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Telling the stories of how Gatton
students make an impact.
Meet Cara Carter, fourth-year pharmacy student
Cara Carter grew up on the south side of Kansas City, Missouri. While she lived in a decidedly urban environment, Carter says the health care experiences in her hometown are not that different than those found in rural settings.
“It is definitely a health care desert so I know what it is like for there not to be a doctor for miles,” says Carter, a fourth-year student pharmacist attending East Tennessee State University’s Gatton College of Pharmacy. “There are veterinarian offices and some clinics that take place for back-to-school physicals, but there is no real health care facility there.”
In fact, it is ETSU’s focus on serving the underserved that attracted Carter to the Gatton College of Pharmacy. She says she immediately saw the potential such an education could have on health care deserts.
“Since the doctor is so far away, the only health care provider they see may be their pharmacist,” said Carter about residents in her hometown. “So I wanted to learn more about the role of pharmacists in primary care, in doing things like diabetic foot exams and hypertension management.”
Carter, who earned a dual undergraduate degree in math and chemical engineering, always knew she wanted a career in health care, but pharmacy became her specific path after she worked as a Hospice volunteer at the age of 14.
“I loved all the patient interaction but found myself really interested in the medicines – how they got to the patients and what they did with them,” Carter says. “That’s when I decided pharmacy school was probably for me.”
It is also during her time volunteering that she discovered her ultimate career aspiration.
“A Hospice patient asked me about me and when I told them I wanted to be a pharmacist, they said ‘Don’t stop there. Go all the way to the top. Be the head of the Food and Drug Administration,’” Carter recalls. “I looked into it and decided being the FDA commissioner would be my career goal.”
Carter has spent the past three years at Gatton working toward that goal and recently landed a prestigious internship with the FDA – the first student from Gatton selected for the federal position. Through the internship, Carter will spend part of next year learning from individuals in the Office of Clinical Pharmacology at the FDA headquarters just outside of the nation’s capital.
While she is aiming to one day hold the top position at the FDA, Carter has a few other career goals to accomplish first.
“I want to do a residency in pediatric pharmacy after I leave Gatton and after that,” she says. “I have always wanted to do a little more world travel so I’d like to do Doctors Without Borders for a while, too.”
This fall, Carter will complete a rotation in Uganda, spending an entire month there to prepare for applying to Doctors Without Borders.
Throughout her time at Gatton, Carter has not only focused on her own future, but also the future of others. She has been instrumental in creating a mentorship program within the national Pediatric Pharmacy Advocacy Group and attended the PPAG conference in Utah this spring. The mentorship program, which was established at her suggestion, brings together individuals at varying levels of practice – from students, to residents to practicing pharmacists – to interact and learn from one another. She also recently took part in and event at ETSU called STEMposium, which invited girls ages 12-18 to the campus to explore opportunities and interests in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“From a small age, my parents taught me anything was possible – being a doctor, a lawyer, an astronaut, the president but that wasn’t taught to all of my classmates and peers. They were never told and encouraged that they can do these kinds of things and a large part of that is they never saw anybody doing it,” Carter says. “Now that I am the one doing it, there’s an opportunity to reach back and help somebody else. There’s always that person who needs to see that this is possible and if it is their dream, they should go for it.”
For Carter, become a successful health care provider isn’t just her dream; it is a dream that stretches back generations.
“Earlier this year, I went home and visited our family graveyard to see my grandmother’s grave and the grave of my uncle who recently passed away from cancer,” Carter says. “While I was standing there, it was such an amazing feeling to look around and see the graves of my ancestors and realize I am really and truly living their wildest dreams and going places they never could have.
“It’s just remembering that you are doing this for yourself but also for the culture, for the little black girl who looks up to you and for all these people who just never thought they could do it. You are doing it for everyone.”