From the Lab to the Hospital, Victor Chen, Touro College of Pharmacy Graduate, Finds His True Calling
The class of 2015 graduate shares his residency experience and what he loves about Touro.
Before he was a graduate of Touro College of Pharmacy (TCOP) and a PGY-1 resident at Brooklyn Hospital Center—a coveted and highly-competitive slot for graduating pharmacy students seeking work in academia—Victor Chen, 32, was toiling away doing research in a lab as an employee of Pall Corporation, which supplies high-tech filtration, separation and purification products. It was a natural fit for someone who had majored in biochemistry at Stony Brook University but, Chen quickly realized, it lacked a vital component for him.
“It was a lot of work in the lab, and though it made good use of my undergraduate training and I found it very interesting, eventually, I realized I really wanted to see the results of my work,” explained Chen, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, and attended Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis High School. “I wanted to see how the science that I was doing positively impacted people. Pharmacy seemed like a really good fusion of both things.”
Chen had heard good things about TCOP and its innovative 2+2 program, in which students took intensive course of studies for two years and then practiced what they learned in a variety of clinical settings for two years—called experiential rotations, which each last about six weeks—whereas most graduate schools of pharmacy offered classes for three years and rotations for the final fourth year. “I thought Touro’s program was great in that it would allow me to get more real-world experience practicing what I learned,” said Chen. “The intensity of the workload those initial two years didn’t faze me, since I was already adept at time management and knew I could balance my courses.”
Chen more than balanced his classes—he excelled in his studies and found the time to engage in research on how a community hospital optimized antibiotics for patients, volunteered to counsel patients on medication safety at community events, and helped organize Touro’s workshops for preparing students for residency. He greatly enjoyed his experiential rotations, including stints at CVS Pharmacy, Montefiore Medical Center and Nyack Hospital.
“TCOP gave me and my classmates a great variety of rotations to choose from, including retail pharmacies, acute care ambulatory centers, and academic setting, too, which was personally gratifying because eventually, I’d like to go into academia,” said Chen. “Rotations also allowed me to confirm that this is the career path I wanted to be on. I loved seeing the results of what I was doing.”
During Chen’s second year of rotations, he had an infectious disease research rotation with one of his professors and academic advisor, Levita Hidayat. “With Dr. Hidayat, I was doing research like I did in my undergraduate studies, and being able to apply that same material to my future profession was gratifying,” said Chen.
“From the first day I met Victor during his PY1, I knew I had to challenge and stimulate his mind,” said Hidayat. “Victor was a bright, humble, talented, and driven student, and it has been a privilege to see him grow personally and professionally.”
Chen’s research rotation with Dr. Hidayat helped him realize that he wanted to specialize in infectious diseases. “I like that every infection is multi-factorial and takes into account the host, pathogen, and the medication,” he explained. “Every infection that I see has a different story, and I enjoy trying to solve each particular challenge.”
Chen received the Academic Excellence Award for the highest GPA in his class (4.0), and was chosen by his peers to give the student address at their class’s commencement in 2015. He also matched with a prestigious residency at Brooklyn Hospital Center, and where, he said, there is no typical day of work.
“Every unit is challenging and different in its own way,” he explained, “and there is always something new that keeps me on my toes. I particularly like working in the intensive care unit (ICU) because there’s a lot of areas there for a pharmacist to intervene. I’ve been involved in a few ‘code blue’ situations where you have to act extremely fast to dispense the proper medication, because a patient’s life is on the line.”
In addition to specializing in infectious diseases, Chen also hopes to segue his career into academia at some point, where, he said, he wouldn’t mind ending up teaching for Touro College of Pharmacy. “I view entering academia as reinforcing my knowledge of pharmacotherapy, but I’ll still have the patient aspect of my career, too,” said Chen.
“I am very grateful to Touro for preparing me for my career and also for the assistance it offered me while I was a student, ensuring I received the right amount of training and also exposing me to different situations where pharmacy comes into play,” said Chen. “From the classes to the rotations to career services and residency preparation interview training, Touro really helps its students succeed.”
During his commencement address, Chen spoke to his fellow graduates, many of whom had formed close bonds during an intense four years as they all strived to reach a common goal. “We have all chosen different paths in pharmacy,” declared Chen, “but we will continue to share what brought us together in the first place: our desire to help people.”
For Chen, it’s clear that success doesn’t really mean a high grade point average or matching for a prestigious pharmacy residency, but in the form of knowing, and finally being able to witness on a regular basis, the powerful impact his work has on people.