WITH A PASSION FOR MENTORSHIP and a dedication to her community and the pharmacy profession, Vickie Powell, Pharm.D., M.S., FASHP, is a pharmacist to emulate. Dr. Powell, site director of pharmacy for New York-Presbyterian Hospital, first thought about a pharmacy career during high school, where she had an interest in and maintained good grades in science. A guest speaker encouraged her and some of her high-achieving classmates to pursue careers in the medical field.
"I did not want to be a doctor because I didn't like blood," she said. "I didn't want to be a dentist. So I thought pharmacy would be the best profession for me because I wouldn't have to come in contact with all of those things. I love pharmacy. I'm glad I took that path."
After completing pharmacy school at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, Dr. Powell got married and moved to New York City's Harlem neighborhood, where she took a pharmacist position at a drug store downstairs from her apartment. While she found it rewarding working in the community, she wanted to do more. Then one of her customers, a pharmacy director at Harlem Hospital, encouraged her to try hospital pharmacy.
Dr. Powell applied for and was offered a registered pharmacist job with St. Luke's/Roosevelt Hospital Center. She threw herself into work with enthusiasm, volunteering for everything from backing up computerized pharmacy records to learning all about then-upcoming USP <797> regulations and developing plans for a compliant I.V. room. She soon moved up to an inpatient pharmacy supervisor and developed numerous specialty satellite pharmacies throughout the hospital.
Because of her expertise, Dr. Powell found herself giving talks to the New York City Society of Health-System Pharmacists. At first, she wasn't sure how to balance work and being involved in professional pharmacy societies with family life. But her supervisor and mentor, Harvey Maldow, R.Ph., believed it was so important she participate that he told Dr. Powell's husband that he had to watch their young children while she attended meetings. She became the second African-American president of the group.
During her acceptance speech, Dr. Powell discussed mentoring and her philosophy of "Each one, teach one," based on every mentee helping pull up someone behind them. The vice president of pharmacy at New York-Presbyterian Hospital was impressed and approached her about a director job. Maldow encouraged her to apply.
Today, Dr. Powell oversees pharmacy operations for three of the health system's 11 hospitals, and oversees around 600 pharmacy employees. Besides her work tasks, Powell continues to make mentoring a priority, promoting good communication skills and lifelong education. She's proud to have encouraged many technicians to become pharmacists.
"We meet on a regular basis because I don't want to just tell people something and then hope they'll follow it through; I try to work with them one-on-one to help them achieve whatever goals we've set out for them," she said.
Dr. Powell also maintains close ties to her community, serving for many years as a Sunday school teacher and member of the health committee at her church. Powell brings in guest speakers on topics important to their membership, such as hypertension and diabetes. One speaker, celebrity cardiothoracic surgeon Mehmet Oz (TV's "Dr. Oz"), awarded free gym memberships to a few audience members. She also has been a special events coordinator for the Harlem Little League. More recently, Powell supervised a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at her church run by her hospital.
"I try to do a lot of things to help our community, and I do whatever I can to propel the practice of pharmacy," she said. To that end, Dr. Powell serves on the Board of Directors for Long Island University's College of Pharmacy and has given guest lectures at Touro College of Pharmacy. In 2009, she was the first African-American president of the New York State Council of Health-System Pharmacists.
Dr. Powell also has been very active in ASHP, serving over the years as a delegate as well as on several committees, including the Council on Education and Workforce Development and the Committee on Nominations. In 2020, Dr. Powell was honored to be invited to join ASHP's Task Force on Racial Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
"Our social and justice systems are broken, and conscious and unconscious racism exists," she said. "We talked a lot about institutional racism, which sometimes has been embedded as a normal practice within a society or organization. We made some changes in the structure of how things will be done to assure equity for all members. I don't think people realize how institutional racism can lead to such issues as discrimination in employment, health care, and even with access to the [COVID-19] vaccine."
The group suggested some changes to ASHP policies, Dr. Powell said, one being that a person can only run for a board position if they had just been a delegate. "That eliminates a lot of people," she said. The group recommended that members did not have to have delegate experience to run for a board office. They also changed governance so the chair of the house of delegates no longer presides over the nominations committee, which could be a conflict of interest.
"We opened it up so that more people would have the opportunity to run for office," she said. "We're going to make mentoring a big part of the process."
Dr. Powell stands out because of her intelligence, her mentorship, her compassion, and her ability to listen to people and understand their needs, Maldow noted.
"She's one of the best people I ever worked with in terms of how she managed both down and up, and the staff adored her," he said. "When I look at the people I mentored in my career, she's on the top in how successful she has been, and it's a credit to her, not me. The only thing I take credit for is being able to identify her potential. She's a great health-system pharmacist and someone people should model themselves after."