy degree?

Spann: Well, there are many, Alana. We can work in bariatric centers, we can work as labeling reviewers, and we can work on drug safety for industry or regulatory associations. We can be inspectors of the Pharmacy Boards. We can work in drug information or other regulatory roles, as well as in consumer protection or public health roles, for both private industry and the public sector. And I know people in all these fields. And we can do much more than that in pharmacy.

Hippenssteele: Good That’s really fascinating. Misti and Diana, what would you say to other pharmacists who are considering non-traditional career paths or volunteering with USP? And let’s start with Diana.

Kwan: Yes, I love this question because I want to encourage as many people as possible to volunteer, I enjoyed working with our volunteers. But to participate and consider a diverse career, I would suggest getting a non-traditional professional career, diverse experience. You know, take advantage of rotation opportunities when you’re a student, try to get different experiences. For example, at USP, students come on a rotating basis. And they’ve had different roles with pharmaceutical manufacturing companies, the FDA and elsewhere. So I think that’s really helpful for a diverse experience.

Spann: I agree with Diana, and I would also encourage people to find something that might be a little different to explore. Find a niche and find a mentor who can help you if you are a student. Maybe something that was mentioned in one of your classes, a professional development course. Search for it and find more information about it. There are people: we have volunteers who work on our Board of Shipping and Distribution Experts. They serve as experts on the subject of dietary supplements or excipients because they have actually played roles in those areas. And the most important part of being a pharmacist in those areas is that you can bring a health-related perspective to a topic that someone else can’t. So we love having our expert volunteers, but by learning and working with them and finding pharmacists in this field, we know how much more places we can be and work with. So even if you’re at a conference and you see a company that might be a little different, I would recommend going up and talking to them and learning something new. You may find something you never thought about or wanted to do that piques your interest. So don’t be afraid to explore and push yourself out of bounds.

Editor’s Note: For more information on careers at USP, visit For more information on how to volunteer at USP, go here.

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