By: Vision & Purpose LifeStyle Magazine and Media Digital Team | December 2, 2022
While 65 percent of pharmacists may be women, only 25 percent of pharmacy owners are female. As a proud Texas Southern graduate, Dr. Brandy Williams is one of the 25 percent. She is also one of the youngest black female pharmacists in the Houston area that owns their own Pharmacy. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized the importance of female involvement in the healthcare industry. A report in the same year found that women have driven 80 percent of the overall growth in the U.S. healthcare field since the beginning of the twentieth century, and account for three-quarters of full-time, year-round healthcare workers today.
Historically speaking, pharmacy practice has been a male-dominated role. Elizabeth Gooking Greenleaf is widely regarded as the first female pharmacist in the United States. In 1727, Elizabeth opened her apothecary and was the first female to perform a role that previously was only held by men. She did all of this while having and raising 12 children.
The early history of women in pharmacy was strong, but leading into the mid-twentieth century there were still hurdles. By the mid-1960s, female pharmacists accounted for only eight percent of licensed practitioners. The industry at that time was dominated by self-employed male pharmacists typically owning and operating their own independent pharmacies. Throughout recent history, we have seen tides change. In 1985, female pharmacists comprised a majority of pharmacy school graduates and never turned back.
Vision & Purpose LifeStyle Magazine and Media had the opportunity to recently speak with Dr. Williams (BW) on the Women Who Lead In Business Interview Show with hosts, Janelle E. Taylor (JET), Maisha B. Hoye (MBH), and Dr. Sharon H. Porter (SHP).
MBH: I am all about the journey. How did you get to be a pharmacist and how many women pharmacists are there?
BW: I am a native Houstonian. I grew up in the Sunnyside/South Park area of Houston. Growing up, I attended Worthington High School in Houston. I have always had a love for Science and Math. I have always had a love for academia. It has always been at the forefront. My mom did not play. I could not make less than an A...Bs were not acceptable. I have always been like the cool kid and the nerdy kid, all in one. I enjoyed it, I loved school. Summer was always too long, and I couldn't wait to get back. The love started there.
In the summer of 11th grade, the guidance and counselor, who was also my 9th-grade biology teacher knew I wanted to go to medical school, so she introduced me to a program. I applied and was accepted. Baylor College of Medicine used to do a Summer Science for Seniors Program. I migrated between two labs, the Cardiology Lab, which at the time they were studying heart and brain tissue for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, ages six to twelve months. I was also in the Pharmaceutical Lab, where we were studying the development of drugs. We were going over how drugs started, their creation, and their chemical reactions. From there, I decided that I loved Pharmacy. I enjoyed the chemistry aspect of it. I enjoyed being in a lab, and I enjoyed making chemicals.
I initially wanted to be a medical doctor, but after researching, I just felt the process was too long. My guidance counselor, said, "what about a pharmacist". At the time, I had no idea what pharmacists were or what they did. I would not be in pharmacy if it wasn't for my high school guidance counselor.
JET: Please tell us about the noticeable loss of communication with your previous employer and why you decided to jump ship and trailblaze a better comfort, family-owned pharmacy for yourself and your customers.
BW: Communication where I previously worked for about 15 years, three years as an intern, and 12 years as a pharmacist for one of the larger chains. With the chain of command that you have to go through, you have the pharmacist, then you have a pharmacy manager, pharmacy supervisor, and district manager that may or may not be a pharmacist and may not understand because there's a difference between business and being a pharmacist. Generally, in big business, they tend to care more about the business aspect of it versus the patient. Whereas the pharmacist, we went to school, we practice, we've taken the oath to serve our patients and so naturally there is a level of care that comes with it or should come with it. I felt with the previous employer, there was a big disconnect, even at the stage of being a supervising pharmacist, which means we are supervising a number of stores within a certain area or region. They lost the connection with the patients once you have been out of the store for so long, which is why now as a pharmacist, as the pharmacy owner, and as the PIC (Pharmacist-in-Charge), I still work certain hours a week to stay connected, which is why I am still the PIC, I don't want to lose that connection with the patients.
SHP: I am a lover and supporter of HBCUs, so thank you for all that you're doing to elevate our beloved HBCUs. Please share about your Third Annual Holiday Party that actually benefits HBCU students.
BW: On December 3, 2022, we will host our third annual holiday party. This year, the proceeds will benefit the Texas Southern University's College of Pharmacy and Health Science students. At the end of 2021, we made a donation for the incoming students for 2022. We Care RX, and I donated $100,000 to those students. The funding was split up between P1, which is first-year Pharmacy students, so the students entering from undergrad into the pharmacy program, and then P2, which is the second year, and P3, P4, and so on... At the P4, you graduate, however; you have to take board exams. So you're not a pharmacist once you graduate, so a portion of the funds went to a post-academic program for after graduation to assist them in training and taking the NAPLEX (The North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination), which is the exam for being able to become a licensed-pharmacist. We were able to donate $100,000 and cover students in all four years of pharmacy school. This Gala will be helping to do that again for 2022 and the upcoming students for 2023.
SHP: Please talk about your journey getting to Texas Southern University (TSU). Did you always know that's where you were going? Were you specific in wanting to go to an HBCU or did you just happen to land there?
