Small town grad hopes to make big splash in industrial pharmacy career

May 16, 2023
A sister and brother smile while wearing white coats in front of a building.
College of Pharmacy graduate Mattie Hucks inspired her brother, Collin Hucks, to follow in her footsteps. The siblings sit in front of the new College of Pharmacy facility. Photo by Sarah Pack

Going through pharmacy school, the wise adage “Keep your connections close, as pharmacy is a small world” is widely shared to students by faculty and mentors throughout their time in pharmacy school. It holds true throughout their careers.

It’s a concept that’s very familiar to graduating College of Pharmacy student Mattie Hucks, who can identify with the interconnectedness and camaraderie that exists between students and practitioners within her chosen profession. It’s similar, in fact, to the close kinship and belonging she grew up with in her hometown of Aynor, South Carolina – a two-stoplight town just 30 miles west of Myrtle Beach. 

Reflecting on her academic journey and these last four years at the College of Pharmacy, Hucks is proud of the hard work she put in to make it to this point and cherishes the shared experiences that she’s had with her classmates, faculty and instructors. Along with alumni, fellows and pharmacy professionals, all have contributed to the knowledge, opportunities and confidence she’s gained that are allowing her to launch a career in the pharmaceutical industry.  

But Hucks’ path to pharmacy was anything but typical. She was a model student growing up and followed her interests in creative writing and the humanities, earning a Bachelor of Arts in English from the College of Charleston. As an honors student, she chose to take chemistry, organic chemistry and other sciences – purposely working medicine and English together and enjoying these and other interdisciplinary pursuits.

”I’ve always been open and vocal with my family about my interests, and they’ve been supportive. Even as I was taking the next steps following my undergraduate years and strategizing my prerequisites for pharmacy school, they’ve been very encouraging,” said Hucks.

As a teen, she was drawn to pharmacy after watching her parents navigate the care of her grandparents – both diagnosed with cancer at the time. She saw how both her mom and dad struggled to manage the many types of medications required for each of them and would sometimes become so overwhelmed with questions, trying to understand and help. Hucks realized that having an expert who understands the mechanisms by which medications work and the specific ramifications for helping each patient would have been invaluable for her parents and grandparents at that time.

A woman wearing a white coat is surrounded by her parents. They are all smiling. 
Mattie Hucks with her parents, Charles and Kathy Hucks, at her White Coat Ceremony in 2020. Photo provided

Hucks decided she wanted to be that person who can synthesize information and share it in a relatable way to help both patients and family members feel more secure to handle the sometimes confusing instructions while managing their care or that of loved ones.

“Having clear communications as part of health care is so underrated. Breaking down the information to everyday terms helps the patient have confidence in what they’re going through, plus helps the caregiver be confident in the care that they provide. It’s a very integral part that I think is overlooked and undervalued when everyone is focused on the clinical issues.”

Today, the pharmacist is among an interdisciplinary team of practitioners responsible for open and effective patient education. With easy access of the internet and social media, patients and consumers are often challenged in finding information that’s factual. Many drug companies have prioritized making available product data, and clinical trial information on their websites that’s patient-friendly. Still, nothing is as effective as the one-on-one help that a pharmacist lends. 

“Coming into pharmacy with a background in effective communications and being able to synthesize information that is complex can hopefully eliminate that loss of communications. With many disease states being so complex and many new treatment options available today, it’s important for any consumer to feel confident in their medication and what it does and how it can help them.”

A lifelong learner, Hucks looks forward to using her Pharm.D. degree outside the scope of the profession’s most popular specializations – health care, retail and education. She felt she might prefer something else and found it in the pharmaceutical industry.

A woman wearing a suit stands beside the word Lilly, which is large and written in red cursive. 
Mattie Hucks completed an industrial pharmacy rotation with Eli Lilly working with specialized medications and developed strategies and information for various patient audiences. Photo provided

For her clinical rotations, she worked in acute care, ambulatory clinics, hospital and community pharmacies, plus an internship in a specialty pharmacy that provided cutting-edge biologic medications for specific patient populations. Hucks also managed to complete several industry elective experiences, which allowed her to explore more opportunities in this growing specialty. She worked on various types of projects and was able to apply her already honed skills in medical writing to focus on targeted therapeutic disease areas and patient audiences.

A favorite rotation was with Eli Lilly in Indianapolis, Indiana, where Hucks worked with the Value and Access Team on Value-Based Arrangement Strategy. This particular division of Eli Lilly works with specialized medications and explores methods to make these products accessible to patients who need them the most. 

“I met so many people and learned so much about their professional journeys through this experience. It emphasized how flexible the industry space is for pharmacists, physicians or anyone with a clinical background today. There’s so much room for lateral movement and growth.”

Hucks credits College of Pharmacy faculty, preceptors and classmates for preparing her to branch out into the world. She also has particularly valued MUSC’s interdisciplinary approach to education and health care. She hopes to have a similarly positive experience during her fellowship with the global biotechnology company Biogen in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During this two-year experience, Hucks will rotate through different functional areas within Medical Affairs, including medical publications, digital health, congress excellence, medical expert engagement and health outcomes research.

Hucks is particularly drawn to Alzheimer’s disease and neurodegenerative diseases, which are among some of Biogen’s many disease-space areas of research. With drug companies working to make headway in the discovery of drugs and treatments, she is particularly excited for the potential of the company’s new drug to treat Alzheimer’s, lecanemab, which was granted accelerated for approval by the FDA earlier this year.

Still, there is one significant milestone between now and her move to Cambridge. At MUSC’s May 20 graduation, Hucks will be joined by her family – her parents, brother, Collin, who is a rising second-year pharmacy student at MUSC, her grandparents and extended family.

“They’ve all been a strong support system, and I can’t wait to celebrate this moment with all of them,” she said. 

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