October is American Pharmacist Month.
In this edition of Profiles in Pharmacy, I have the great privilege of speaking with Brenda Denson, PharmD about her career in pharmacy.
I met Brenda Denson circa April 2012. At the time she served as the Investigational Drug Pharmacist for Children’s of Alabama. I spent a few days with her and enjoyed my time. I asked her questions about the role of the Investigational Pharmacist, and I asked her questions about life as a Pharmacist. Oftentimes in life it’s not the conversations you remember, but rather how a person has made you feel. Brenda is down to earth, and enjoys sharing her knowledge and practical experiences.
A quote by Maya Angelou that I enjoy is as follows:
” I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou
After working with her and being her peer in the world of Pharmacy, I’m glad to know Brenda Denson. She has a genuine passion for the practice of pharmacy, and is able to effectively share this passion with patients, peers, and students. Brenda is a graduate of Samford University’s McWhorter School of Pharmacy. She currently serves as as a Pharmacy Educator for Children’s of Alabama Pharmacy Department and is a member of Alabama’s Board of Pharmacy.
Brenda has a high emotional intelligence, a strong work ethic, and a persistence to produce quality work. I’m thankful that she took the time out of her busy schedule to share her knowledge of pharmacy practice and life with her peers, students, and laypersons interested in our profession.
Sam: When did you graduate Pharmacy School? Bachelors Degree? Residency?
Brenda: 1998 followed by a one-year residency at Children’ Health System
Sam: Can you tell me about your career — what jobs you’ve had — positions and titles that you’ve held — please don’t be modest
Brenda: Residency, then floater pharmacist for a year, then Lead stem cell transplant pharmacist (where we opened a satellite for our new Stem Cell transplant service), then clinical coordinator/residency director, interim director. After that I went and worked as a staff pharmacist at an LTAC, then consultant pharmacist, then investigational studies pharmacist, and now pharmacy educator. Also, I have always had an extra job in addition to my full time job. Those extra jobs always gave me a different perspective on pharmacy and healthcare in general.
Sam: You were one of the first classes to transition to the PharmD — has the transition from the Bachelors in Pharmacy to the PharmD brought about significant changes in the practice of pharmacy? If not, how can pharmacists better position themselves in our practice to fulfill the high level of education that we have received in the classroom?
Brenda: I was actually in the first all PharmD class at Samford. I am proud of all of the accomplishments that my class has made. The doctor of pharmacy program better prepared us for the ever-changing needs of our society and better prepared us to examine medications in more of a clinical setting while retaining a good business sense as well.
Sam: In terms of demographics — A recent Bloomberg article (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-08-06/u-s-women-outpacing-men-in-higher-education-demographic-trends) stated the following “among professional degrees, women in the same cohort obtained three-quarters of professional degrees and 80% of doctoral degrees”– thus, women are outpacing men and this definitely seems to be the case in our profession… when you were in school was this the case or was it pretty much 50-50 in your class? How has being a Woman and Leader in the world of Pharmacy impacted you? What would you tell young women out there looking to reach the heights of their profession?
Brenda: If I recall correctly our class was about 70:30 women to men. Sometimes being a woman in leadership is challenging to balance home and career. Men may feel the same struggle at times but gender roles that have been considered traditional or inherent to being a woman (e.g. as a mother wanting to always be there for your children) may often make that career and home life balance difficult. My advice to women is that there are times that you need to stretch yourself to grow but there are times that you may just have to kindly reply no to extra opportunities. That is ok. You do not have to rush to achieve your goals.
Sam: You have served in a variety of positions. Pediatric Pharmacist, Interim Director of Pharmacy, Resident, Investigational Pharmacist, Member of the Board of Pharmacy — did you ever plan or suspect that you would be in these various positions?
Brenda: When I was a resident I made a list of goals. I wrote down that I wanted to be a director of pharmacy. Although I only served for 6 months as interim director at COA (Children’s of Alabama) I feel like I was blessed to have the opportunity in the time frame I had set out for myself. As for ALBOP (Alabama Board of Pharmacy), I never would have suspected that I would be selected for such an honor. When I was nominated as one of the people to be considered for the institutional slot on ALBOP I never thought that I would even make it to the final three for the governor’s list. During my interview by the selection committee I was asked “Why do you think that you should be selected for the ALBOP position”. My reply was: “I don’t know if I should be selected. There are so many other pharmacists more deserving than me.” I really just think that it was a timing issue. I was put here for a reason and I am going to do the best that I can no matter how hard it is at times.
Sam: I’ve always known you to take an active role in being a preceptor and showing students around the hospital — what is the one thing that you attempt to impart on these students before they leave your guidance? I know from my personal experience with you as my preceptor for a few days you always seemed to be so down to earth… I only learned later about your accomplishments. What has helped you keep the glass half full approach with students over the years?
