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Career Conversations


On a regular basis, we will be highlighting an individual's career through this Q&A.
These Career Conversations will showcase faculty members within the UW School of Pharmacy
as well as alumni who are practitioners in the community.

July 2013
GarrettSims Small
A Conversation With LCDR J. Garrett Sims, PharmD, BCPS, NCPS, U.S. Public Health Service Pharmacy Officer, Advanced Practice Pharmacist for the Indian Health Service, Northern Navajo Medical Center
LCDR J. Garrett Sims graduated from the UW in 2009 and currently lives in New Mexico.



What drew you to Pharmacy?
I was interested in Biology and Chemistry so I thought about biochemical engineering as a potential career path.  I was interested in making medicine.  I discussed this with a career counselor and she mentioned pharmacy as a potential career path, where you could also become involved in the pharmaceutical industry and make medicine.  After researching the profession of pharmacy a little further, I realized pharmacy would be a better fit for me than biochemical engineering.  I decided to go the route of direct patient care rather than industry after experiencing the joy of providing care by volunteering at pharmacies and through experiences at the University of Washington.

Describe your current position.
Well... I wear a lot of hats. I am a pharmacy officer with the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) and I work for the Indian Health Service (IHS) agency as an Advanced Practice Pharmacist.  The USPHS is one of the seven uniformed services (Army, Navy, etc.), and we respond to the health needs of the Nation.  There are only 6,500 officers in the USPHS.  As a USPHS officer, I may be called upon to deploy to health disasters domestically and internationally.  However, my day-to-day job is with the IHS.  The IHS provides health care to Native Americans and Alaska Natives from federally recognized tribes.  At Northern Navajo Medical Center (NNMC), we primarily serve patients from the Navajo Nation.  Our pharmacy department is made up of 31 pharmacists.  I work in many different aspects of our pharmacy department, with my role often changing daily. I may work in the outpatient pharmacy, the inpatient pharmacy, or provide direct patient care in a pharmacy involved clinic.

As an outpatient pharmacist I may be a screener, a checker, and/or a counselor.  Screeners screen patients' charts in the electronic health record, ensuring appropriateness of medications ordered by checking labs, reading notes, etc.  Screening takes place in the main pharmacy and in satellite locations in the patients' medical home, directly interacting with the prescribers.  Checkers check that the prescription was filled appropriately and matches the prescriber's intention.  Counselors counsel patients in counseling rooms by using the show-and-tell method and the 3 "golden" questions, ensuring that patients understand what their medication is used for, how to take it and what side effects they might expect.  Every position is expected to make interventions as needed.

As an inpatient pharmacist, we monitor patients' labs, reconcile patients' medications on admit, transfer, and discharge, and dose vancomycin, gentamicin, Coumadin and anything else the doctors request.  We also work with nurses to help clarify medication orders, saving the doctors time. We also are working on creating formalized procedures for monitoring specific disease states, for example, congestive heart failure.

We have eight pharmacy-run or pharmacy-involved clinics.  I manage the pharmacy services provided in the Epilepsy Clinic.  In the Epilepsy Clinic, pharmacists see patients with a neurologist or independently.  In this clinic, I have prescriptive authority to order medications and labs.  I perform neurological exams as well.  I also am involved in the Asthma Clinic and in the past I was a provider in the Coumadin Clinic.  We are currently looking at further expanding our roles as advanced practice pharmacists through pharmacist clinician certification and creation of a PGY2 residency.

Other roles I fill include student preceptor, Infectious Disease Residency preceptor, USP 797 compliance officer, Antibiotic Stewardship committee member, and lead for the Compensation for Pharmacist Provided Services Initiative.

What do you enjoy most about your current work?
I love serving people and the Navajo are great people to serve.

We have a great relationship with the other healthcare providers, and we are considered a valued member of the medical team. There are no shortage of opportunities. It is an exciting place to work because we are always looking at ways of expanding, trying to do more, be better and reach our potential as a department.

What is the most challenging?
Balancing the opportunities at work with personal and family life.  All the opportunities can take all of your free time if you allow it.

