Former firefighter finds passion for pharmacy

First-year student pharmacist Amanda Whitehead, age 33, is one of five students in the inaugural class in the rural health track. The track is part of the college’s Rural Health Initiative to recruit, educate, and embed pharmacists in rural communities across Washington state.

As someone who has always lived and worked in rural areas throughout my life, I am truly passionate about bringing much needed health care resources to underserved populations. Living in a close-knit, small town has always been a great comfort to me and I want to support the people in my community in my future pharmacy career in a rural area.

Amanda Whitehead dressed in gear when she served as a volunteer firefighter in South Pierce Fire and Rescue. She was the only female volunteer firefighter in her squadron.

I grew up in Eatonville, a small rural town that is about a 90-minute drive south of SeaTac Airport. The population of Eatonville is roughly 3,000 people and from 2009 to 2012, I served as a volunteer firefighter and EMT (emergency medical technician) in South Pierce Fire and Rescue. I was given the opportunity to experience first-hand how lack of access to health care resources can negatively impact people’s lives. As an EMT serving residents in my district, I found great joy and fulfillment knowing that I was providing people with the care and education they needed to live healthier lives.

Part of my duties as an EMT included visiting people’s homes in the middle of nowhere to offer medical care. This could be a trailer in the middle of the woods where the closest medical facility is a 45-minute to 1.5-hour drive. Cell service and internet is non-existent in many places. People living with diabetes, heart disease, or other chronic conditions face major challenges in seeking the care that they need.

Amanda Whitehead with her two daughters Ava and Brooke. Her husband, a diesel mechanic, supports the family while Amanda pursues her Doctor of Pharmacy degree. She is currently finishing her first year in a the four-year program.

I became interested in pharmacy while volunteering as a firefighter and EMT. As the lead medications aide at a local assisted-living community, I worked closely with geriatric patients and learned a great deal about medications and disease states that affect our elderly population. A few years later I earned a position at our local hospital as an emergency room technician where I provided medical care, compassion, and health education to my patients. This included conscious sedation, helping stroke patients, and much more. During this time, I found my love for how medications can save lives and positively change patients’ health. I truly admired the pharmacists that I was given the privilege to work beside daily and was inspired to pursue a career as a pharmacist.

I plan to pursue a career in a rural setting and continue to explore and learn about all the possible pathways in pharmacy. My interests are in tribal and veterans’ health. It seems that veterans and tribal members in rural areas have limited access to health care and I would love to help make a change that will serve these populations better in the future.

My goal is to bring more health resources to people in rural communities and to improve their quality of life. I grew up in a family of first responders. My father, grandfather, and uncle were all firefighters so in a way it is part of my DNA and culture. Thanks to their influence, I thrive under pressure, and have performed well with emergency medicine. I could never imagine working or living anywhere other than in a rural community. Though there may be physical distance between residents in rural areas, we are a close-knit community offering support to one another in times of need. We don’t have all the resources available to us, so it feels natural to rely on neighbors.

Going through pharmacy school with two young daughters (ages 3 and 5) is definitely challenging but I make sure to try my best to only do school work when they are asleep or at daycare three days out of the week. This sometimes means that I miss out on sleep but it’s worth it to me so that I can make sure my girls get the attention they deserve. My husband is the sole provider for our family and works hard as a diesel mechanic to provide for us. I moved away from all of my friends and family in western Washington about four years ago while I was 20 weeks pregnant with my youngest daughter but my parents have been extremely supportive and have gone to great lengths to come stay with me and help with my daughters whenever they can. I also have a network of amazing neighbors who help me out whenever they can—part of the perks of living in a rural area. By becoming a pharmacist in a rural area I hope to be a role model for my daughters and give them the opportunity to grow up in the same environment I had the privilege of growing up in.