Young Professionals Corner

Remember Your “Why”

Casey Walker
PGY-1 Behavioral Health Pharmacy Resident
University of the Sciences of Philadelphia


t was the third day of my College of Pharmacy orientation at the Howard University College of Pharmacy (HUCOP) in Washington, DC. I sat in the third row of the auditorium with my first-year pharmacy classmates watching the student organization presentations given by upperclassmen. I was amazed and overwhelmed by the activities and opportunities presented to us. Little did I know that one of the organizations presented that day would become part of my life story. Adaobi Anyiwo (now Adaobi Anyiwo, PharmD, RAC) delivered a presentation about the Howard University DIA Student Chapter. I was totally fascinated.

I was particularly moved because DIA’s global headquarters was in Washington, DC, which gave me easy access, and DIA was also active in several international cities. I was further moved by the fact that membership in DIA could introduce me to nontraditional roles in pharmacy and provide the opportunity to collaborate with other professionals. Her presentation sold me on the idea of joining DIA, and I signed up for the HUCOP DIA Student Chapter.

One of these opportunities was the chance to serve as formal Historian of the HUCOP DIA Student Chapter, which chapter leadership felt would help me learn the tenets of the organization. (I was elated and felt the title of Historian was rather impressive for a first-year student). I was eventually encouraged to run for President-Elect of the HUCOP DIA Student Chapter to observe and learn the role of sitting President Ashley Trieu (now Ashley Trieu, PharmD) before serving as President. I accepted this invitation and campaigned to my classmates with the promise to build our student chapter’s connections internationally and to further open our organization’s doors by securing funding for the full executive team and as many other chapter members as possible to attend one of the DIA annual meetings. This pitch and the overwhelming support from my classmates allowed me to secure the role and fulfill my platform pledges during my 2018-2019 tenure as HUCOP DIA Student Chapter President.

Expanding Horizons

In Spring 2018, an internship position opened in the DIA Global Headquarters in Washington, DC. Excited and fearful, I put my best foot forward and sent an application. After a few weeks, I was notified that I had earned the internship.

During this same time, several classmates (now Jayla Briggs, PharmD; Ginika Ezuede, PharmD; and Simisola Williams, PharmD) and I were conducting clinical pharmacogenomics research in patients with Opioid Use Disorder. My research professor (Earl Ettienne) and his graduate student (Adaku Ofoegbu) identified an amazing opportunity to present some of our work and continue to expand my horizons, and we submitted a presentation abstract for the DIA Annual Meeting 2018. In Boston that June, I had the unique experience of presenting a scientific research poster to the same organization that was encouraging my own professional development. The time I spent with DIA’s Sudip Parikh, Barbara Lopez Kunz, Kristen Hagans, and Tshaka Cunningham inspired me to think outside of my box and to network with professionals that shared similar career paths.

In my third year of pharmacy school, with the help of our treasurer Maimun Alam (now Maimun Alam, PharmD), we initiated a DIA-Howard University volunteer program that gave my other classmates the chance to network with regulatory professionals in discovering their field of interest. Howard University had by this time become a growing incubator of PharmDs and other professionals interested in the pharmaceutical industry, so I wanted to create networks to the industry for my classmates using the same “DIA magic” that was afforded to me.

Pursue Your Passion

As a young man from Killeen, Texas, by way of New Orleans, Louisiana, I wanted to become a pharmacist so that I could address the epidemic of substance abuse that I witnessed as a child.

DIA afforded me resources and successful networking. But one thing that stands out is the commonality of advice between Howard University College of Pharmacy and DIA: Pursue your passion.

During my fourth year of pharmacy school, there were times when I struggled during clinical rotations. This waning confidence was not helped by growing uncertainty regarding my postgraduate career. But at the end of my clinical rotations, I took time to regroup and reflect. I returned to what drove me to the field of pharmacy in the first place – that clear picture of helping those in my community who had lost their way due to substance abuse. After these rotations ended in March 2020, I knew what truly mattered to me.

Excellence, leadership, service, and truth are the core values of Howard University. At times when I have been conflicted about whether or how I reflect these values, I revisit this original purpose and passion (my “why”). I was fortunate to get a role as a Behavioral Health Post-Graduate Year 1 Pharmacy Resident with the University of the Sciences in this pursuit. I had just about as many people doubting me as I had people encouraging me. Life will always be challenging, but it is important to remember your “why.”

I thank DIA and the Howard University College of Pharmacy for helping me see that I can accomplish whatever goals I set for myself and for introducing me to my unconditionally supportive network. I gladly share this story because I hope it inspires you to chase your own dreams.