Tell us a few fun facts about yourself.
I have been married to a wonderful woman for nearly 9 years.  We have three great children.  I enjoy disc golf, ultimate frisbee and video games.

I served 6 years in the Army National Guard as a paralegal before transferring to the USPHS.

I served a mission for my church in Norway for two years.

What would you like to share with students considering a career path similar to yours?
The IHS is a great place to work and is always looking for enthusiastic pharmacists.  The best way to currently become an USPHS commissioned officer in the IHS is by doing a residency or through a program called Senior CoSTEP, which you commit to before your last year of pharmacy school.  Residency was a great way to spring board my career in IHS, but it isn't required.  However, BCPS should be a goal of any advanced practice pharmacist in the USPHS.  You don't have to be top of your class to be selected for an IHS residency, but we value life experience.  If you haven't spent time in another culture, I would recommend doing volunteer work in a different country for a summer, or do a summer internship with the IHS (called a Junior CoSTEP).

I think it is easy to view graduation as the end of a long race, but really it is just the first leg of a long journey. Pharmacists who have no interest in building their career after graduation quickly get burned out.  When you choose what you want to do, put the most weight on the type of practice you want to work in and less weight on things like location and salary.  Focus on what type of pharmacist you want to be and how you want to practice. By building your career on the type of pharmacy you want to practice, you may be able to eventually practice what you want, where you want.



February 2013BethChester



A Conversation With Beth Chester, PharmD, MPH, FCCP, BCPS, Executive Director of Pharmacy Operations & Therapeutics, Kaiser Permanente
Beth Chester graduated from the UW in 1994 and currently lives in Colorado.




What drew you to Pharmacy?
Interestingly, even though my dad was a pharmacist in the military and I worked as a pharmacy clerk while in high school, I was not planning on becoming a pharmacist. In fact, I hadn’t given it much serious thought until I was finalizing what I wanted to get my degree in before I went to veterinary school. Since the prerequisites were similar between pre-pharmacy and pre-vet, I thought a degree in pharmacy would be beneficial not only from a knowledge-base perspective, but that it might also help pay the bills as I worked my way through vet school.

My perspective as to the career possibilities for pharmacists started to evolve as I began researching pharmacy programs. It was an evolutionary journey that continued once I started classes at the UW. During my time at the UW, I had some very impactful exposures to clinical pharmacy that solidified my career interests and led me to pursue a post-baccalaureate PharmD and residency training in primary care & family medicine.

Describe your current position.
For those of you who may not be familiar with Kaiser Permanente, we are the nation's largest not-for-profit health plan and integrated health care delivery system, serving more than 9 million members. In Colorado, we care for approximately 550,000 members. I suspect many of you are likely familiar with the Group Health Cooperative in the Northwest, a model that is similar to Kaiser Permanente.

As the executive director for pharmacy operations & therapeutics, I lead a pharmacy department of more than 700 employees, about half of which are pharmacists. In my current role, I provide executive line leadership, direction, decision-making, and oversight for the department. I direct the strategic planning, development, implementation, and assessment of a comprehensive array of pharmacy-related services and programs to ensure achievement of organizational goals related to quality, service, and affordability. A significant part of my job involves effectively collaborating with physician and health plan leaders in Colorado and nationally to develop and implement strategies that support the delivery of high quality, cost-effective healthcare to members and patients.

What do you enjoy most about your current work?
I started my career as a primary care clinical pharmacy specialist working in a collaborative team-based environment. Even though I haven't practiced clinically in quite some time, that is still an important part of my professional DNA and continues to influence my perspective. I am passionate about the value pharmacists bring to patients and the care team. One of the things I love most about my current work is that I am in a position to help influence and advocate for expanded roles for pharmacists, which I believe significantly improves the quality of healthcare patients receive. In Colorado, I have fantastic pharmacy teams that are making a meaningful difference in patients' lives every day and they're touching hundreds of thousands of patients each year. What can be better than that?

What is the most challenging?
Healthcare is a dynamic and evolving industry where many stakeholders are competing for limited resources. While this can be challenging for anyone in healthcare, including pharmacy, it’s also an exciting time. Health care reform and related initiatives are creating opportunities for pharmacy to transform the image of the pharmacist from a dispenser of medications to a critical member of the health care team.

