Alumna finds satisfaction in Public Health Service

When Phoenix resident Holly Van Lew went shopping one afternoon in 2000, she had no idea her excursion would result in a move to Tucson, a degree in pharmacy and a lifetime commitment to the military. She was just picking up some household supplies, after all. But the visit changed her life.

“I had a bachelor's degree in biology and I'd been working as a chemist for a couple of years at Revlon, among other things, but I was considering medical school,” she says. “I ran into an old friend in the parking lot. She was going to school in Tucson, in her second year for pharmacy. We started talking, and I eventually came down to visit. I spent some time at College of Pharmacy social outings, and I just loved it!”

Van Lew is currently a staff pharmacist and a member of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps at the Phoenix Indian Medical Center. For over a year of her education, she was living in both cities, renting a room in Tucson and coming up to visit her husband on the weekends. But during her final year, she was able to do all her rotations in Phoenix. She graduated with her PharmD in 2006.

3 women in uniformVan Lew is an active duty military member, meaning she's on call 24 hours a day and can be summoned to provide disaster relief in the event of an emergency. (One Indian Health Service pharmacist traveled to Haiti after the earthquake to give out vaccinations.) But there's a tradeoff to all the stress and paperwork: Van Lew gets 30 vacation days a year, in addition to federal holidays, and if she serves for 20 years she'll get all the benefits of active duty military retirement.

“When you come into Commissioned Corps, you have to make a decision if you're going to leave in a couple years or you'll stick it out for the long haul,” she says. “I'm in it for the long haul. I love my job: Every day is different.”

Because the Indian Medical Center operates four separate pharmacies—pediatrics, primary care, specialty care and a main pharmacy that covers the women's clinic, emergency room, podiatry and more—Van Lew works a pretty hectic schedule. She's constantly moving to different areas, and sometimes she'll be at multiple locations in a single day. It can be extremely tiring, but for her it's worth it to help a normally underserved population.

“Of course, because of cost constraints, we can't offer the newest, latest, greatest of every medication, but we do provide tried and true, good medical care in general. It's amazing that someone can come to our facility and see their primary care physician, then go to the specialty clinic and see the dermatologist, then get their eye glasses done, then go to the OB department and deliver their child in the same hospital.”

If it weren't for her professors—Rick Herrier, in particular—Van Lew might have gone into a different area of pharmacy altogether. With his encouragement, she completed two rotations at Phoenix Indian Medical Center during her time at school: an inpatient rotation in the ICU and an outpatient ambulatory care rotation. She loved it so much that when she graduated in 2006, she went on to do a pharmacy practice residency at the same hospital. And she's been working there ever since.

“I decided to go to the UA for their excellent reputation,” she says. “As a UA student, I was able to jump right in and start observing, learning—and most of all—helping...”