From Pharmacy to UX/UI Designer

Class of 2013 alumna Theary Chhim shares her career path which combined her love of pharmacy and design into an entrepreneurial opportunity. The UX/UI designer for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center and Pyrls talks about her journey from being a pharmacy student to designing websites that better serve patients. Chhim has also started her own business, Publishing in Doses, which helps pharmacists and other health care entrepreneurs publish their work.

Why did you choose to pursue your PharmD? It’s quite a different subject than what you majored in for undergrad.

After gaining experience as a pharmacy technician, I decided to pursue a PharmD degree. The prospect of being accessible to the community, assisting individuals in feeling better through sharing medication information and advice, and being immersed into how medications work in our bodies were my driving factors. The program offered insight to a career in pharmacy and also allowed me to be there for our health care consumers, a role I genuinely enjoyed.

I found a solution to pursue pharmacy and art at the same time. Visual arts and creativity are parts of me and are important to my well-being. I received my Bachelor in Interdisciplinary Visual Arts from the University of Washington. Choosing this major allowed me the flexibility to take art courses while taking pharmacy prerequisite courses. I found a way to do both successfully.

Why did you choose WSU for your PharmD as opposed to other universities?

It is an incredible program with high-caliber professors and a strong history of graduating successful PharmD professionals. I also believed it would provide enriching opportunities in leadership, involvement in the Kappa Psi Beta Pi pharmaceutical fraternity and mentorship. I also heard about elective courses courses on business entrepreneurship and diabetes electives. Beyond academics, I knew I could stay in Washington state and experience both Pullman and Spokane life. This program not only shapes professionals but also offers a personalized journey in experiences and opportunities.

What advice would you give a student who is considering health care for the first time but their major isn’t a traditional pre-health major.

My advice is to explore work or volunteer opportunities to determine if health care aligns with your true calling. The journey in this field can be lengthy, requiring years of commitment. Therefore, truly understanding if health care and the spirit of servanthood resonate with you is crucial. I would also recommend reaching out to health care professionals working in an area you might be interested in and asking them to do a virtual coffee chat. You would be amazed to learn how many incredible health care professionals there are in the world who would love to share their experience and wisdom with you. I believe that the more you can experience and learn about the field, the better it will guide you in the right direction for your interests and goals.

Can you tell us about your journey after graduation. What inspired you to do what you’re doing now?

After graduation, I pursued a career in community pharmacy for a few years. The landscape of community pharmacy began shifting opposite of my goals so I pursued a role at a nonprofit organization. There, I was able to help serve a diverse range of community members where English was not their first language and help find solutions to language barriers to medication adherence and improve health outcomes.

Following my impactful experience at a nonprofit, I had the opportunity to live abroad, which was always a goal of mine. I leveraged my undergraduate degree in Interdisciplinary Visual Arts from UW and landed a role as a design intern at a tech start-up in Munich, Germany. A few months into it, I was promoted to Visual Designer. It was there that my passions in art and design were revived. I knew that once I returned to the U.S., I would somehow find a way to merge design and pharmacy.

I left Munich, Germany and returned to the U.S. and was a pharmacy manager at a community pharmacy while I was seeking roles for design. I took an oath as a pharmacist, so when COVID-19 hit, I committed to helping our community members stay safe from the virus.

See, during my time as pharmacy manager during the peak of COVID-19, I learned about so many user experience problems and challenges that I and my team would have to quickly solve for. One example is how to provide covid tests and vaccines safely and accessible for our health care consumers. I wanted to be able to scale that by not helping just one person, but helping many so I fully committed to a career transition from pharmacist to UX/UI designer. About 5 months into my career pivot, I found opportunities with Pyrls and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center and am thankful for these opportunities.

Pyrls is a drug information resource for clinicians to learn and manage key drug information. It is developed by a team of incredible and talented pharmacists. This is a gem of an opportunity because not only do I get to design, but I get to design for pharmacists and health care professionals using my pharmacy and design expertise.

And just as valuable are my experiences with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, an independent nonprofit organization with the mission to cure cancer. I’ve learned and gained so much valuable experience with such a supportive, innovative, amazing organization and in the work that I have the opportunity of making a positive impact at scale.

In late 2023, I co-founded with Janan Sarwar, PharmD, to assist fellow pharmacists and health care entrepreneurs in self-publishing their books. Our collaboration seamlessly brought together Sarwar’s ten years of publishing expertise and my design expertise, giving rise to Publishing in Doses. Recognizing the wealth of wisdom and experiences within the pharmacist and health care entrepreneur community, our goal is to simplify the publishing process for them.

How did WSU impact your career?

I believe the range of different opportunities, experiences and the professors had the greatest impact on my career. The professors were so passionate about their work that it inspired students like myself. They absolutely loved what they did and it was remarkable. Myself and other students were able to participate in the Diabetes Rural Coaching program, research, student leadership, Kappa Psi Beta Pi, conventions and entrepreneurial electives into pharmacy business ownership. Having these opportunities nurtured self-confidence and assurance that when you graduated and whichever journey you were going, you would figure it out and do well.

Can you tell us about your experience as a pharmacist? What was the most rewarding and difficult part about the job?

My experience as a pharmacist has been incredibly valuable, imparting lessons in humility, servitude, patience, empathy, analysis, management, resourcefulness, and creativity. Every individual has their unique journey, and mine, with its many turns, has unquestionably been worth the ride.

Throughout my career, the most rewarding aspect has been the opportunity to help individuals find solutions to their problems. Whether in health care or design, regardless of the scale or complexity, I find fulfillment in making a positive difference in someone else’s life.

However, one of the most challenging aspects of being a pharmacist is the awareness that there are limits to the assistance you can provide when individuals can’t afford necessary medications or health care. Despite offering the best recommendations, it’s heartbreaking when financial constraints hinder someone’s access to essential treatments. Additionally, the multitasking demands in community pharmacy often make it like handling a million things at once, adding to the complexity and stress of the job in the workplace. You wear so many hats and put many at risk to human errors.

You can learn more about Theary and her career journey by following her on Instagram @thearyameri, or visit her website: You can also check out her business Publishing in Doses or follow them on Instagram @publishingindoses.