Tell us a few fun facts about yourself.
Growing up in a military family, I had the opportunity to see many different parts of the country and have lived in 9 different states, ranging from Alabama to Alaska. However, since I graduated from high school and college (Go Huskies!) in Washington (and that's where my parents have remained), it's become my de facto home state. Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with my family (a loving husband and two kiddos) and participating in the occasional half-marathon, triathlon or Tough Mudder. I also love to read and typically average two to three books a week on my favorite gadget – my Kindle.

What would you like to share with students considering a career path similar to yours?
Traditional dispensing activities will increasingly shift to technicians and technology. To take advantage of the clinical pharmacy roles that currently exist and that will continue to emerge, you will likely need to complete at least one residency if not two. Start preparing for that now. Interest in residencies has increased in recent years and the demand currently exceeds the supply. You will need to differentiate yourself in school activities, professional associations, etc. to successfully compete for a position. This extra effort at the beginning of your pharmacy career will help ensure that you don’t prematurely close the door on future professional opportunities.

Pharmacy is a wonderful profession and I have enjoyed every role I’ve had along my career path. I sincerely hope that the same is true for each of you.

December 2012

A Conversation With Dr. Shanna O'Connor, Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacy
Shanna O'Connor recently joined the Department of Pharmacy faculty as an Associate Professor and Kelley-Ross Faculty Fellow. She moved to Seattle from North Carolina.




What drew you to academia?

My job is pretty much the coolest ever. I’ve been a tutor, teaching assistant, or mentor since high school and love interacting with learners—be it in the formal classroom, Grand Rounds at the hospital, a community forum of patients, or one-on-one in the clinic with students on rotation. I’ve found that I learn best through explaining concepts to others and have experienced the motivation that being around students can bring. Academia also lets me try out new clinical concepts in actual practice and thereby stay at the forefront of pharmacy. With a focus on leadership and service, being a faculty member means that presenting research, serving on committees that help shape the future of our profession, and developing innovative models for practice or teaching are activities that are highly supported.

Describe your current position.

I am an assistant professor and faculty fellow, which means that I divide my time (unequally) between four areas: Teaching, clinic, research, and service. I teach mainly in the PCLC first year series but will be popping up in classes for all three on-campus years. My teaching style is active and engaged—I don’t read off slides, I use cases from my practice experience as examples, and do everything possible to have pre-readings prepare students for classes and assignments reinforce key concepts. My practice site is at Kelley-Ross pharmacy in the Polyclinic downtown, where I help to develop enhanced clinical pharmacy services based out of a community pharmacy. Examples of services that I might be working on include Medication Therapy Management, Pharmacogenomics consults, Diabetes management, and Smoking Cessation. My research focuses on new teaching strategies and the services that I’m developing in community pharmacy. I serve on different committees but work closely with the folks in PCLC and am a strong advocate for student groups.

What do you enjoy most about your current work?

Aside from the students, I enjoy that my weeks are never the same—teaching students, helping manage medications for patients with multiple disease states, trying out new ideas in the clinic and classroom, and conducting and presenting research means that I never have the same week twice. It’s great!

What is the most challenging?

The flip side of never having the same week twice is that I have to be very adaptable to new situations. With a lot of balls in the air at multiple locations, my schedule can get a bit crazy. I have to be on top of communication with patients, students on rotation, other pharmacists at my practice site, students in classes I’m teaching, students I’m mentoring, faculty colleagues, research collaborators…the list goes on.

Tell us a few fun facts about yourself.

I’ve lived on three continents and in seven states since graduating from high school, I’ve jumped off the highest bungee in the world, I’m petrified (petrified!) of snakes, and future adventures include riding in a hot air balloon at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and sky diving in New Zealand.

What would you like to share with students considering a career path similar to yours?

The path of obtaining a pharmacist position with minimal dispensing activities starts now! Get involved in student groups, participate in outreach programs to the community, and take advantage of any opportunities to experience life as a pharmacist. Having more experiences to draw from will help you to tailor your residency search and experience to maximize your own career development. There are so many opportunities here at UW, but being involved doesn’t have to be overwhelming (and remember that scholastics come first!).

