From Pharmacy to Congress

Author: Barbara Sax


Ms. Sax is a freelance writer based in Chevy Chase, Maryland.


Texas State Sen Leticia Van de Putte, RPh, a 5-term state representative and 4-term Texas senator, is known as one of the most effective, hardworking, sincere, and influential legislators in Texas. She also is a pharmacist—a profession she believes has enabled her to serve so effectively as a legislator.

Before running for state congress in 1990, Sen Van de Putte never held public office. "My goal was to own my own pharmacy in my own community," she said. "I bought my own pharmacy in the 1980s. We are a 2-business family—my husband also runs a business—and at the time we had 6 kids under the age of 9."

She had long been involved in grassroots advocacy—especially for issues concerning children and education. "My involvement was really patient-centered," she said. "I had been the president of the Bexar County Pharmacists Association, and my goal was to someday become the president of the Texas Pharmacy Association."

Then came the 1990 state legislature election. "There were 5 guys running, and no one was talking about early childhood issues, health care, or small business. Those were all issues I was concerned about," she said. Van de Putte decided to run, with no expectation of winning. "I did not think I could win—I just wanted to have an influence on which issues were discussed," she said.

Two weeks into her run, she had a life-altering conversation with her children. "We were talking about what it would mean for our family if I won, and how I would have to spend time in Austin when the legislature was in session. My daughter said, 'You have to go. There are not enough mommies there.' That said it all," she said.

Van de Putte went to the state legislature—1 of about 20 women who served in the 150-member house. She now serves as 1 of 4 women in the 31-seat state senate. She said her experience as a pharmacist has made her uniquely qualified to serve in her current role.

Sen Leticia Van de Putte, RPh

Sen Leticia Van de Putte, RPh

"The greatest asset I bring to the state legislature is the communication skill [set] I learned as a pharmacist," she said. "As a pharmacist, I listen to people and help them understand the issues so that they can make decisions that improve their quality of life. Pharmacists often have to talk to people about uncomfortable things?. That is exactly what I do in the state legislature. Good communication skills are unbelievably helpful in building consensus."

She is a strong advocate for children, veterans, improved access to health care, quality education, and economic development issues and has consistently authored and sponsored bills to assist families in securing opportunities.

Sen Van de Putte has been a key author of bills that reformed the welfare system, revamped the state's Juvenile Code, and insured children. She also helped secure a $200-million investment in the Children's Cancer Institute of San Antonio. She has served as president of the National Conference of State Legislatures from 2006 to 2007 and was nominated as cochair of the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

The senator says a move to Washington is not on her agenda. "I love being in the state senate and making a difference here. I represent 800,000 people. Texas and California are the 2 states in which the state senators represent larger areas than members of federal congress. I oversee a $169-billion budget and am able to make the best of my skills."

While the senator said not everyone needs to be a member of the state legislature, she urges pharmacists to stay involved in pharmacy practice issues and broader community service. "There are plenty of local nonprofits that need people with strong communication and business skills. Whether you devote your time to the school board or a local health nonprofit, it is important to be involved," she said.