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Family experience inspires pharmacy student to serve her community

Melissa Varner
June 03, 2019
Keeana Ross studies at the MUSC College of Pharmacy

Keeana Ross has watched family members “wither away” because they didn’t ask questions about the medicine they were prescribed.

“They just really didn't understand why they were taking the medicine that they were,” Keeana said. “They would have a lot of questions that they never really asked – either from not having the confidence to ask or feeling like they were taking time away from the pharmacist.” Instead, they’d stop taking their medicine or try herbal remedies.

“I saw a lot of them withering away, just from not knowing what the medication could do for them,” she said. Her experience inspired a fascination with medicine and how it works. She also sees a career in pharmacy as a powerful way to educate people, especially minorities living in rural communities. 

Keeana Ross at MUSC in her white coat

“As a kid, I didn't feel like I could do something unless I saw someone who looked like me doing it.”

“To know that I could go to a school that would teach me so much about how medicines are made, what they do in the body, what could happen if you don't take your medicine, and what can happen if you take too much,” Keeana said. “That just seemed very powerful to me that I could then go disseminate that information to people who don't know that. Being a pharmacist will give me the platform to be able to share that knowledge.”

Keeana is getting her own education first. In addition to working toward her Doctor of Pharmacy at MUSC, she’s also studying for a Master of Business Administration at The Citadel. It’s a concurrent degree program through the College of Pharmacy that allows motivated students like Keeana to earn both degrees at the same time.

When she’s not studying or on rotation in Hardeeville, Keeana works at a Publix Pharmacy. The part-time job and her parents both help pay her tuition. But with tuition at more than $25,000 a year, it’s often not enough. “Whatever we can’t pull together between those options, I do take out federal loans,” Keeana said.

This past year she got help from Walgreens. As the winner of the Walgreens Diversity and Inclusion Excellence Award, the company gave Keeana $2,500 toward her tuition.

Walgreens also gave the College of Pharmacy $7,000 for programs that support diversity and inclusion, like the Saudi Arabia Seminar and PharmDamentals. Keeana was involved in both programs. “I just want to thank them for not only their commitment to helping students like me but also for enriching diversity and inclusion all across the campus,” Keeana said.

As a member of the College’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Keeana helped organize the hour-long seminar featuring three pharmacy students from Saudi Arabia. The students shared the culture and history of their home country with the MUSC community.

She also participated in PharmDamentals as a student ambassador. The half-day program is designed to introduce high schoolers to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers like pharmacy. “I feel like visual representation is very important,” Keeana said. “As a kid, I didn't feel like I could do something unless I saw someone who looked like me doing it. So, it really empowered me to feel like I'm a visual representation.”

Keeana is also setting a new example for her extended family. While she’s the first to earn a doctorate and the first to pursue pharmacy, she doesn’t think she’ll be the last.

“I have a lot of cousins who are coming up behind me, taking the initiative and going to college and doing STEM fields,” she said.

While Keeana is only halfway through her journey as a pharmacy student, it’s clear her impact on the community is only just beginning.

About the Author

Melissa Varner

Keywords: Thank You Notes, Pharmacy