Never Say Never

Never say never.  I still remember when I looked at the pharmacy director in the eye & said “I will never work for the IHS.”

Those were the days when my commute was walking down the hill to the Whiteriver hospital from the government trailers just 2 minutes away. The thing I looked forward to the most was walking back up the hill at the end of the day.  I had just finished an FDA rotation and couldn’t imagine myself working anywhere else.
I couldn’t wait to start my job there.  I wanted to work there after I graduated from pharmacy school, and they were excited about hiring me.  I was ready to just be finished & moved to D.C., but I had to go to Whiteriver first for another rotation.  Prior to being in D.C., I had just started to fall in love with having adventures and traveling while studying at Oxford University, and could not imagine living in the middle of nowhere where people thought I was a foreign exchange student  (On a softball field after a day at the Whiteriver hospital, I was asked if I was a foreign exchange student).

Whiteriver Indian Hospital: My first IHS home…would it be my last?

And then there was the pharmacy director at Whiteriver. He used to grill me.  I thought about how much I didn’t know, and that I really didn’t want to be working in a pharmacy anyway.  As much as I liked working with the patients at Whiteriver, talking on the phone all day long at the FDA Drug Information Branch was a much better fit for me.  At least I’d be able to look things up when people had questions.  I remember saying adamantly to the pharmacy director at Whiteriver, “I will never work for the IHS…I’m going to work for the FDA.”

He said to me, “Never say never” and I rolled my eyes to myself.

But my path took an unexpected turn when I was offered to cover an Indian Health Service travel assignment the summer before starting at the FDA. I thought what a great opportunity that was.  I could go have an adventure at a less remote IHS site and make money to travel in Europe.

Ok, I admit it.  It grew on me.  I ended up liking it. And I unexpectedly ended up meeting my now husband in Europe after that IHS travel assignment, and the rest is something I wish I didn’t have to admit to the pharmacy director at Whiteriver–he was right.  Never say never.  I ended up working at IHS/tribal sites instead of working for the FDA, because it allowed me the flexibility of doing my external PharmD and travel to see my now husband who was living in Europe at the time.

After contracting at IHS sites for a few years, I decided to start & grow RPh Temp Service because I noticed pharmacy directors would complain about being sent just a “warm body” by temp agencies. I wanted to raise the bar of of contract pharmacists available to the IHS, so pharmacy directors didn’t have to settle for warm bodies.

I wanted the pharmacy directors to feel as if their temp staff seemed like part of their permanent staff— pharmacists who would jump in wherever needed, knew what they were doing, had strong work ethic, and who appreciated Native American culture.

RPh Temp Service started out by connecting recently retired IHS pharmacists (and people who made IHS contracting a career) with IHS travel assignments. It evolved to include pharmacists with IHS experience who were in-between job situations, including those who recently finished residencies.  It gave them the opportunity to travel and have time off when they wanted to, while they figured out their next career move.

It’s been very rewarding to offer IHS-experienced pharmacists access to assignments they aren’t able to access through other agencies.

Now, are you ready to hear the kicker to the “Never say never”? Now the previous pharmacy director at Whiteriver where I did my rotation works with our company.  Who would have thought?

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About Chen Yen, PharmD

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