Apothecary Offers Historical Internship for Pharmacy Students

January 31, 2020
Drew Boxler
Drew Boxler

See how some students have opted for a unique conclusion to their studies.

Pharmacy students looking for a unique internship experience should look no further than Colonial Williamsburg living history museum in Virginia. 

In 2018, Colonial Williamsburg’s apothecary store launched its first ever official internship for fourth-year pharmacy students. Having relied on history graduate students for years, this was the first time the museum opened an opportunity for pharmacists. 

Typically, pharmacy students might choose a professional internship in places one might reasonably expect to find a pharmacist (ie hospitals, community retail settings, etc); however, at Colonial Williamsburg, pharmacy students don 18th century attire and interact with and educate tour guests. 

The apothecary shop in which pharmacy students are stationed, according to Colonial Williamsburg, stands as a reconstructed version of the original shop owned by 2 Virginian apothecaries, Dr William Pasteur and Dr John Minson Gault. 

In the 1770s, the 2 competing apothecaries decided to partner up. Colonial Williamsburg posits that the move was to simultaneously increase each other’s revenue while decreasing overhead costs. The partnership lasted until Pasteur’s retirement in 1778, but the shop remained open until Gault’s death in 1808. 

Today, the reconstructed shop is staffed by 2 full-time interpreters, Sharon Cotner and Robin Kipps. 

“We actually compound drugs from the original pharmacy books,” said Kipps. “When you walk into the shop, it’s like stepping back in time.” 

Throughout any given day, Kipps said tours can include anyone from lay public individuals to medical specialists like orthopedic surgeons and pharmacists. 

“We try to customize the presentation to what [the guests] are interested in,” she said. “If we have pharmacists come in, we can talk about some of the medicines from the 18th century that are still in use today.” 

In fact, discussing 18th century medicinal treatments with tour guests was one of the core experiences of the apothecary’s latest intern, Dena Kota. As a fourth-year student at the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), Kona chose to fulfill her experiential requirements to grow closer to her roots at Colonial Williamsburg. 

“I’ve grown up in Williamsburg most of my life,” she said, “and went to elementary school down the street from Colonial Williamsburg. The community is a part of something I’ve grown up in and [the internship] sounded like a unique way to gain a further appreciation of pharmacy history and how far the profession has come.” 

According to an article published by VCU, Kota had to learn things like archaic measurements (drams and grains), interpret old textbook instructions for medicinal production, and build her public contact and speaking skills by describing her work to the tours that passed through the shop. 

VCU also describes how Kota dried foxglove flowers from the apothecary’s garden to make a treatment for edema, as well as her preparation of concoctions like a “tincture of Peruvian bark” that was used to treat malaria. 

Beyond the apothecary, Kipps says that the Colonial Williamsburg program specializes in other areas as well. “We have retired physicians, two retired pharmacists, and one naval officer who specialized in public health issues in the navy,” she said. 

The wide range of historical and medical experiences gives participating students the opportunity to interact with and learn from modern professionals as well as historians, Kipps said. 

“It’s cool to put yourself in [the apothecaries’] shoes, see the things they thought were important to document and how that compares to our approach today,” said Kota.

Feature and sidbar images courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg and Bill Munroe.