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4/18/2002

Clinical Rotation at NASA Launches Pharmacist's Career

Kate Traynor

Tina M. Bayuse, Pharm.D., credits a lecture she attended during her first year of pharmacy school with opening the door to a career that involves two of her favorite subjects, pharmacy and astronautics.

Bayuse said that the lecture, given by NASA pharmacology consultant Eleanor O'Rangers, Pharm.D., addressed pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics during space flight.

From O'Rangers, Bayuse learned that no clinical pharmacist worked in NASA's pharmacology laboratory, which accepted postdoctoral fellows but did not offer a clinical rotation for pharmacy students. So Bayuse set out to convince NASA to offer a clinical pharmacy rotation at the space agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

"It was four years in the making," Bayuse said of her quest to get the rotation off the ground. Her major effort consisted of occasional e-mail exchanges with the space center's pharmacology laboratory manager.

"My third year of school, I sent her an e-mail and told her that I had a real interest in the space program," Bayuse said. "I thought there would be a great marriage of my interests," she told the pharmacologist.

With help from the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, Bayuse became the first clinical pharmacy student to have an experiential rotation at NASA's pharmacology lab. In 2000, after receiving her Pharm.D. degree and passing the licensing examination, Bayuse was hired by NASA contractor Wyle Laboratories Inc. to work as the space agency's first and only clinical pharmacist.

As a practice setting, the space center "doesn't really fall under any normal pharmacy category," Bayuse said.

"My typical day isn't very typical," she noted. "I do so very many different things. Some of my work is research oriented, some of it is more clinical oriented....Some of it is just plain old basic pharmacy, where you give out a prescription."

Bayuse said she spends about half of her day with NASA's medical operations staff, performing such duties as packing medical kits for the space shuttle and the international space station. She also works at the flight medicine clinic, writing policies and procedures for the clinic's pharmacy and dispensing prescriptions to astronauts and their families.

The rest of her day involves research work. "We're working on a stability study of the drugs that we supply in medical kits on the shuttle and on the station," she said, adding that exposure to radiation in space could cause drugs to degrade faster than they would on Earth.

Although this particular study focuses on prescription drugs, Bayuse said the medical kits contain a variety of prescription and nonprescription products, such as antiinfectives, cardiac life-support drugs, analgesics, and eye and ear medications.

She said that the biggest health problem in space is motion sickness, which typically starts during orbit, lasts up to two days, and is treated with promethazine.

Bayuse said she hopes that NASA will someday have at least one more clinical pharmacist. Her work as NASA's only clinical pharmacist keeps her very busy. "The more visibility I get, the more responsibilities I acquire," she said.

One responsibility that Bayuse has had to forgo, thanks to security issues that arose after the September 11 terrorist attacks, is teaching the pharmacy students who succeeded her in the clinical rotation program at the space center.

"We've actually had to cancel students," Bayuse said, referring to pharmacy students who had been scheduled to start their rotation last fall or this spring. She said the issue of resuming the rotations will likely be raised again later this year.

Bayuse said that, despite her busy schedule, she still finds her work exciting and has no regrets at all about becoming a space pharmacy specialist.

"[For] everybody here, this is their job every day, and it gets to be just like everybody else's job. You see an astronaut, you wave to him," she said. "But I still get star-struck working here."