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Courtney Clarke ’17 finds dual calling in veterans affairs and children in need

Courtney Clarke '17 at her graduation from East Tennessee State University, in May, where she earned both a PharmD and an MBA.
Courtney Clarke ’17

On the surface, her pharmacy career and volunteer work seem unconnected.

But for Courtney Clarke ’17, life is about seeing needs and stepping up. In both the veteran community and foster care services, she discovered “a population of people that don’t always get the respect and the care they deserve.”

So she’s investing herself to see that they do.

Clarke, a Philadelphia native, has always been fascinated by pharmaceuticals: “You take this and then it’s fixed,” she said. When a pharmacist would give instructions about potential side effects, she couldn’t stop wondering, “Why?”

“A little bit nerdy,” she said, laughing. “But that was always really interesting to me.”

While studying biology at Furman, she took a pharmacotherapy class.  She also worked as a pharmacy technician at a Greenville CVS, where she had her first encounter with the foster care system.

A woman was trying to fill antibiotic prescriptions for three children with different last names. Another tech was having trouble placing the orders, and Clarke stepped in to help. She found out the woman had just had all three children brought to her for emergency placement.

“It was a very humbling moment for me,” Clarke said. “You don’t know what somebody else is dealing with.”

She decided that someday she’d be part of helping children in crisis.

After Furman, Clarke went to East Tennessee State University’s Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy. The school is on the Quillen Veterans Affairs Medical Center campus.

“I was so exceptionally prepared,” Clarke said. During her years at Furman, “you had people there to support you, but they weren’t micromanaging you or spoon-feeding you,” she said.

Clarke hadn’t forgotten the woman at CVS. During her third year of pharmacy school, she began to volunteer as a child advocate with CASA of Northeast Tennessee, serving children who had been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect.

The following year she found her work focus: ETSU pharmacy students do their fourth-year rotations in the VA. Clarke quickly saw how a specific population can have clusters of issues – mental health problems, for example, or pain management struggles. But she also saw the power of working within a self-contained system.

“If you need to call their doctor, they might be right upstairs,” she said.

Clarke was overwhelmed by the patients themselves.

“Some of the stories that I have heard from people – you can’t even imagine,” she said.

In her four years at ETSU, Clarke earned both a PharmD and an MBA. At graduation, she was surprised with the school’s Gary Mabrey Community Service Award recognizing her work with CASA.

Clarke with Gary Mabrey, who presented her with the ETSU’s Gary Mabrey Community Service Award.

When it was time to look for residency programs, Clarke knew she wanted to stay within the VA. In June, she began a one-year residency at the VA Tennessee Valley Healthcare System in Nashville. She’s already reached out to the Nashville office of CASA. And she’s hoping to commit to a second year of residency this fall.

Tennessee licensing laws allow a pharmacist to practice clinically almost like a nurse practitioner. For example, a physician may diagnose diabetes and then the patient may follow up with a pharmacist, who will monitor response to therapies and make needed adjustments.

The VA is “really good about using us to our full potential and letting us practice at the top of our license,” she said.

Even more than that, she’s part of something bigger than herself. “It’s a community,” Clarke said.

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