As a child, Maggie Mason (HWS ’17) remembers her mother, who is a nurse, bringing home small promotional items from drug companies. “I would ask her, Mom, what's this weird name? And she would tell me about them and what the drug did.”
“I loved using the pens,” Maggie recalls. “The pens were super cute. I would bring them to school and tell my friends about them. ‘Oh, this is Allegra; it helps with allergies’ or whatever. I thought it was so cool.”
But more importantly, Maggie saw how the different medications helped her mother manage her health.
“I didn't understand why someone had to be on so many different meds,” she says. “I feel like that fueled this idea of okay, can we help narrow regimens? We should help people understand their medications, because as a kid, I didn't understand.”
So began Maggie’s journey down the health and well-being sciences academic path (then a track in the Inter-College Program major) and a career as a pharmacist.
A Health-Focused Beginning
Maggie has several family members who work in health care. In high school she shadowed a pharmacist and fell in love with the field. She knew she wanted to go to pharmacy school but wasn’t sure of the best route to get there.
Her undergraduate advisor, in a different college at the U of M, told her about the Health and Wellbeing Sciences program, which would allow her to customize a course of study based on her health care interests. Maggie chose to double minor in addiction studies and pharmacology.
"(Designing your own degree) helps you stand out from other graduates when you're applying for jobs or graduate programs.”
While in college she worked at a Target pharmacy (which later became CVS), then in the pharmacy at Children's Minnesota Hospital in Saint Paul. She completed her residency last year at Mercy Hospital and is currently a pharmacist at Saint Francis Hospital.
(Find out what the differences are between a hospital and a retail pharmacist.)
“I love making an impact on patients, whether it was in a more direct way like at CVS or a more indirect way like at the hospital collaborating with everyone,” she says. “I think the end goal all along was to be the best pharmacist I could be.”
“It’s been quite the journey.”
Maggie was in her third year of pharmacy school when the COVID-19 lockdown hit and all of her courses went online. She went through clinical rotations and her hospital residency during the middle of the pandemic.
“It was definitely challenging having to go to codes during a pandemic and see, you know, some horrible things with COVID," she says. "It was sometimes very sad. It was an interesting ride to go from being a student, and then being on rotations, and then being a pharmacist. It's been quite the journey.”
Her rotations, luckily, were pretty much one-on-one. There could be multiple students at one hospital, but each person would be in a different department: one on the surgical floor and another on the cardiology floor, for example.
What made rotations challenging is that during that time, Maggie says, COVID protocol recommendations were not very clear. “New guidelines were always coming out or weren’t in place. Or we were just going based on articles that were coming out.”
It often depended on which health system you worked for, too. “As a student it was kind of confusing,” she says. “In general, all those systems are similar, but they definitely have differences.” She adds that once you’re a practitioner and work for one health system, protocols become much clearer.
Maggie thinks that we’re not quite through the pandemic yet, but “if we all do what we can to try and stay healthy, hopefully, we can ride through this together.”
Pro Tips for Students
- Keep an open mind when you're choosing your classes and your focus area.
- Remember to take care of your own health and well-being.
- Diversify. Try and volunteer if you can and get some shadowing experience, or talk to people in the field.
- I guess the biggest piece of advice is, take a deep breath. You know more than you know. You are smart, you can do it. You've got this, and you're going to be great.
ICP 3101W Proposal Development (then taught by Amy Burger Sánchez)
“It really helped me focus on my major and my personal and career goals. I loved that you were able to write this proposal about why you wanted to take these courses and actually sit down and think about why they're important to you and what you are going to get out of them. (Amy) did a fantastic job putting that class together, and I can never really thank her enough.”
Major Takeaway from Designing Her Own Degree
“It allowed me to take ownership of my education and what I wanted out of my major. It allowed me to hand craft my degree by choosing classes and a focus area that I was really interested in. It helps you stand out from other graduates when you're applying for jobs or graduate programs.”
Maggie is a recipient of the Fibiger Award.
What's the difference between a hospital and a retail pharmacist?
"One of the biggest differences is the patient populations we see. In hospital settings there are acutely sick patients, and pharmacists mainly help ensure medications patients receive are appropriate for them. And in retail settings, pharmacists will do the same thing but will interact with patients with more chronic illnesses like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, mental health (issues), etc. Although retail pharmacists also work with patients with acute illnesses when they get antibiotics from clinics or after they leave the hospital.
We do similar daily tasks, just for those different patient populations. When we both receive a prescription order to verify, we will review a patient's chart to look for any drug or disease interactions and any other information we have on their history that will determine if the medication is appropriate and safe.
Both hospital and retail pharmacists check the products technicians or interns prepare for patients. Both have opportunities to interact with patients in different ways. In retail, pharmacists often interact with patients during education or counseling of the patients’ medications.
In hospitals, pharmacists have some opportunities for patient education or counseling, but are commonly involved in medication reconciliation through a conversation with the patient. At the hospital, there’s often easier access to recent lab work, vitals, and provider or other staff notes. There are also often opportunities to collaborate with providers, nurses and other members of the healthcare team in medical codes, patient rounds, and general drug information questions staff may have."