Policy, Advocacy & Leadership Immersion Week in Washington, D.C.
The Walker Leadership Scholars program at the University of South Carolina provides professional development opportunities for our student pharmacists that are unmatched nationwide.
One such experience is a week-long trip to Washington, D.C., during their third year of pharmacy school. As part of “Policy, Advocacy & Leadership Immersion Week,” the students meet with executive management of several major pharmacy professional organizations, congressional representatives, and industry trade organizations.
“They gain deeper insights into their profession from these interactions with national leaders in pharmacy,” says Donna Walker (1979 B.S. pharmacy, 1984 MBA), founder of the program. “Our goal is to provide them with a national network of pharmacy leaders, inspire their commitment to the profession, and expose the scholars to the path to develop policy and advocate for their patients and profession," she adds.
This year’s trip included scholars from the classes of 2021, 2022 and 2023, as previous trips were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The scholars were fortunate to meet Representatives Buddy Carter (GA) and Diana Harshbarger (TN), who are both pharmacists, and attend a health care hearing at the invitation of Senator Tim Scott (SC.)
Alumna Cassidy Kemp (2021 Pharm.D.), currently a postgraduate resident at Prisma Health Richland Hospital focusing on hospital system administration and leadership, says she gained a new excitement for policy and advocacy and hopes to become more involved in state-level pharmacy organizations.
Alexis Caronis (2021 Pharm.D.) attended portions of the trip when able to step away from her work as a fellow at the Pharmacy Quality Alliance, a national organization in D.C. dedicated to improving medication safety.
“The most exciting part for me was the ability to merge my experiences in the WLS program with my experiences in the PQA fellowship,” says Caronis. “Regardless of your desired career in pharmacy, leadership skills will be crucial to your success.”
Jordan Jones, Class of 2023, was most impacted by the behind-the-scenes look at the legislative process.
“This trip showed me that people outside the world of pharmacy truly don’t know what it is that pharmacists do. It has shown me that grassroots advocacy really starts with us, that we are the ones who have to give our profession a voice, because no one else understands it well enough to do it for us,” says Jones.
Jones, who had not been to D.C. before, expressed her gratitude to those who coordinated the trip,
“You can tell that these leaders really love to give back and mentor pharmacy students, so this program is an amazing chance to learn about leadership while growing your network,” she says.
Kemp is grateful for the abundance of connections and mentorship opportunities she received through WLS, enriching her pharmacy education and budding career in ways she could not have imagined.
“Not only was I mentored and supported by Donna Walker and our WLS Board, but through the engagement of WLS alumni as well. I always had a constant community through my time in WLS,” she says.
Across the board, the scholars agree that participating in the Walker Leadership Scholars program provided them support and confidence to pursue whatever path of pharmacy they choose. Since the program was established in 2013, WLS alumni have gone on to work in national offices, like the American Pharmacists Association, in addition to traditional community and clinical pharmacy roles.
“This D.C. experience broadens the scholars’ perspective and sows seeds in this next generation of pharmacy leaders that will blossom and grow throughout their careers,” says Walker.