"Mentoring has been an invaluable asset to me, in life and in my profession..."
Gamecock alumna Michelle Stokes Cakley (1999 Pharm.D.) is a lifelong learner and committed to 'paying it forward' by mentoring future pharmacists along their journey. Michelle works as a pharmacist at South Carolina Oncology Associates, where she and other members of the clinical team help patients navigate the complexities of cancer treatment.
Tell us about what you do:
I work at South Carolina Oncology Associates, an outpatient oncology clinic in Columbia, SC. I work in the infusion pharmacy where we make IV chemotherapy and non-chemotherapeutic drugs. As a pharmacist, I am responsible for checking each patient’s labs, verifying doses, patient education and working with other members of our clinical team including medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pharmacy technicians, nurses, social workers and other providers to coordinate patient care.
I also staff our outpatient specialty pharmacy where we dispense oral oncology drugs as well as medications used for supportive care. Our pharmacy is URAC-accredited which means we provide have a robust Patient Care Management Program where we conduct clinical assessments for each patient and recommend interventions, such as dose adjustments or treatment changes when warranted.
How did you originally get interested in your field?
I have always enjoyed math and science. My Spanish teacher in high school suggested pharmacy as a profession. She helped me arrange to shadow the pharmacist at the only pharmacy in our small town. I enjoyed the experience and decided I wanted to become a pharmacist.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be a nurse or a chemical engineer. I’ve always loved hospitals so I should have known I would land in health care. I remember visiting a relative at MUSC when I was about nine years old. I recall walking the halls and being in awe of the building. I still get excited when I visit medical facilities. During a trip to Los Angeles, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center was on my list of “must see” sites.
What is your favorite memory from pharmacy school?
I have so many great memories from pharmacy school. One of my favorites is attending the SNPhA Convention at Florida A&M University with members from our chapter at USC. I had so much fun meeting members from other chapters across the nation!
What class or professor was most memorable to you?
I will always remember Assistant Dean Vicki Young. She was one of my first mentors and devoted so much of her time and energy to her students. Representation matters - Dean Young exemplified excellence as a Black female pharmacist!
I will also always remember a conversation I had with Dean Julian Fincher during my first year of pharmacy school. I went to his office to make sure he was aware that the pharmaceutics exam for his class was scheduled on the same day as our biochemistry exam in Dr. Beamer’s class. I though this had to be an error of epic proportions. His response was, “Michelle, do you think that was by accident? It builds character!” He was so right!
Looking back, is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Honestly, I can’t think of one thing I would have done differently. I’ve learned so much about myself since pharmacy school. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that I am a neurodiverse learner. Knowing that explains so much about my learning style and challenges I have faced. This knowledge helped me identify neurodiversity when I saw it in my children. As a result, they have learned and embraced their leaning styles and are learning to navigate in a neurotypical world.
How do you spend your time outside of work?
I volunteer regularly at a children’s home in the area. I enjoy hiking to see waterfalls in the Upstate and NC mountains. I also enjoy reading, traveling, running and learning new things. I’m still on the lookout for my hidden talents...
What skill would you love to master?
Crocheting, I’ve tried so many times, but I have yet to master it. I would also love to learn another language.
Who has been a mentor to you?
I have several mentors who have been instrumental in my life. The late Dr. Ronald Stroman was one of my first pharmacy mentors. He was always very open and honest about his experiences as a pharmacist. I miss his guidance tremendously!
Some of my current mentors are Dr. Jan Montgomery, former Director of Pharmacy at South Carolina Oncology Associates; Dr. Larry Moore, retired pharmacist from Lexington Oncology Associates; and Mrs. Dorothy J. Stewart, former administrator in public and private housing for over 30 years. I met Mrs. Dorothy when she was my patient at another local pharmacy. We have had a wonderful friendship for over 20 years. I count her as one of my dearest friends and mentors.
Mentoring has been an invaluable asset to me, in life and in my profession. I currently mentor students through the NCODA Pharmacy Mentorship Program. Mentoring is a great way to give back to others by assisting future pharmacists on their journey. I find it very fulfilling!
What is your advice for current students / future pharmacy professionals?
Never stop learning! Pharmacy continues to evolve along with the rest of the world. Medicine becomes more sophisticated and research is ever-expanding. There’s no way you can know it all, so never stop being a student of your profession. Growth and adaptation are key components for success in pharmacy. Also, don’t be afraid to explore other avenues in the profession. There are vast opportunities available to pharmacists. Don’t limit yourself to what you think the profession offers. Explore and embrace opportunities for growth!
What are you currently reading, watching, or listening to?
I’m currently reading “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi. I also enjoy reading anything by Mark Manson.
What would your superpower be?
If I could choose a superpower I would choose invisibility. It would be wonderful to have the ability to disappear at will or be undetected in different settings! As good as that sounds, I would settle for the ability to sing and dance. I am looking for an extremely patient teacher...