Summer 2012

ed kelly

A Conversation With Dr. Ed Kelly, Research Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmaceutics

Dr. Kelly received a Jaconette L. Tietze Young Scientist Award for his project “Identification of MicroRNA Regulators of Hepatocyte Development.“ Read more about the award here.

What drew you to academia?
I have always been fascinated by science in general. The first web page I look at every morning is "Astronomy picture of the day." But it is biology that interests me most. Growing up, my favorite TV shows were Mutual of Omaha’s "Wild Kingdom" and "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau." My career path to academia has been rather interesting. Following a post-doctoral fellowship in toxicology/pharmacogenetics, I thought I would go straight into academia. But I was offered an exciting opportunity to head a Bioanalytical group at a Seattle biotechnology company (Targeted Genetics). This was a fantastic experience, but my heartfelt desire has always been to have my own independent research program -- something that [Professor Emeritus] Rene Levy and [Chair] Ken Thummel offered me in the Department of Pharmaceutics.

Describe your current position.
My current position is as a Research Assistant Professor. But, like most faculty in the School of Pharmacy, I wear many hats. I teach in support of both the graduate and PharmD programs, as well as in the Public Health Genetics and Toxicology curriculum. I am also involved in the UW extension program, serving as Assistant Director of the Master's Degree Program in Pharmaceutical Bioengineering (PHARBE). Finally, I am the Manager of the Pharmacy School's Cost Center for DNA Sequencing and Gene Analysis.

What do you enjoy most about your current work?
How much space do I get? I have fantastic students (graduate and undergraduate) in my lab. I’m lucky enough to still find time to work in the lab myself. Before I went to graduate school, I worked for five years as a lab technician at UCSF and I still enjoy it when you get publication quality results on the first (or tenth!) try. One of the projects in my lab involved generating a knockout mouse (genetic engineering where you specifically inactivate a gene using embryonic stem cells), and I spent almost five years before finally succeeding. Another project involving a different gene resulted in mice in less than a year. While the first project was obviously frustrating at times, I now get to do the really interesting work, which is figuring out what the function of the gene is when it is disrupted.

Both of these projects involve genes encoding for cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes, but that is where the similarity ends. One should recapitulate a rare eye disease called Bietti’s Crystalline Dystrophy while the other has demonstrated the key function of this CYP in bioactivation of a pneumotoxin called ipomeanol. Studying these phenotypes in live animals is simply fascinating.

I am also really excited about a project in our lab using human embryonic stem cells to generate functional hepatocytes (liver cells) in vitro. Human hepatocytes are an important component of drug development, but their availability is limited to donors deemed unsuitable for transplantation. The use of stem cells as a source of hepatocytes offers an unlimited supply, but the ability to differentiate them into functional cells is challenging. We are using CYP activity as our functional screen and the data we’ve been getting is very exciting.

What is the most challenging?
The most challenging aspect of my job is securing financial support for our research. It is incredibly expensive to do biomedical research and the funding levels from the National Institutes of Health are growing tighter. Between departmental and private support I have stayed above water, but it is a constant struggle.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself. 
I’m a big science fiction fan. One of my favorite authors (Isaac Asimov) is a PhD Biochemist like me. I love the original "Star Trek" television show and have a full-sized framed movie poster for "Star Trek VI" hanging in the lab. That movie was titled "The Undiscovered Country" and I think that epitomizes what science is all about.

What would you like to share with students considering a career path similar to yours?
Functioning as a "Principal Investigator in Academia means that you essentially are running a small business. We are always trying to sell our ideas to funding agencies, be they public or private, to continue our research. Considering that I am a junior investigator, I would categorize myself as a "startup" with great potential for future growth. This is something to keep in mind before considering this career path. For students interested in a faculty position such as mine, I would tell them that the number one thing they need to have is a passion for teaching. While this includes the formal classroom experience, I think the one-on-one training a mentor provides to their students is also critical for long-term career fulfillment.


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