Black History Month: Recognizing Trailblazing Pharmacists

As Black History Month draws to a close, CompleteRx remembers Anna Louise James, who became, in 1908, the first African American woman to graduate from the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy in New York. The daughter of a Virginia plantation slave, James served patients from her pharmacy in Connecticut for more than five decades. Over the years, she inspired countless others to pursue a career as a pharmacist.

Today, we spotlight two CompleteRx pharmacy professionals who are breaking barriers and inspiring others in the profession, much as James did decades ago.

Pam Tanyitiku-Assam, Pharm.D., MBA

Born in Cameroon, Pamela Tanyitiku-Assam, Pharm.D, MBA, has traveled the world, graduating from pharmacy school in Rome, Italy, before coming to the United States to begin her career in retail pharmacy. After several years, she relocated from New York to the Midwest with her husband and transitioned into the hospital pharmacy setting.

“I had a lot of clinical knowledge that I felt I wasn’t able to apply in the retail setting,” says Tanyitiku-Assam. “It was gratifying to oversee daily hospital pharmacy operations and dive into the clinical aspect of pharmacy, which is something that I really enjoy. I was directly responsible for changing things like standing orders and dosing protocols that directly affect patients and I could see those outcomes. I could see the changes that I was making go into effect, so it was really gratifying.”

After spending several years in the community hospital setting, Tanyitiku-Assam accepted a job as an investigational drug pharmacist at an academic medical center. Though she felt she made an impact in her role studying investigational drugs, she missed working in the community hospital setting, so in 2019, she accepted a job with CompleteRx as director of pharmacy services for Loretto Hospital, a safety net hospital in Chicago’s West Side.

Tanyitiku-Assam enjoys the impact she makes on patients and the opportunity to address health disparities. She notes that the life expectancy for residents of the west side community of Austin residents is 60 years, compared to 90 years for residents of downtown Chicago, just a few miles away.

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been especially gratifying for Tanyitiku-Assam. She had the honor of being the first pharmacist in Chicagoland to receive the vaccine last December and has been involved in mobile vaccine clinics, bringing life-saving doses to seniors and people with underlying comorbidities.

“I cannot tell you how gratifying it is to vaccinate the community. I’m at a point in my career where the most important thing to me is how I can make a difference in people’s lives,” said Tanyitiku-Assam, who also completed an MBA program in 2020.

Tanyitiku-Assam’s desire to make a difference extends to mentoring others in the pharmacy profession. She notes that there still aren’t a lot of people of color working as pharmacists and is doing her part to change that. A few years ago, she convinced a talented pharmacy technician in her fifties to go to pharmacy school. The woman is now an oncology pharmacist.

“I’ve made it my mission to empower people of color, to help them understand that the sky’s the limit,” says Tanyitiku-Assam. “There was a point in my career where I was often the only black woman in a meeting, but I see that beginning to change. I hope to see even more women of color in leadership positions in the coming years.”

Donna Scott, Pharm.D.

Similar to Tanyitiku-Assam, Donna Scott, Pharm.D., began her career in retail pharmacy after earning an undergraduate degree in pharmacy. Scott returned to school for her doctorate degree after a few years in the retail setting in order to sharpen her clinical skills.

After earning her doctorate in 2003, Scott shifted to the hospital setting. “It was a big change from retail, but I felt that there was more opportunity for growth and I also wanted to give back to the community,” she says.

She began as a staff pharmacist, working her way into leadership roles. In 2019, she accepted a role with CompleteRx as director of pharmacy services for South Shore Hospital, a safety net hospital serving Chicago’s South Side with services including chemical dependency and detox units, mental health treatment and referrals, and HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention.

“We care for people from all walks of life. It is rewarding to give back to the community and now we’ve begun providing the COVID-19 vaccine to seniors and employees,” says Scott.

Scott has noticed the pharmacy profession becoming more diverse over the course of her career, with more women in leadership roles and students coming from diverse backgrounds. She enjoys the opportunity to mentor students and young pharmacy colleagues.

“I encourage people to pursue things that will help them stand out among their peers, such as getting board certified in vaccine administration,” says Scott. “It’s important to me to reach back and help others in the profession.”