Classroom to Career

Health Sciences
August 03, 2022

Teenagers in need of extra money often resort to the typical roles of babysitting, waiting tables, or dog walking as a first job. That was the case for Gidion Adjei, who was working a fast food gig during his senior year at West Potomac High School, but growing weary and eager to find something more rewarding. When his Pharmacy Technician teacher told him about a partnership between FCPS and Giant Pharmacy that would allow him to earn school credit, get hands-on experience, and potentially lead to a paid position, Gidion knew he had to jump on the opportunity. 

“I was quiet in most of my classes, but in Pharmacy Tech I was very engaged,” Gidion said. “When I found out about the internship program I knew I wanted to do it because I knew I could get a job out of it. And I want to be a pharmacist, so I knew it would boost me up in my career too.”

Once the paperwork was complete and his lab jacket was fitted, Gidion began reporting to Giant a couple of days a week, shadowing pharmacists, processing prescriptions, and dealing with patient insurance. The 2021-2022 school year was the first time students were able to do the internship for Career and Technical Education (CTE) course credit. Giant’s District Pharmacy Manager Erin Meerzaman says the tasks assigned to interns aligns with the material students are learning in the classroom. 

“We really work with the teachers in making sure the curriculum they’re given matches up with the experience they’re getting at the pharmacy,” Meerzaman said. “So when they’re learning about calculating dosing, that’s something they practice at the pharmacy. Not only do they study it, but now they are also able to perform it.”

Gidion continued, “I was able to get more familiar with the drug names. For me to learn I have to see something multiple times and interact with the drugs multiple times. In the classroom that wouldn't happen.”

West Potomac Academy Pharmacy Tech teacher Aiman Shaikh is well aware of the constraints of the classroom, because she went through the FCPS Pharmacy Tech program herself at Chantilly Academy years ago, before going on to college and eventually earning her a doctorate in pharmacy. During her first year of teaching this past year, she saw firsthand how the FCPS partnership with Giant helped her students succeed and pass their exams. 

“The internship component is so powerful,” Shaikh said. “I can only teach so much with PowerPoints and our labs. But when you are in the pharmacy dealing with real patients and real electronic systems, it’s a whole different experience.”

After just a couple months as an intern, Gidion was hired as a paid employee, and has become a valued member of the Giant pharmacy staff. He’s working through the summer at the pharmacy before heading to Norfolk State University where he plans to study biology this fall and pursue a career in pharmacy. 

“I always wanted to do something in the medical field,” Gidion said. “Before this program I wasn’t sure what exactly I wanted to do. The internship really opened up this option for me.”

Annie Phan started working at Giant Pharmacy five years ago during her senior year at South County High School. At the time, she was looking at all career options and was curious about pharmacy. Today, she still works at the pharmacy and is also pursuing a master’s degree in education at Virginia Commonwealth University. Although she ultimately decided against a profession in the medical field, she’s thankful for the skills she learned while working behind the pharmacy counter. 

“Before working at Giant, I was so nervous and so shy to even talk on the phone with anyone,” Phan said. “Now it’s a breeze to pick up the phone and talk to anyone. My communication skills have improved a lot.”

Lam To, a junior at George Mason University studying neuroscience, wants to be a doctor one day. She enjoyed working as a pharmacy tech at Giant during her senior year at West Potomac High School because she was able to create her own schedule and the hours were flexible. 

“I only worked weekends during high school because I wanted to focus on my studies. I completed around 12 hours every week,” To said. “It really taught me the responsibility of balancing school and work life before entering college.”

In addition to career exploration and pharmaceutical knowledge, Shaikh says she hopes her students feel more prepared for life after graduation through her class and the internship program. 

“My goal is for them to learn and enjoy,” Shaikh says. “I want them to really absorb everything they can while it’s offered for free at FCPS. When they go off to college, they can utilize the networking and study skills we’ve learned here.”

If students want to take the Pharmacy Technician exam at the end of their senior year, they must have completed 130 clinical hours in a retail pharmacy, which is a new requirement starting in 2022. For students who complete the FCPS Pharmacy Tech course, the school division will pay for the National Pharmacy Technician exam, which costs around $130. 

The internship opportunities are part of the Career Experience program and established partnerships with the academies. At West Potomac Academy, it is a collaboration between the career experience specialist, business partners, and teachers who all work with the students to make the internships possible.

For more information about the Pharmacy Technician program please visit the West Potomac Academy website or contact Career Experience Specialist Maria Kappel at @email. The program is also offered at Falls Church Academy and Chantilly Academy.