Brenda: I feel like I can help them with practical skills. I try to expose them to as much as possible and I try to help them learn how to find the right answer instead of memorizing everything. Things change and it is more important to learn how to function and know how to find the correct answer. As far as the “glass half full approach” …. I don’t know how people function thinking it is always empty. To me the glass always has something in it. I have hope.
Sam: How has being a board of pharmacy member changed your perspective on the practice of pharmacy? I’m not sure people realize how much time you have to devote to fulfilling that duty… can you express how much time is involved with this while also completing your work duties as a practicing Pharmacist?
Brenda: My perspective has changed since I have become a board member because I have the opportunity to see the best and worst in many situations of pharmacy practice. I have gotten to see a bird’s eye view on thought processes of people when they do take a path that ends in breaking the pharmacy laws. It makes me see situations differently now. As far as the time commitment it does take some extra time to serve as a board member. People contact you with questions, ideas, and thoughts that they have to share with you. I always learn from those experiences but it does require a good bit of time.
Sam: You have been very successful in your career as a Pharmacist — what keeps you balanced and grounded in your pursuit to being a good person while also attempting to further our profession?
Brenda: Balance is a good word. You cannot say yes to every opportunity that you are presented with. Discernment is a must. I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to take management and personal skills classes early in my career. I think that they have served me well. As for being a good person, I appreciate the compliment. I hope I am (a good person). I feel that doing the right thing is just something that was engrained in me as a child.
Sam: Are people scared or intimidated to talk to you now that you’re on the Board of Pharmacy? Or has it opened up more dialogue with folks that you thought you would never talk to? Personally, I would imagine that you’ve stayed the same but the people have changed…
Brenda: I don’t think that it has made a difference in how people talk to me overall. I do think that dialogue has opened up about pharmacy issues with people that I did not routinely have encounters with previously.
Sam: When I was at the Board of Pharmacy getting my license — one of the Board Members talked to us briefly and said “T is for Target” and that each newly licensed Pharmacist had just become a target. In his own way, I believe that he was expressing how easy it is to get caught up in doing things the wrong way as a Practicing Pharmacist. I often tell my students the hardest word to learn when you become a Pharmacist is “NO”. What’s a statement that you normally make to new grads getting their license? I know it might not be T is for Target — but do you have any sayings that you’ve used over the years?
Brenda: I tell them that they have chosen a profession where you are a leader, whether you see yourself in that manner or not. The general public trusts pharmacists and look toward their leadership for healthcare solutions.
Sam: What did your family say when you told them you wanted to be a Pharmacist? I know your sister is a practicing Dentist. Did you ever get any pushback for your decision from friends or family? Personally, my family had never heard of becoming a Pharmacist — so when I told them that I was going to Pharmacy School they didn’t know what that meant…
Brenda: I have known that I wanted to be a pharmacist since I was 16 years old. My dad wanted me to become a pharmacist so much that he took out a loan for my first year of pharmacy school because I did not receive enough loan money to attend Samford. My siblings encouraged me in my pursuit to becoming a pharmacist. I actually started pharmacy school two years before my older sister started dental school. She said that I gave her the confidence that she could accomplish her goal of becoming a dentist, a field that has less women than men.
Sam: You have taught Pharmacy Technician courses for years. How has doing that shaped or influenced your pharmacy career? In your opinion, how can Pharmacists be more active in teaching Pharmacy Technicians? What would you suggest to Folks considering a career as a Pharmacy Technicians and what would you suggest to the Pharmacy Technician that now wants to transition into a career as a Pharmacist… anything else that you would like to add about yourself teaching Pharmacy Technicians?
Brenda: I have been teaching pharmacy technicians at work on processes, policies, and concepts but I also helped teach a class at work called “Tuesday Tips for Techs” for several Tuesdays while many of our technicians were studying for the certification exam. During that time, I was able to build closer relationships with our technicians and it enabled me to learn how many of them processed information. It was a rewarding experience to see our technicians pass the exams. In addition, I taught and coordinated a Pharmacy Technician course at Jeff State. Often times the students were there to see if they wanted to become a technician. I instructed them on study material but also brought practical experiences to them. I was able to encourage them in the career path that was best suited for them at that time. Some of them keep in touch and let me know what they are doing …. pharmacy or non-pharmacy. I hope that I made a positive impact on their life and career. Lastly, I have had the privilege of seeing some of our technicians go to pharmacy school and becoming pharmacists. I have also seen many of our technicians go on to other careers that have made them happy. I just want the best fit for them and their family.
Sam: What changes to the pharmacy curriculum do you envision occurring in the next 10 years? How could these changes help produce a better Pharmacist?
Brenda: Some of the changes are already occurring. I feel like that there will be many more interdisciplinary experiences that will allow our profession to show our value in healthcare to other healthcare professionals. I think that the interdisciplinary experience will serve our patients better.
Sam: Anything that you would like to add?
Brenda: I am proud to call pharmacy my profession. I think that we have a unique opportunity to provide safer medication therapy through our expertise as pharmacists.