"My work at FDA enables me to see how my actions and choices have a positive impact on public health, what it means to be a health care professional, and what my professional obligation is to the public."
-- Dr. Christine Lee, Pharmacist, Researcher, Social Scientist
Q: What opportunities does FDA offer you that you couldn’t get elsewhere?
Christine Lee: FDA has given me the opportunity to follow a life-long passion that began when I was very young, watching my pharmacist parents in our family-owned pharmacy help patients understand how to use their medications.
Standing on my tiptoes, I’d peer over the orange linoleum counters, observing how my dad developed relationships with his patients through a shared joke, using phrases like “This is your water pill.” Or my mom would patiently highlight important points on the drug information handout for the elderly patients, asking them to repeat back to her what she’d said.
It wasn’t until I started my PhD in Pharmaceutical Outcomes and Policy that I realized that my parents were using “patient-centered outcomes” techniques. There was actually terminology to describe my parents’ behavior, like health literacy, patient-centered care, and “the teach back” method. All at once, everything made sense and I fell in love with what I was learning.
I knew I had to be a pharmacist in the profession’s fullest sense. That meant understanding the best way to communicate to patients and health care professionals. It also meant understanding patient and health professional behaviors, like prescribing behavior and counseling techniques, to make sure we got better results for patients.
Being able to practice as a pharmacist in all the profession’s dimensions and make a positive impact on public health with my knowledge, skills, and training is hugely gratifying. As a social scientist working on the Safe Use Initiative, I use my clinical background as a pharmacist and my training in outcomes measurement to ensure that FDA’s work affects public health in a meaningful way. Part of my job entails assessing research projects on high-impact intervention and communication strategies, and understanding prescribing and patient behaviors.
The part of my work that I most enjoy is tackling complex public health issues with our federal and private-sector partners and leveraging their strengths to address these problems systematically and comprehensively.
Q: Why do scientists like you stay at FDA?
CL: As a pharmacist and researcher it’s important to me that I can apply my education, training, and background in a way that focuses on patient-centered outcomes. My work at FDA enables me to see how my actions and choices have a positive impact on public health, what it means to be a health care professional, and what my professional obligation is to the public. This includes ensuring that high-impact research is conducted and disseminated through effective communication channels to patients and health care professionals to avoid preventable drug harm, and that we develop synergies among our collaborators to address complex problems.
Q: How do you use your science degree at FDA?
CL: I earned my PhD from the University of Florida, where my focus was on social and behavioral sciences and my PharmD degree from the University of Buffalo. My past research has focused on professionalism, ethical decision-making and measuring behavior. I’ve been very fortunate to able to apply my academic background to the work I do at FDA as part of FDA’s Safe Use Initiative team. The Initiative aims to reduce preventable harm by identifying specific, preventable medication risks and developing, implementing, and evaluating cross-sector interventions with partners who are committed to safe medication use. FDA does this by creating and facilitating public-private collaborations within the health care community.
Part of my job includes reviewing innovative research projects submitted by external stakeholders that are interested in finding innovative solutions to reduce preventable medication harm. I co-lead the Federal interagency workgroup to reduce hypoglycemia harm. In this capacity, I work with clinicians, researchers and scientists from other federal agencies, to tackle hypoglycemia, a major public health problem. This includes addressing topics on surveillance, evidence based tools, incentive and oversight, and research./p>
Q: How is science conducted at FDA unique from science conducted at the National Institutes of Health, academia, or industry?
CL: Regulatory decision-making is unique and requires research that goes beyond increasing scientific knowledge. There are policy levers, communication strategies, and results that need to be assessed, measured, and understood to support and move FDA’s public health mission forward. To give you an example, I’m working on a study to understand how to best communicate information to minority groups and using unstructured data (social media, focus groups, and transcripts, public docket comments) to understand the patient voice so that we can make better regulatory decisions.