Partnership, leadership fuel married pharmacy graduates' success

May 13, 2020
Austyn and Zachary Posey in white coats
Austyn and Zachary Posey in their white College of Pharmacy coats. Photos provided

James Sterrett, an associate professor in the College of Pharmacy at the Medical University of South Carolina, summed up a lot of people’s feelings about Austyn and Zachary Posey as they prepared to graduate. “You just look at them, and you’re like, ‘I’m proud that they’re representing the College of Pharmacy.’”

The Poseys, who have been both campus leaders and academic achievers, are among about 80 pharmacy students graduating from MUSC on May 16. That day marks the beginning of a new period of their life as a married couple. Both have managed to secure residencies – no small feat in a highly competitive profession – to continue their educations. But the catch is that they will have to live separately for the first time in their marriage. Austyn is headed to Ashville, North Carolina, Zachary to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

But they have a plan. “We’re going to be exactly 11 hours apart. We’ve done extensive research on this,” Zachary said.

“Smack dab in the middle, five and a half hours from each of us, is Cincinnati. We’ll be spending some weekends in Cincinnati,” Austyn said. “We’re grateful to have the residencies, and we’re excited to learn from them, so we’re trying to be creative.”

Zachary and Austyn Posey engagement photo 
The Poseys' engagement photo.

The Poseys are no strangers to embracing change in their roles as students and leaders at MUSC. For example, due to the coronavirus, their final rotations in school have been done from home via technology instead of in person.

“It’s been a little crazy,” Austyn said. “Definitely,” Zachary agreed.

But Austyn also saw some positive changes in their field driven by the pandemic. “With telemedicine happening and things, there’s an extra push to get us prescribing rights. Because people are seeing, ‘Oh, we can actually do testing for the coronavirus, or when it comes out, we can give vaccines.’ People are coming to us in the community at CVS, at Walgreens, asking questions.”

The Poseys are used to finding answers. Zachary has been president of their class in the College of Pharmacy for three years, a role that required a willingness not only to lead but also mediate. 

“Our P1 year, just because things were so new, and we had a class full of 90 type-A personalities, there was a little bit of a lack of communication. It was causing some tension. I saw the opportunity to improve that communication so those tensions could be eased and our class could get the full benefit of having such a wonderful faculty and staff like we do at the College of Pharmacy,” he said.

“I liked doing something even as simple as serving as a sounding board for my classmates. I liked being that person who people could come to with their issues and help them potentially solve problems and make our class experience better.”

Austyn served on the Student Government Association for all of MUSC, becoming campus president during her final year of school. “In those three years, I really saw the SGA evolve. I love the interprofessional atmosphere. Every week, you get to sit down with people from all six colleges and talk about how to help campus life improve.”

Austyn and Zachary Posey wedding photo 
The Poseys pose for a wedding photo in front of a Charleston landmark.

Under her leadership, during the coronavirus pandemic, the SGA donated money that would have paid for spring activities to the student emergency response fund and the MUSC COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund to help employees.

That’s in keeping with Sterrett’s view of the couple. “They just have strong morals, strong ethics. They do the right things for the right reasons,” the associate professor said.

Their shared values were part of what drew them together when they met during a biochemistry class during their first year of pharmacy school. Austyn said Zachary’s blue eyes didn’t hurt, either. 

Zachary said the chemistry was strong enough for them to put aside some advice they’d been given. “We both had several friends in years above us all give us the same advice: Whatever you do, don’t date someone in your class because you’re going to see them 24/7 for the next four years of your life. We immediately decided that that was a bad idea. We needed to break those rules. And luckily for both of us, we did.”

They dated for two and a half years, then married last summer. Austyn likes having a life partner who knows what her job is all about. “That level of understanding is just wonderful.”

Zachary agreed. “That’s been honestly one of the best things. Being able to come home and say, ‘I saw the craziest thing today or the coolest thing. This, this and this happened.’ The person you’re telling it to actually gets what you’re saying.”

Both also value what their MUSC pharmacy degrees will allow them to do – play an important role in patients’ lives. “They may not have the ability to tell a physician or someone else what they’re dealing with, or don’t necessarily want to tell the physician or someone else, but they trust their pharmacist,” Zachary said. “We have the ability and knowledge to have big impacts on patients’ lives on a daily basis.”

"Being able to take the language that we learn in school, the scientific language, and be able to break it down to a common person’s level of understanding – that’s just magical,” Austyn said.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, MUSC's commencement ceremony has been canceled. But the students will be celebrated, nonetheless, although in an unusual way. They’ll receive their diplomas in a drive-through celebration on the MUSC campus. The College of Pharmacy will also hold a virtual awards ceremony. Then, the Poseys will head to their residencies in two different states. 

Sterrett predicts success for them both. “They’ve been able to support each other through the whole process. It set them up perfectly to apply for and get accepted for residencies, which will advance their careers as well.”