Furgiuele, O'Quinn Selected for VALOR Program

In a deal that left everyone a winner, University of South Carolina (USC) students Gabrielle Furgiuele and Brian O’Quinn are getting invaluable clinical pharmacy experience at the VA this summer and, in exchange, the WJB Dorn VA Medical Center is getting a service-oriented third-generation pharmacist along with a seasoned two-career family man.

The South Carolina College of Pharmacy (SCCP) students were selected as clinical interns for the Veterans Affairs Learning Opportunities Residency (VALOR) program at the WJB Dorn VA Medical Center. They started their internships last week.

The 400-hour paid internship program, open for rising third- and fourth-year student pharmacists, allows highly motivated students to gain experience and exposure to the VA system, including working with outpatient, inpatient and clinical pharmacy services.

For Furgiuele, a rising 4th year  student on the SCCP’s USC campus, working at the VA this summer is a chance to give something back to the men and women who serve her country, like her grandfather.  The family’s first pharmacist, Guy Furgiuele was born in Italy and went to the first grade not knowing how to speak English. Once in America, he developed a strong work ethic, established very high standards for himself and proudly served his country during World War II.

“The war is where he was introduced to pharmacy and developed an unwavering passion for patient care,” Furgiuele said. “I believe my grandfather exemplified the true quality of valor serving his country and providing extraordinary care to his patients. His courageous and brave spirit was evident during his service, as well as what he accomplished each and every day through his professional career. While my grandfather is no longer alive, his spirit and passion are a part of me. His commitment to fellow veterans and patient care is a part of who I am. I want to continue his legacy and live and serve in a way that he would be proud.”

The VALOR program is designed to immerse pharmacy students in a clinical environment at the VA center and increase participant’s clinical skills, clinical judgement and critical thinking while caring for our nation’s veterans. Experiences are project-based and involve each of three areas:  informatics, medication safety and administration, and clinical. The internship opportunity is designed to allow students to develop important skills that they can use for the rest of their pharmaceutical career. 

Furgiuele sees the VALOR program as a chance to expand on her pharmacy knowledge and build clinical skills that will set her up for a career in clinical pharmacy. 

“I am currently four days into my internship and have already had the opportunity to help a veteran,” she said. “I can’t exactly put into words how rewarding it is to give back to someone who has laid their life down for me. This experience is both rewarding and humbling, and I can’t wait to continue building on my experience for patient care.”

Upon graduation, Furgiuele will be the 13th pharmacist in her family, and a third-generation pharmacist.  She is particularly interested in hospital/clinical pharmacy, and hopes to specialize in psychiatry, ambulatory care, or oncology.

Pharmacy has always been a part of my life. Learning how several of my family members have made a difference in patients’ lives has profoundly impacted my career aspirations. Even though there are several pharmacists in my family, not one of my family members does the same thing. One of the things I love about pharmacy is how diverse the profession is. There truly is an endless list of opportunities and careers within the profession.”

O’Quinn, a rising third-year SCCP student, was also selected to participate in the VALOR program. However, his path to pharmacy was a little less traditional.  A married father of two young children (a 4-year old and 1-year old), the former school teacher and information technology specialist decided to go back to pharmacy school to start a new career. 

“My wife was already working as a pharmacist in IT, which was part of the reason I became interested in pharmacy,” said O’Quinn, a self-professed “older student” who finds having his family close by in their hometown of Branchville (near Orangeburg) keeps their home-work-school lives manageable. “And I have a very understanding wife.” 

O’Quinn first heard about the VALOR program about a year ago when there were openings at the Charleston location.  When he found out he could apply to the Columbia VA, “this seemed like a great chance to get a really varied experience working with inpatient and outpatients, and work in informatics,” he said. Ultimately, he hopes to work in a informatics and clincial pharmacy in a hospital setting.