Alumni Spotlight: Pharmacy Career in Oncology

Natasha Olson, class of 2014, found her passion for patient-centered care working in pharmacy oncology.

Natasha Olson, class of 2014, shares her professional journey from becoming a pharmacy intern at Rite Aid to manager of clinical initiatives with NCODA (National Community Oncology Dispensing Association). Her passion for patient-centered care led her on a path to oncology pharmacy, where she now shares her experience and best practice with other clinicians. Hear her story to learn about the various opportunities from a career in pharmacy.

Can you tell us about your career journey?

Even before I started pharmacy school, I knew that I wanted to own my own pharmacy. I worked as an intern for many years during undergraduate studies at various independent pharmacies (like Odessa Drug). I quickly learned that I did not want to own my own pharmacy and considered maybe retail pharmacy at a chain was more my niche. All through pharmacy school I interned at Rite Aid, with the intent to stay on after graduation. During my APPE rotations, I treated every block as a 6 week job interview. This really paid off when I was offered a job at a long-term care pharmacy. I worked with Omnicare for four years before being offered a job as a clinical oncology pharmacist at Summit Cancer Centers. Being a clinical oncology pharmacist was more work than I ever expected, but more rewarding than I ever expected. My boss gave me the flexibility to focus on what was most important to me: the patient. During my four years at Summit Cancer Centers, I was a very active member of NCODA. Eventually NCODA approached me with the opportunity to join their clinical staff as a manager of clinical initiatives.

What do you do?

As a manager of clinical initiatives, I am responsible for the development and maintenance of clinical guidance documents, like the Positive Quality Intervention (PQI), for oncologists, pharmacists, and nurses. Most of these documents are around medications, which makes me a great person for this job with my previous experience as an oncology pharmacist. I also help with the development of clinical content for our international meetings and work on other projects that might benefit from a clinical eye.

Why did you choose this career path?

As with so many people, cancer has personally touched my life. Shortly before switching to oncology, my mom underwent cancer treatment. It was fascinating from a pharmacist’s perspective all of the nuisances of oncology. The biggest challenge with my mom’s case was the interactions with her medication for Myasthenia Gravis (MG), a chronic autoimmune disorder, and the constant tweaking of doses for both her MG medications and her chemotherapy. When the opportunity to become an oncology pharmacist presented itself, I jumped. I love the challenge of oncology pharmacy. There are new medications and indications that are approved almost daily. Pharmacists play a crucial role in the proper management of oncology patients in more ways than just dispensing. From the educating of other staff members about medications, teaching students, helping patients with financial assistance, and the traditional pharmacist role, we are an integral part of the medically integrated team.

Olson shares her professional journey at a WSU NCODA Professional Student Organization meeting.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is knowing that the projects that I am working on really help people in practice. When I was in clinical practice, I would use these documents that I now help to develop. They were extremely helpful for me and for my patients. Although I miss direct patient care, it is extremely rewarding to know that I can still help patients.

What is the best career advice you can offer student pharmacists?

Network! Take advantage of every conference, event, and professional interaction that you have. You never know who could be a potential mentor or your future boss. The connections that you make can have far reaching effects on your life personally and professionally, so do not waste these opportunities!