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Career evolution

O’Quinn chose pharmacy after stints as science teacher, school IT pro

Brian O’Quinn jokes that he has one more year to figure out what he wants to do when he grows up.

O’Quinn, a father of two young children, will soon begin a post-graduate pharmacy residency at the William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center, the latest twist in a professional life that has evolved from high school science teacher to pharmacist.

“It’s a privilege to be able to do things that you like, be productive, help people and continue to have some variety in your life,” he said.

Growing up in Branchville, O’Quinn spent a lot of time working in his physician father’s small-town medical practice. Although he respected his father’s work, O’Quinn realized that medicine wasn’t the right path for him. At the time, O’Quinn didn’t realize the scope of health care went far beyond that rural practice setting so he instead followed his interests in chemistry and computers.

Upon graduating from college, O’Quinn taught high school science in Saluda, then shifted to a career in school technology, supporting districts in Greenwood, Orangeburg County and Charleston County.

His wife Emily O’Quinn, a pharmacist, began her career in clinical pharmacy and then gradually shifted into a pharmacy-specific health informatics role based on what she saw Brian doing in education, O’Quinn said. He was likewise inspired by her career to make the leap into pharmacy.

“The work she was doing was similar to what I was doing and incorporated science, incorporated health care, incorporated taking care of people,” he said. “We just fed off each other in terms of career ideas over the years.

“It’s a big commitment to go back to school, but I felt like it was time for me to make a change. Ultimately it just seemed like the best way to do that and have a niche for myself where I could be most helpful and do the most good and do something I enjoyed.”

Pharmacy was a natural fit for O’Quinn because of his chemistry background. Plus, because so many aspects of patient care revolve around medications, the field has been a hot spot for health IT innovations, such as computerized physician order entry and interaction checking.

At Carolina, O’Quinn enrolled in the Pharm.D./Master of Health Information Technology dual-degree program to build his pharmacy and health informatics knowledge.

“My goal is to become a better pharmacist first,” he said. “I did informatics before I went to pharmacy school and really the job is helping other people do their job. My philosophy is in order to do that, you have to be able to understand their job and the challenges they face so that you can put together tools and systems that can help do that job.”

O’Quinn credits Jennifer Baker, the college’s director of experiential education, with locating sites where students can gain pharmacy IT experience and cultivating the relationships to make those opportunities come to fruition.

“I’m really grateful to the faculty and staff who have done a great job helping me and everyone else get through the past four years,” he said.