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Internship Offers KGI Pharmacy Student Early Exposure to Industry

Kacey Egusa’s stay at AbbVie, a research-oriented biopharmaceutical company, was only expected to last two weeks. She traveled to AbbVie’s North Chicago headquarters in January as part of a Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) course that introduces first-year Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) students to the pharmaceutical industry. But she came away so impressed by AbbVie that she inquired about a summer internship. Equally impressed by Egusa, the company created one for her.

“Kacey impressed us with her tenacity and proactivity. We were able to develop a very tailored internship for her,” says Rob Pearson, national field medical director for immunology/gastroenterology at AbbVie.

As part of her summer internship, Egusa is developing an independent research project that she will present to Pearson and the rest of the medical affairs leadership team, a group that includes physicians, PharmD and PhD graduates, and nurse practitioners.

“This internship is what I make of it. I plan to use my time and resources to execute a project efficiently and effectively, to show I’m a critical thinker and problem solver,” says Egusa.

She is also helping with efforts to leverage AbbVie’s field medical team to advance the therapeutic pipeline, an assignment that Pearson explains requires her to understand key metrics and analyze what is most effective.

“Kacey is involved from a high-level perspective. She’s able to do this because she’s Kacey. We sensed that she had the ability, passion, and drive,” he says. “This is how you develop talent for the future.”

Aside from working on this initiative within medical affairs, Egusa is gaining exposure to a wide range of projects and teams.

“Kacey is working in the gastroenterology field, on some aspects of clinical trials, and on a genetic project,” says postdoctoral fellow Maggie Szakacs, who is serving as Egusa’s direct supervisor for the summer. “She is networking with people in different areas, not just medical affairs, and really seeing a broad spectrum of projects. She’s definitely learning about the whole industry experience, and she’s always willing to take initiative with anything she’s assigned.”

For Egusa, the internship is a step toward her eventual goals: She hopes to obtain a fellowship after completing her PharmD program at KGI and then pursue a career in the pharmaceutical industry.

As a California Lutheran University undergraduate, Egusa had envisioned a different future for herself. She had long planned to go to medical school after earning her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology. Egusa spent many hours volunteering at a hospital, which eventually led her to realize she didn’t want to become a physician after all. But the experience also enabled her to meet a mentor who taught her about the variety of roles available to pharmacists.

“I didn’t know you could have a PharmD and work in the pharmaceutical industry, especially in medical affairs,” says Egusa, who is now president elect of KGI’s chapter of the Industry Pharmacy Organization and would like to help more students obtain internships at companies like AbbVie earlier in the PharmD program.

“I want to pave the way for other KGI students to pursue their passion for the pharmaceutical industry,” she says. “This internship is providing a strong foundation for me to build on. It’s an amazing and rare opportunity as a first-year pharmacy student to be an intern at such a wonderful company, and I am extremely grateful to gain this experience.”

Seeing her at work this summer, Pearson and Szakacs are equally pleased about Egusa’s desire to return to AbbVie.

“She is demonstrating to us her capacities for the future,” says Pearson. “We’ll definitely stay in touch.”

Interested in learning more about KGI’s PharmD program? Visit kgi.edu/pharmd.