Three Questions: Working in a Pharmacy During the Pandemic

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Shivani Nellore, C’23, W’23, took a job as a pharmacy tech, learning a great deal about medications and humans in the process.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Susan Ahlborn

Shivani Nellore, C’23, W’23

In spring 2020, Shivani Nellore, C’23, W’23, was three-quarters of the way through her first year in the Roy and Diana Vagelos Life Sciences and Management (LSM) program when the University sent students home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Back in Great Falls, Virginia, Nellore kept up with her dual degree but was getting cabin fever and wanted to help during the pandemic. She took a job as a pharmacy technician at the local CVS. 

As an LSM scholar, Nellore graduated this spring with two bachelor’s degrees, in biology from the College and in economics from Wharton. She conducted cancer research throughout her undergraduate career, was a business intern at the Lifespan Cancer Institute, and worked with Philadelphia high school students via the Educational Pipeline Program.

We asked her about being on this particular front line during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Why did you decide to work at a pharmacy during a pandemic?

I honestly was getting a little stir-crazy, but also, I want to be a physician and I wanted to help with the COVID efforts. All the hospitals in the area were closed to volunteers. The next option was a pharmacy, where I thought I could help with COVID testing.

I liked learning the technical stuff. In Virginia you have to be certified within nine months. Because I was also a full-time student, it took me seven months to get the hours and prepare for the exam, which requires understanding all the different regulations. I had to learn about more than 200 drugs, what type of classifications there are, what they react against—basic knowledge, but it will help a lot in the future.

What was it like to work there during the height of COVID-19?

I helped with COVID testing, and later, with intake when we gave the vaccines. That was on top of all of the other pharmacy tech duties: accurately inputting the prescriptions, dispensing drugs, working at the register, and conducting patient outreach calls. We would have days where, at the beginning of the shift, someone would say, “Thank you so much for working during the pandemic.” And then on the same shift, we would have people screaming at us because we were unable to fill a medication in time. 

The main thing I learned was how to comfort someone when there’s so much distance between you.

I wasn’t too worried about getting COVID myself, but I was nervous for my parents and for my grandpa, who were high-risk. At that time, we didn’t have a vaccine and there were no good treatments, so it was nerve-wracking. It was surreal, now that I think back, the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic, but also being a college student not knowing when you’re going back to campus.

What did you learn? 

I really loved that job. I learned so much about multitasking because I was juggling so many things. I used to be impatient as a patient at the pharmacy; I know now how much back-end work there is. 

The main thing I learned was how to comfort someone when there’s so much distance between you. I remember one patient came in and he wanted a COVID test. He needed it to fly somewhere because his sister had died, but we had run out of tests. That person’s grieving. How do you offer comfort? Especially with glass between you. You learn a lot about talking to people and making sure they understand that you genuinely empathize with them, no matter what walk of life they come from. How do you at least try to make their day a little bit brighter? 

This piece was updated at 9 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 26, 2024.