Student Spotlight: Alaina Austel

Meet the 2017-18 Associated Students of the School of Pharmacy President, Alaina Austel, a third-year student who shares a few of her experiences at the USC School of Pharmacy, her reflections on pharmacy as a career path, and advice for incoming students.

What attracted you to the field of pharmacy?

My first taste of the pharmacy field was a pharmacology/toxicology class at my undergraduate university, UC San Diego. But my real interest in pharmacy started when a Trojan alumnus pharmacist, Dr. John McGady, sat with me over a meal to talk about my career path. We talked about the new opportunities opening up for pharmacists, the benefits of working in healthcare, and the joy in helping heal people. Now as I continue my education at the USC School of Pharmacy, I find that pharmacists are not only trusted and respected pillars of the community, but also a strong advocate and voice for patient safety. Some may say that pharmacy is purely scientific, demanding intense knowledge of medication profiles, but I say that pharmacy is also an art. We build on our scientific foundation with an understanding that warmth, empathy, and grace can surpass any medication treatment. That is why I love pharmacy and am proud to be at this school.

Why did you choose USC School of Pharmacy for your degree?

USC School of Pharmacy was my first choice because of the Trojan family network and the amazing opportunities in the heart of Los Angeles. I was attracted to the unique and stimulating educational environment, which aims to combine collaborative classroom knowledge with real world application through service. Residing in Los Angeles was a huge incentive for me because I have family who live in Los Angeles, and I wanted to give back to the city where I was raised.

What makes the school special? What sets it apart from others, in your opinion?

When I started attending the USC School of Pharmacy, I never expected to be so inspired by its student body. Honestly, the drive of my classmates encourages me to push myself to be a better student and future pharmacist. Student leadership sets our school apart and can be seen by the many student-run organizations that host health fairs, clinics and education opportunities for the public.

What has surprised you the most about the school or the curriculum?

The number of learning opportunities and connections in niche pharmacy settings, like travel medicine, specialty pharmacies, and ambulatory care surprised me. I first believed that I would only get to shadow and rotate in community and inpatient pharmacies, but the introductory pharmacy practice experience (IPPE) program can allow students to rotate in specialty clinics and managed care sites.

What are the advantages of being on a health sciences campus in Los Angeles?

Being on a health science campus allows students easy access to hospitals, clinics, and research opportunities that would be difficult to find on a general campus. It allows the faculty to connect with more people specializing in clinical pharmacy so they can get special lecturers to come speak with us. It also provides a sense of familiarity for the students on rotation at hospitals on the campus.

Los Angeles is such a large city, home to a vast number of communities, hospitals, and pharmacy opportunities. Many USC School of Pharmacy alumni work and reside in Southern California, so the alumni network presence is very strong at the school. The health disparities in Los Angeles give students the opportunity to practice pharmacy in real settings and continue to remind the us to be health advocates for marginalized populations. Students can find many places to work, both at community or inpatient facilities, and can also find many fun experiences to relax and bond with other classmates.

What are your career aspirations?

Since I am only in my third year in pharmacy school, I feel my career aspirations are still very open to change. As I experience and shadow different pharmacists, I am beginning to shape where I want to go. As of this moment, one of my career goals is to work in acute care setting, with an emphasis in cardiology, critical care, or internal medicine. Seeing acute care pharmacists round with doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals interests me, so I am working towards a PGY1 residency to provide me with the clinical knowledge to work well in that interdisciplinary setting.

What advice do you have for incoming pharmacy students?

My advice for incoming students is to take full advantage of the diverse opportunities here at the USC School of Pharmacy by getting involved in classes and extracurricular organizations. Develop strong friendships with your peers, utilize the many resources provided by USC, and grow your leadership skills. I encourage our student body to join together with other graduate programs and our esteemed alumni to continue cultivating innovative projects to advance the field of pharmacy.