Donna Walker

Leadership program puts pharmacists on forefront of improving health care

As the role of pharmacists continues to expand — from rural pharmacists who are often a community’s only health care advocate to industry pharmacists working with policymakers to improve and expand health care delivery — the profession needs leaders.

Helping develop and inspire those pharmacy leaders is the goal of the Walker Leadership Scholars Program at the University of South Carolina’s College of Pharmacy, says program founder Donna Walker, (1979 pharmacy, 1984 MBA). Each year, the competitive program selects two high-capacity students from the first-year pharmacy class to be scholars for three consecutive years.

“The program requires quite a commitment,” Walker says. “It's not only, ‘What am I getting?’ it's ‘What am I contributing?’ ”

The scholars help recruit high-school students to the College of Pharmacy and take on leadership roles while they still are students.

Walker, whose father owned Cedar Terrace Pharmacy in Columbia, has been on the policymaking and innovation side of pharmacy for most of her career. Her own leadership skills were developed early in her collegiate career as she served in multiple student leadership positions with the American Pharmacists Association while also serving as a senator and secretary of UofSC student government.

I wanted to really grow as a leader, but to be honest, I really didn't know the level to which the program would transform my life.

Meg Freiter, 2019 Pharm.D., Walker Leadership Scholar

Walker’s husband, Mark Pulido — also a second-generation pharmacist — has been a CEO for large pharmaceutical companies. Together they own Pulido-Walker winery and vineyards in Napa Valley and manage the Pulido Walker Foundation. Their mantra is “pursue the possible” and it pervades every aspect of their lives, including their philanthropy.

“That pursuit means that you try to perfect every element along the way,” Walker explains.

Both the winery and the scholar program use the same emblem — an ancient apothecary weight engraved with the alchemy symbols for the seasons.

“That represented for us the weighing and measuring of decisions every day of every season to create excellence in what you do.”

In addition to helping students hone their leadership skills, the program seeks to expose them to the many career possibilities that come with a pharmacy degree.

One such student is Meg Freiter, who graduated in 2019 and works as a senior manager of pharmacy practice for the American Pharmacists Association, the national professional society where Walker’s own career got its start.

A native of Boston, Freiter earned both a bachelor’s in pharmacy (2017) as well as a Pharm. D. at UofSC. She was a Capstone Scholar as well as a Walker Leadership Scholar. She came to Carolina with a goal of becoming an independent pharmacist but saw how she could help thousands of independent pharmacists across the country by her work at the association.

“I was really interested in creating a pharmacy that could deliver the best of what pharmacists can do,” she says. Those things include administering flu shots and now COVID vaccines, helping patients manage hypertension or quit smoking. “Then I started to realize how many barriers there were to offering those things.

“So I thought wouldn't it be great to help solve these different barriers so that I could eventually create my own amazing pharmacy?” Freiter says. “Along the way, I realized that in working with APhA, I can help create a lot of really amazing pharmacies and not just my one.”

That desire to advance the profession is one of the qualities that made Freiter a prime candidate for the Walker Leadership Scholar program.

“I wanted to really grow as a leader,” she says. “But to be honest, I really didn't know the level to which the program would transform my life.”

In addition to molding leaders, the program seeks to create a network of professionals in and outside the industry who can serve as mentors. Walker personally mentors all the students in the program even after they have graduated.

“After the first class graduated from the program, two scholars came up to me and said, ‘It can't be a three-year program. It's got to be a lifetime program.’ And they've made that happen,” Walker says. “Their enthusiasm and engagement have motivated me to look at how the program can grow to continue to support the scholars’ leadership development and make a substantial contribution to our profession.”

Learn more

To learn more about how you can support the College of Pharmacy, contact Terry Dixon, senior director of development, at 803-777-5426 or

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