Pharmacy graduate means business

May 13, 2021
Keeana Ross
Keeana Ross. Photo by Sarah Pack

When Keeana Ross tells people where she’s headed after graduating from the College of Pharmacy at the Medical University of South Carolina, they have no problem recognizing the name. “It seems like everyone knows Pfizer these days, especially with their contribution of the new vaccine,” she said.

Ross won’t be working on vaccines, although she’s proud to have landed a postdoctoral fellowship with a company that has played an important role in fighting COVID-19. No, the people she hopes to help through her work at Pfizer and beyond are those whose illnesses don’t often make headlines.

“I'm going to be working in their rare disease therapeutic area. That covers sickle cell and growth hormone deficiency and other genetic diseases that are commonly not really focused on because they affect fewer than 200,000 people in the U.S. so they’re not seen as big-ticket items.”

They are, however, close to her heart. “I feel like I've given a lot of my effort and energy and passion to underserved populations, giving a voice to people who don't always have one. I'm excited to see how that correlates with big pharma and its business practices.”

Yuri Peterson 
Dr. Yuri Peterson

Assistant professor Yuri Peterson, Ph.D., who has worked closely with Ross during her time at MUSC, applauded her next professional step. “The fellowship is a highly competitive and prestigious position,” he said.

Ross is no stranger to competition – and rising to the top. While earning a bachelor’s degree in biological systems engineering and serving in multiple campus leadership roles, she knew she wanted to stretch herself further.

“With engineering, our goal was really to understand how to create things on a mass scale and develop these processes that are going to be used to manufacture the drugs. I wanted to know more about the drugs and what they do in the body and how they impact patients.”

To learn that, she decided to go to pharmacy school at MUSC – oh, and she also decided to earn a Master of Business Administration degree at the same time at The Citadel.

“I think I have a really different skillset. I like working with people to come up with ideas and bringing them to life,” Ross said.

Peterson, one of Ross’ mentors, said she has the inquisitive mind and intellect to have quite an impact. Her range of research interests has been broad. “Her best work, which is soon to be published, is in safety advocacy and analysis of National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health workplace hazardous drug exposure.”

Ross also has a knack for leadership, as her undergraduate days indicated. She’s a current regional facilitator of the Student National Pharmaceutical Association and former chapter president of that organization’s MUSC chapter. She’s also done an externship with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Investigational Drug Services unit and Prisma Health’s Acute Oncology Clinical Pharmacy team.

Now, Ross is about to return to her roots — at least, geographically. While she calls Columbia, South Carolina, her hometown, she spent her first six years in Queens, a borough of New York City. Her Pfizer fellowship will take her back to her birth state, where she plans to live in Brooklyn.

Ross, the only child of doting parents, said she couldn’t have made it this far without her family’s support. “They are very quick to come to my rescue if I need anything. When I was younger, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, helicopter parents.’ But now I'm very thankful.”

She also credits the support of mentors, such as Peterson, at MUSC. “He's been very, very helpful. I started to doubt whether I made the right decision because there are all these different things you could do in pharmacy. But then I realized that if you pick the road that's less traveled, you kind of have to pave it yourself. I'm so thankful for people like Dr. Peterson who were constantly in my corner.”

Ross will work in Medical Affairs at Pfizer. “I kind of explain it to my family like this: Medical affairs teams for pharmaceutical companies allow the all the science and research to have an impact in actual patients’ lives. We can have the best clinical trial data and groundbreaking research, but if we can’t effectively communicate the information to health care providers who make decisions on behalf of patient care, we can’t actually ensure the safe and appropriate usage of our drugs, which is the most important part. That’s where Medical Affairs comes in,” she said.

“Most companies’ Medical Affairs teams include their Medical Science Liaisons, who are commonly PharmDs. They create and maintain personal relationships with providers and can answer more questions about the medications and the science behind them.”

Ross, during her two-year fellowship, will work with medical science liaisons to keep them abreast of new studies and clinical trials. “I’ll help to support external activities such as educating MSLs as well as internally by helping with promotional review of advertisements and setting strategy for the rare disease division.”

At the end, she looks forward to helping direct internal medical affairs roles or possibly taking on a frontline role as a medical science liaison herself one day. “I feel like I'm a lot stronger coming out of the fellowship application process than I was going in. I know a lot more about myself and what I want and where I see myself long term.”

About the Author

Helen Adams

Keywords: Education