Renu Lal, PharmD, is a Team Lead in the Division of Drug Information (DDI) within the Food and Drug Administration/Center for Drug Evaluation and Research/Office of Communications. Along with directly communicating with the public, the Division is responsible for many initiatives and outreach programs such as the CDER Small Business and Industry Assistance (SBIA) Program; FDA Drug Info Rounds video; Drug Safety podcasts; Drug Information Soundcast in Clinical Oncology (D.I.S.C.O.), Webinars for healthcare professionals and students, and more. Renu is an officer in the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service (U.S. PHS), a uniformed service committed to protecting, promoting, and advancing the health and safety of the nation.
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Dr. Renu Lal’s path from pharmacy school to the U.S. Public Health Service was not a direct one. She earned her BS Degree in Pharmacy from UCONN in 1998. Then, she earned her Post-Bac PharmD from the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston in 2000. Renu did not know what she wanted to do with her PharmD when she graduated. According to Renu, “It’s ok to not know and make it up as you go along.” She spent time in community practice as a floater, then entered the U.S. PHS. Her PHS service was interrupted briefly when she left PHS to join a clinical regulatory team at Genentech in San Francisco, CA. When that role ended, she rejoined PHS. As of October 2021, her total service time is approximately 10 years.
While in her undergrad program at UCONN, Renu learned about PHS. A speaker from the Indian Health Service spoke to her class. After finishing her BS Degree in Pharmacy, Renu joined the U.S. PHS as a JRCOSTEP and completed a paid, 4-month rotation at a Psych Hospital in SE DC called St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. She loved the experience and thought it was amazing!
Students can join either the JRCOSTEP Program or the SRCOSTEP Program. Both are paid positions with benefits. Visit https://www.usphs.gov/students/ to learn more.
During our conversation, I talked about my experience with PHS at the Federal Bureau of Prisons. I did an 8-week rotation at FCI Milan during the last semester of my BS Pharm Degree program at The University of Toledo College of Pharmacy in 2001. My pharmacist in charge was creative and resourceful, and she did amazing things with a small formulary. I learned a lot from her and that experience. I wanted to join the Navy upon graduation, but I was medically disqualified due to asthma.
The United States Public Health Service (U.S. PHS) is led by the Surgeon General of the U.S. and is more than 200 years old. It is one of eight uniformed services and is the only one dedicated solely to protecting and advancing America’s Public Health. As a U.S. PHS Officer, Renu is first in line to defend America from public health threats, including deploying for public health emergencies. She has deployed many times and provided essential healthcare to underserved and vulnerable populations. The U.S. Public Health Service used to be “pharmacy’s best kept secret,” but that’s not true anymore because PHS has played a prominent role in response to COVID.
As a PHS Officer, there is an opportunity to serve in many HHS (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) agencies. Examples include IHS (Indian Health Service), BOP (Federal Bureau of Prisons), NIH (National Institutes of Health), CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), FDA (Food and Drug Administration), EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), and others. Being an Officer makes it easy to transfer among agencies.
According to Renu, PHS Officer benefits are great! They are on the military pay scale with paid vacation, retirement benefits (with minimum of 20 years of service), medical benefits, the GI Bill and more. To learn more about age restrictions and eligibility requirements to serve, visit https://www.usphs.gov.
Resources that DDI (Department of Drug Information) offers
- FDA Drug Safety Podcasts
- Drug Information Soundcast in Clinical Oncology “D.I.S.C.O.”
- SBIA Chronicles (trending regulatory topics)
CDER Learn – portal for all CE activities. Webinars and podcasts are there.
We concluded the interview with Renu’s advice for currently-practicing or newly graduated pharmacists: Do and learn what interests you, and the rest will fall into place.
Thank you for listening to The Pharmacist’s Voice ® Podcast Episode 123!
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