Love of chemistry transforms to career in rural health

First-year student pharmacist Bradley Brown, age 22, 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.

I was raised in Rochester, Washington the youngest of 13 children, where I grew up in a 100-year-old farm house. Rochester is a rural agricultural community with a population of about 2,500 situated between Seattle and Portland. Like many rural communities, everyone in Rochester willingly lends a hand to help a neighbor. This town has raised me as much as I was raised by my family, which is why I aspire to return to a rural community to grow my family and build a career.

Bradley Brown in 2018 helping local residents to take care of animals during the winter in Sawmill, Arizona.

At the age of 14, I always knew I wanted to become a pharmacist. I surrounded myself with smart people. My best friend growing up is now a mathematician and I fell in love with organic chemistry in high school. With my love of chemistry, I knew that the two pathways for me was either pharmacy or becoming a physician. Work-life balance was an important factor for me which is why I chose to pursue my doctor of pharmacy degree. I also wanted to go into rural health care because access to health care was always a challenge living in a small town. For example, my mother had colon cancer and it was always a day trip if she wanted to receive chemotherapy or a consultation. The only medical care in the community was the occasional ambulance rushing to the nearby casino in acute situations.

From the ages of 18 to 20, I also lived and worked in the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners area, which refers to the four borders where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah meet. Like many rural towns, the closest hospital was about a 2.5-hour drive. Diabetes was common in the community, and the relatively older population seemed to indicate that most of the younger generation had left the reservation for job opportunities elsewhere. It was difficult to find anyone between the ages of 25 to 40 on the reservation. Working in the Navajo Nation sparked my interest in behavioral health pharmacy and hopes to one day work with the Indian Health Service (IHS), a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services which provides direct medical and public health services to members of federally-recognized Native American tribes.

When I returned to Washington, I started working as a behavioral health technician at a rehabilitation center helping people to recover from addiction and substance abuse. Patients struggled with both mental and behavioral health and my daily tasks included handing out medication, accompanying patients to the emergency room, and overseeing the overall well-being of the people in the rehabilitation center. Although the work was intense, physically and mentally, there were a few patients who were diamonds in the rough. The facility was a rotating door of recovery and relapse, and I had to learn how to balance my disappointment and encouragement all in the same breath.

Though I know that working as a pharmacist in a rural area limits the number of people I see, I wholeheartedly believe that I will make a more profound difference in people’s lives through individual care. My best days are when I feel like I’ve made a difference in someone’s life. It’s times like these when my job doesn’t feel like a job, and I want to have that feeling for the rest of my life. For these reasons, I am pursuing a career in patient-centered care in a rural setting.