Commentary: I’m a Mother, PharmD, and Grateful for the Opportunities Still Ahead

The pharmacy industry operates through people with different talents filling all types of responsibilities.

Convention tells us that a person should be on a solid career path, settle down, and then start a family. But I’m here to tell you, if you have a vision you believe in and the right support, you can and should pursue the career or career advancement that inspires you—wherever you are in life.

My story proves this can be incredibly fulfilling and make an impact on your community. After the birth of my third child, just about 8 years ago, I took steps that have me where I am today—a pharmacist enrolled in the Pharmacy Residency Program at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center (ARMC). It’s been a wonderful journey that continuously gives me new opportunities to evolve my career and purpose in the world of health care.

I grew up thinking of the pharmacist as the person who provided the medications I needed when I was sick. Then during a presentation in high school, my view changed. I learned that the pharmacy profession encompassed so much more and played a huge role in health care.

The idea that as a pharmacist I could help so many people, in such an important way, inspired me. After careful consideration, I decided this was right for me. Then I got started.

I gained insight by working as a pharmacy technician before committing to pharmacy school. Soon after earning my pharmacy technician certification, I began working in the field. By 2013 I was working at ARMC’s Mainland Campus, in Pomona, NJ as a pharmacy technician.

This job opened up a world of pharmacy I had never imagined. Yes, I filled prescriptions, but at ARMC I also did so much more. I prepared IVs for the NICU. I supported the ambulatory care sites. I helped bridge disparities by volunteering at AtlantiCare’s Federally Qualified Health Center.

I experienced first-hand the role a pharmacist plays in everything from helping ensure that a premature baby has a safe dose of antibiotics to assuring that a patient in the critical care unit receives medications in a timely manner. I collaborated as part of an interprofessional team responsible for the health and wellbeing of an entire community. It stimulated and motivated me. I saw in front of me other pharmacy career possibilities that, with additional training and education, I could explore and pursue.

In May 2022, I graduated from Creighton University with my PharmD, becoming the first in my family to earn a doctoral degree. Currently, I am working my way through ARMC’s Pharmacy Residency Program. My experience in this graduate medical education (GME) program has been extraordinary.

I’m gaining hands-on experience so that I can be sure I provide care of the highest quality and with the utmost compassion. I’m exploring on an even deeper level ways to define my role, and my impact in health care. I feel so privileged to be part of AtlantiCare’s GME program. Having the opportunity to complete rotations alongside internal medicine, family medicine and psychiatry residents has been especially rewarding. As we share our experiences and knowledge, we inspire each other.

Lessons from my journey

Regardless of where we are in our pharmacy careers, we can always be learning. Here are a few of the most important lessons I’ve learned that I feel apply to all of us.

1. Listen to your instinct.

The experience in high school drew me to pharmacy. Yes, I started a family and pursued other life dreams between then and now, but I always kept pharmacy in my line of sight. Listening to my instinct—both that initial attraction as a teenager and many times since then—has led me to wonderful places.

It has changed my life as well as opened doors for me to impact the lives of others and my community. Consider the possibilities. A residency program, for example, immerses you in rich, real-time experiences and collaborations with an entire medical team. My fellow residents and I get to care for diverse communities in southern New Jersey with other AtlantiCare providers and staff. With our health system team, we are breaking down barriers to care and addressing social determinants of health.

2. If you have the will, you will find a way.

There I was, a mother raising 3 children, working in partnership with my husband to support our household. Somehow, I needed to find the time, money and energy to go to school and, eventually, get my doctorate. But I knew this path suited me. And I knew, ultimately, it would allow me to be an exemplary mother for my children and support my family in the ways my husband and I wanted.

Part of my solution came from my employer, AtlantiCare. My supervisor and colleagues rallied around me to ensure I had flexibility in my work schedule to fit in everything—work, family, and my education and training. AtlantiCare’s tuition reimbursement funds helped me pay for my prerequisite courses at Atlantic Cape Community College.

I also benefited from two scholarships for employees and dependents of employees. More of my solution came from my family. From day one, my family and work family encouraged me to challenge myself to pursue my dreams. The support I received from my children and husband at home made it possible to pursue my goal.

3. Discover and use what is available to you.

I needed a good deal of support to strike the right work-education-life balance and finance my education and training. The resources existed, but I had to ask and show the courage to leverage them.

I’ve learned that it’s not only okay to ask for help, but it’s also part of our responsibility as health care professionals. Because I learned about the options available to me, and because I used them, I am now in an even better position to serve others. So, for example, ask if your employer has a tuition reimbursement program or scholarships, or inquire whether coworkers are willing to swap a shift to help you make it work.

4. Challenge yourself.

The pharmacy industry operates through people with different talents filling all types of responsibilities. Technicians, PharmDs, specialists and those in other roles contribute to the health and wellness of the communities we serve.

Getting my doctorate and going further in the GME program fit for me. I knew I wanted and could meet the challenge. The important things are that you know the possibility is open to you, that you consider it and that you are happy with the decision you make. If you feel good about your job—your role—you will be great at it. As long as you are passionate about what you do, you will provide exceptional care and service to your community.

5. We need to be our own best advocates.

As pharmacy professionals, we have a responsibility to foster awareness about the ways we support healthy communities. Pharmacists promote public health by providing medication counseling to our patients and administering immunizations.

We create and execute research that leads to enhancements in care and patient safety. We help people avoid and manage chronic conditions. When members of our community are sick, we contribute to their healing. We offer a wide range of support for health care providers and patients alike. The more we make people aware of these roles, the more they will come to depend on and trust us as an integral part of their health care team.

As we enter the season of giving thanks, I have a great deal for which I am grateful. My fourth child is on the way. I am halfway through my residency program and plan to enroll in an MBA program soon. And I am thankful for where my career choices have directed me. The trust patients place in our team as we care for them humbles me. Whether we are behind the pharmacy counter, at the bedside, or in the community, we work with our fellow care providers and our patients to create a healthier world.

About the Author

Marie DeBerry-Butler, PharmD, pharmacy resident, AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center.