Coast Guard Pharmacist CDR Stephanie Begansky joins me today to talk about her experience in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. She was named 2022 USCG Pharmacist of the Year, and she’s a role model for the profession of pharmacy. If you’re a pharmacist or a pharmacy student exploring your career options, you need to listen to this episode.
CDR Stephanie Begansky, PharmD, BCACP, currently works as a Regional Pharmacy Executive for the US Coast Guard (USCG) and is stationed at USCG Base Elizabeth City in Elizabeth City, NC. She was awarded her PharmD from Wilkes University in 2008. In addition to her pharmacy degree, CDR Begansky, holds a Master of Legal Studies degree from Catholic University (2016) and a Certificate of Global Health from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (2020).
CDR Begansky was commissioned into the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) as a pharmacy officer in 2008. She began her career with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Silver Spring, Maryland, serving as a reviewer for direct to consumer drug advertisements in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) Office of Prescription Drug Promotion. She was later recruited by the FDA/CDER/Division of Drug Information where she spent time working as a drug information pharmacist for the Agency. Her experience there led her to a position in the Agency’s Advisory Committee Staff where she served as the Designated Federal Official dealing with pain and addiction products. Before leaving the Agency in 2019, CDR Begansky was the FDA/CDER/Office of New Drugs (OND) Associate Director for Regulatory Affairs, helping to build a policy office within the Office of New Drugs with a strong focus in opioid policymaking.
CDR Begansky earned her Board Certification in Ambulatory Care Pharmacy in 2018. In January 2019, Begansky left FDA to explore the world of ambulatory care pharmacy, remaining in the USPHS. She was hired as a staff outpatient pharmacist with the Indian Health Service at the Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority (CIHA) in Cherokee, North Carolina. In October 2019, she was selected as Lead Outpatient Pharmacist where she oversaw an outpatient pharmacy that serves 15,000 Native American patients, filling an average of 1500 prescriptions a day. During the COVID-19 pandemic, CDR Begansky was selected to lead the CIHA Incident Command COVID 19 Screening and Testing Planning and Operations units leading to one of the nation’s earliest and largest drive thru testing sites. She also planned and operationalized a standalone COVID clinic for the CIHA before being transferred to the USCG. At the USCG, CDR Begansky is responsible for the oversight of USCG pharmaceutical services in 7 states, including coastal North Carolina and the states along the Great Lakes. She was named USCG Pharmacist of the Year in 2022.
Links from this episode
USPHS Commissioned Corps https://www.usphs.gov/
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Highlights from our conversation
Early in her career, Stephanie said, “I want to be a pharmacist at the beach.” She found what she was looking for! Once a position opened up, she started her 5-year assignment with the US Coast Guard in Elizabeth City, NC. Stephanie is one of 17 US Coast Guard pharmacists.
The path to the US Coast Guard
Stephanie learned about Public Health Service as a career opportunity for pharmacists while on a rotation with the FDA in pharmacy school. Once commissioned, she worked for FDA, the Indian Health Service (at a Cherokee Indian Hospital in Cherokee, North Carolina), and finally the US Coast Guard. Her roles have ranged from project management/regulatory to clinical and logistical roles.
Serving aboard the USNS Comfort
In 2009, Stephanie served aboard the USNS Comfort (hospital ship) in Central America for about a month. According to her, “It was an awesome experience!” It was a humanitarian mission called, “Continuing Promise.” She served as a pharmacist both aboard the ship and in-country [Central America]. She dispensed medications to patients. Other healthcare professionals were also part of the mission. Oral surgeons helped cleft palate patients. Physicians, dentists, and optometrists cared for patients who had limited access to care. According to Stephanie, they were busy, long, hot, memorable days. It was one of the highlights of her career.
Every role has its challenges
One of the biggest challenges of Stephanie’s career was the COVID pandemic. She was working for the Indian Health Service in 2020 [as the pandemic started]. She worked with the tribal leaders and the leadership at her hospital to launch one of the first COVID testing sites in the US!
How does one succeed in the Public Health Service or the US Coast Guard as a pharmacist?
“Semper Gumby!” Be flexible, and go with the flow. Be fluid and able to fill in gaps.
Promotions and advancing rank
Pharmacists start with the rank of Lieutenant (LT). Stephanie is a Commander (CDR). Years of service, experience, training, paperwork, and meeting benchmarks are part of the promotion process. It’s competitive, and pharmacists compete against other pharmacists.
Should pharmacists join the Public Health Service?
Stephanie highly recommends looking into the Public Health Service! There are a variety of settings (Coast Guard, FDA, etc) and roles (clinical, regulatory, etc) available. On-the-job training is provided.
My (Kim’s) thoughts on working with a PHS Pharmacist during a rotation in pharmacy school
I did an 8-week rotation at a Federal Correctional Institution with a PHS Pharmacist in 2001. It was a great experience. The medical staff worked as a team. As part of my rotation, I observed doctors, physician’s assistants, the dentist, and the pharmacist. All staff were creative and resourceful with treatments, especially the pharmacist, who had a limited formulary. I had a meaningful and busy 8-week rotation.
Advice for pharmacists (either new grads or currently-practicing pharmacists)
- Try to make the best of any situation or opportunity that you have.
- If you see somebody in a position that you wish you were in, “cold call” them, and reach out to them.
- Many pharmacists are willing to take a few minutes to help out a fellow pharmacist.
What’s next for CDR Stephanie Begansky?
As of Fall 2022, Stephanie has served 14.5 years. She plans to retire at her 20-year mark. What’s next? No plans yet.
Thank you for listening to episode 187 of The Pharmacist’s Voice ® Podcast!