Clinical Pharmacy Specialist Turned Teacher

Growing up, Dr. Kristen Gawronski always knew she wanted to work in the health care field and take care of patients. She considered medical school, physical therapy, nursing and pharmacy. We interviewed Dr. Gawronski to discover how she ended up choosing pharmacy school.

Why pharmacy?

Both of my parents were in the healthcare field, so growing up I knew this was the path for me. I was lucky enough to get a job at a community pharmacy within a grocery store while in high school. I enjoyed learning about medications and how they work and loved working with patients and customers.

What most attracted you to pharmacy over other healthcare professions?

The flexibility and variety of career options. There are so many different practice settings for pharmacists — community pharmacy, hospital/institutional practice, teaching, consulting — the possibilities are endless. For a young woman interested in having a family, not having to be on-call like a physician was a major draw for me.

Describe the most rewarding day of your career.

Every day I spent in the NICU taking care of patients was rewarding, however one particular patient sticks out to me. We were taking care of a critically ill baby who had been receiving medication for an infection, however, it wasn’t working. Coming up with antibiotic and nutrition recommendations ultimately led to a significant change in the patient’s overall status. It was amazing to see such a sick little baby get better, grow bigger and go home healthy and happy!

What does your work/life balance look like?

My work/life balance as a professor is excellent. While it is a myth that teachers get the summers off, we do work pretty regular hours, Monday through Friday. A typical day for me is about eight hours split between the school and my practice site, though I do spend time in the evenings working on lectures or reading papers. While I do bring work home with me sometimes, I enjoy what I do so it doesn’t seem like work!

What type of pharmacist are you and what makes your career path unique?

I am a clinical pharmacy specialist turned teacher. I am currently an assistant professor of pharmacy practice at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine School of Pharmacy in Erie, PA. Previously, I worked in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH. I completed two years of pharmacy residency after finishing a 2+4 year program to get my PharmD at the State University of New York, University at Buffalo.

My job as a professor at a school of pharmacy is unique because I get to work with patients and students every day. I help to take care of and educate patients about their medications and teach future generations of pharmacists to always put the patient first. Working with students keeps me sharp — you really have to understand a subject to be able to teach it. I enjoy seeing how my students learn and grow and the pharmacy practitioners they become.

What do you love most about your job?

Every day I go home knowing I’ve made a positive impact on a patient’s or student’s life. To be able to make a difference is so fulfilling and rewarding.

What do you wish someone told you in high school?

Explore all of your options! Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I was lucky to work in a pharmacy and experience what life as a pharmacist was like firsthand. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask pharmacists or other providers to shadow them. Take advantage of programs geared towards providing intro opportunities to the medical profession in your area. For example, LECOM offers a program called Medical Applications in Science and Health (MASH) each summer, which is geared towards teaching high school students about careers in the medical field.

What’s the best advice you were given as it pertains to your career?

Always look for ways to keep learning! Taking care of patients and educating students is a privilege. In order to do your job well, you have to constantly improve your knowledge and skills. Stay committed to this professional development process even once you finish school.

What do you believe to be the biggest misconception about the field of pharmacy?

The biggest misconception about pharmacy is that all we do is count pills and slap labels on boxes. I love educating people about all of the clinical roles for pharmacists! As a pharmacist working in the hospital setting, working directly with other members of the medical team, I always wanted to model the value added by a pharmacist as part of a rounding team. We are the medication experts.

This post was originally published on Pharmacy is Right for Me, a resource for aspiring pharmacy professionals.

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