Mark Gilliam with his favorite superhero.
By Mark Gilliam
When I was a child, my best friends wanted to be superheroes when they grew up. I wanted to be a superhero, too. But the superhero I wanted to be didn’t wear a cape nor have an alter ego, although he did often wear a mask. I wanted to be just like my dad.
You see, my dad is a surgeon, and ever since I was little, I knew that he was doing the one thing that all superheroes do: he helped people. I knew I would never be able to fly or clear buildings with a single bound, but, if I were like my dad, I could help others.
Wait, now I love pharmacy
As I grew from child to adolescent, adolescent to teenager, my hobbies and interests were ever-changing. One day I might be obsessed with chess (6th grade) while the next I wanted to learn how to breakdance (9th grade). But no matter what hobby I became proficient at (chess) and those I quit after an hour (breakdancing), one thing remained constant: I was destined to become a surgeon.
When I set foot on the University of Kentucky campus as a college freshman, I declared a Biology major with my sights firmly set on medical school. It wasn’t long before I realized that most of my classmates had a similar dream. In an attempt to distinguish myself from my peers, I began looking for a part-time job in the health care field. Knowing that my father practiced as a pharmacist before going to medical school, I applied to every pharmacy that was taking applications. It wasn’t long before I found myself employed at a community pharmacy in a horse farm suburb of Lexington, KY.
My first few shifts as a pharmacy technician were amazing. I couldn’t believe it … was I really getting paid to count by fives? Sure, I had no idea what the medications were that I was counting, but let me tell you, I was really good at counting. It didn’t matter if it was a capsule or tablet, large or small, my super power was counting by fives. All of a sudden, I loved pharmacy. The more prescriptions I counted, the more experience I gained for my medical school application.
As I progressed in school, I found myself increasingly going through the motions as I continued pursuing medicine. I was passionate about helping people, and I was convinced the way that I could best help others was as a physician. I excelled in my prerequisites, but did so with less enthusiasm than before. I did well on the MCAT, but my excitement was lacking. What was wrong with me? My dream was within arm’s reach. What had changed? I found myself speaking to my father less about medicine and more about pharmacy.
Needless to say, my passion for pharmacy had increased exponentially. I learned about different types of medications. I learned about pharmacy management. And, most importantly, I learned how to help patients. I knew early on that as a pharmacy technician I wouldn’t be able to answer all of a patient’s questions. In fact, there was a lot I couldn’t do to help. But I could give the patients my full attention. I could offer to help in any way I could. And I could always greet them with a smile and be someone who would listen.
When all of my friends began applying for medical school, I was picking up extra shifts at the pharmacy. I buried myself in my work because it was easier than trying to figure out where my passion for medicine had gone. Ultimately, I decided it wouldn’t be worth applying to medical school until my heart was committed again. I would spend a few days reflecting on my experiences and everything would be fine. Days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months, and months turned to years. I continued to work at the pharmacy, telling myself that one day soon I would apply for medical school. As soon as I could pinpoint where my passion had gone, I could get back on track.
Still like dad
Fast forward many years and I am now a final-year student pharmacist. I used to be so desperate to locate my lost passion. Looking back, I realize that I never lost my passion, instead, it was misplaced to begin with. My passion was never medicine, it was helping others. I was so desperate to become a physician, I was blind to the impact I was making on a daily basis. I was reluctant to embrace my calling.
Despite the ups and downs in my journey, I am finally following my father’s footsteps. I will never be the superhero surgeon that he is, but I can be the superhero pharmacist that he used to be.