Meet a future healthcare leader whose pharma career got a boost from a City internship program

Denise Obaji is only a 19-year-old college sophomore, but the future pharmacist has already worked with patients, thanks to a City-sponsored internship.

Last summer, she completed her first internship at Columbia University’s George M. O’Brien Urology Center, through the New York City Economic Development Corp’s Life-Sci NYC Program, which offers paid summer internships for undergrad and grad students studying science and business.

One of Obaji’s intern duties was telling patients the results of a genetic study and their implications. “Before the program, I really didn’t have experience communicating with patients,” says Obaji., a student at Long Island University Brooklyn.  “Now I’m much more mindful of the things I say and how I present myself.”

Obaji’s program is designed to mint the next generation of healthcare talent. “By providing real experience to undergraduates and graduate students, NYC is building a strong pipeline of talent to emerge as the future leaders of NYC life sciences,” says Doug Thiede, Senior Vice President of Life Sciences & Healthcare at NYCEDC.

Learning how to be “that liaison between the doctor and the patient” is what excites the undergrad about her future career in pharmacy.

I don’t really see that many young black women doing pharmacy. I’m 19, and when I get my degree I’ll be 23. I’m excited that I’m going to be young and black and in my own lane.

“People don’t really know what a pharmacist does. They think you just go to Walgreens and get your medication from them. But they’re so much more than that,” she says. “Your pharmacist can educate you about your medication.”

Growing up in a household of healthcare workers–her father, a medical researcher, her mom, a registered nurse, and her older sister Gladys, a medical school student–has provided an additional support system. Still, she doesn’t see many women who look like her in her chosen profession. “I don’t really see that many young black women doing pharmacy,” she says. ‘I’m 19 and when I get my degree I’ll be 23. I’m excited that I’m going to be young and black and in my own lane.”

Her advice? “Don’t be afraid to apply to any program you think you could benefit from, even if you think you’re not qualified,” she advises. “Go for it, don’t let your fear hold you back. Take that chance, because it might be beneficial in the long run.”

Photo by Alex Tutiven. 
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