Implications of Interning in DC during an Election: One Student’s NIH Experience

By Casey Noenickx
For Unwind magazine

Between lecture, lab, discussion, homework and exams it seems impossible to fit anything else into your academic schedule. But an internship adds real-life experience that students can’t find in school.

The University of Maryland’s close proximity to D.C. makes the options for internships plentiful. For sophomore neurophysiology major Sara Salimi, a pre-pharmacy student, working at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda gave her the hands-on experience she was looking for.

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Photo by Lauren Fuchs

The NIH is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to the National Institutes of Health’s website. It does medical research for the nation with the aim of finding new cures and preventative measures for diseases.
Salimi volunteers as a pharmacy technician at NIH every Tuesday, and has done so since the start of the year.

“One of the skills we’re really encouraged to participate in is pharmacy technician work,” she said. “It’s a skill they want you to know before you enter the field.”

On a typical day, Salimi stocks drugs and prepares customer’s prescriptions. The pharmacy has a large room of drugs stocked in alphabetical order and categorized into their own sections, from injections, serums, tablets, oral suspensions, to inhalers, she said.

Salimi finds the drug, then makes sure it’s the right concentration and right dose before preparing to send it where it needs to go, she said.

“One thing that’s hard for me is knowing where to find things,” Salimi said. “Which is why I sometimes have to walk through it with someone who knows what they’re doing because NIH is huge, and they know how to find certain things.”

The pharmacy technicians work with the pharmacists, who check to make sure what they’re doing is correct, Salimi said. The pharmacists are mainly involved in overseeing their work and attending conferences, she said.

The sciences are often overlooked in election coverage–pushed aside by more sensationalized subjects such as immigration, foreign relations and the economy. It’s easy to forget that programs such as the NIH exist as subsets of government bureaus and departments.

hillary_clinton_24266530879As early as February of this year, Hillary Clinton had said she wanted to increase the budget for NIH’s budget for Alzheimer’s research from $1 billion to $2 billion, according to her website.

donald_trump_august_2015Donald Trump had tackled NIH more sporadically, answering questions on the topic only when faced with them, but making statements that he supports increased spending on Alzheimer’s research and alluding to the fact that there are problems in the NIH, according to Stat — a publication for medical journalism.

Although Salimi does not expect to work as a pharmacy technician for the rest of her career, the experience from NIH was a great place to start, she said. Salimi plans to volunteer again in coming semester.

“One of the main reasons I’m doing this is because of the fact it’s at NIH,” she said. “It’s all about whether you have connections and being able to put a well known institution on your resume is huge.”

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