BW: I will answer the latter first. HBCUs were always the way. My first choice was Xavier University. I applied to Xavier, I applied to TSU, I applied to FAMU, and then my guidance counselor also told me, "well don't limit yourself, go ahead and apply to some other schools." So applied to U of H (University of Houston) and I applied to the University of Texas in Austin. I got into all the schools I applied to and received an acceptance letter. The decision-making came in when I saw the cost of tuition and so Xavier was an automatic no. The amount of tuition that was required to attend their University and for room and board was just at the time for me and my family astronomical. I hadn't even seen that dollar amount before on paper. So of course, that was a no. I received scholarships, but it still did not add up to the amount. Then I wasn't able to receive financial aid because of my mom's income. I then received a full ride to the University of Texas in Austin. Back then, they were doing a scholarship called the Longhorn Opportunity, and they were distributing those scholarships amongst the inner city high schools. So, of course, Worthing High School fell within the program guidelines. You had to apply.
I was ranked number three in my class, so of course, I had all of the credentials and everything. I was one of the three chosen for that program. i went to visit for a weekend and felt like it was not for me. I had a few experiences while I was there and I just decided, well, you know, this is a little different and I want somewhere that feels like home. I'm big on family and just that feeling that you get being amongst family and knowing that you're okay, that you're safe and you're just free to be. I wanted to go to school to get an education and not have to worry about so many other things interfering with that education. So, I chose Texas Southern University, and immediately it felt like it gave me all of the feels that I was looking for. It was home and I had a wonderful experience, which is why I am such an advocate for Texas Southern University. It took me a minute to get back to this point, where I could give back, but now that I've been successful in business with my pharmacy now for five years, we're expanding. I have a team that surrounds me and can assist. I can give back more. So, it's starting with Texas Southern, but it is going to spread amongst all HBCUs.
MBH: I also am a graduate of an HBCU. I'm just lucky that my parents were HBCU graduates and my family was HBCU graduates, so we love them. The journey from pharmacist to opening your own pharmacy, what was that like? I'm sure that wasn't an easy thing to take on.
BW: It was not. The road has been... It's been a journey, just to say the least. The road has not been paved, so some of the way, I've had to lay the groundwork to make sure that I could make a smooth transition along the rest of the path. Initially, I went into a partnership in 2013 with someone. The moment I decided that I wanted to become a pharmacist, I knew that it would ultimately end with me owning my own pharmacy. So, of course, I had. to go get training. At the point that I graduated, I just immediately started just looking and looking into what it would take to branch out and own my pharmacy. I was looking into going on the State Board site and looking for the requirements, checking with the FDA...Just doing all of the background research with the information that's out there. I even started going looking for spaces. I would just ride and see if I saw a pharmacy somewhere. I would take note of what was surrounding it. I would go into buildings that I thought would be good and just inquire to see how or what it would take to lease those buildings to start a pharmacy there.
In 2013, I found a space. I thought it was the perfect space, but I was hesitant because starting a pharmacy on my own meant releasing or relinquishing what I knew for all those years. That meant letting go of my safety net. I wasn't prepared to do that at the time. I reached out to a friend that had graduated with me and asked her if she would want to go into a partnership with me so we could do one week on, and one week off. We had different views, and different growth plans for the pharmacy, so we ended up separating. I went back to my previous employer and stayed there for a year and then I just went full-fledged because I knew that is what God had for me. The key thing with starting from the beginning, so I had to go back in 2016 to where I started in 2007 and I said, "I know this is not the plan that You have for me and I know what the plan is, and why I am here?" He spoke to me and said that there were some things that I needed to learn and there were some things that I had forgotten. So then, of course, what is that? He said the aspect of care. You got into this to care for your patients and that's where the name "We Care" comes from because it was essentially God cares and I care, so together, We Care! That's how I transitioned from there to where I am now.
JET: Dr. Williams, you are a champion. You obviously recognize upcoming synergies. What do you foresee as something transforming? You are family-focused. You're present and intentionally caring for families. Do you find that people are more trusting, do they care more, are they trying to get off their meds? Are they more interested when you sit down and do your consultations? You're not transactional, obviously. You are, it sounds like, you are just changing the game for people, especially minorities. It seems like you are going for the gold. You're going global. What is an upcoming transformation for your company and for your community?
BW: Not losing the aspect of care. That's the biggest thing and I think that in addition to technology will help advance We Care RX be transformative. I've always said, "Why can't I be a household name?" So in the years to come, We Care Rx will be branching out. We're opening our second location in the medical center at the end of this year. In December, we'll do a full rollout of that. We added another aspect to what we offer, so not just compounding, but also sterile compounding under an aseptic technique that's going to help a multitude of patients chemotherapy patients, patients needing TPN ( Total Parenteral Nutrition) even patients needing injections. There is not a black-owned sterile compounding pharmacy within the state of Texas. I am trying to also take pharmacy back to being the most trusted profession. I feel like most of the patients can relate, when they can be personable with you and whether they see themselves in you in one way or another. We transform pharmacy by getting back to patient care.
SHP: Let's talk about Ms. Margaret. She has encouraged perseverance, dedication, determination, and hard work. Ms. Margaret is your mom. Please talk about those traits that she instilled in you from a very young age.
BW: Yes, Ms. Margaret is my mom. My mom has just always, and not even more so through her words, but through her actions, she's always promoted perseverance and she's always promoted just strength, and education. Like I said previously, my mom did not play when it came to me as far as grades and as far as what I could achieve. You know, now they have a word for it and they call it "affirming your children", giving the words of affirmation. It was just her. She has a really big heart and so it was just her instilling in me who I could be. Not knowing what she was doing or how she was affirming things that were already inside of me, but that may have never come out had my mother not tapped into and watered those seeds that were already within me. I attribute all that to her. It was until I graduated college or I was in college...Somewhere between 2001 and 2007 where I truly understood all of the lessons that she had taught me while I was younger. As a teenager, I thought she was the world's worst mom. I came to her at a point during that time frame and I said, "Mom, thank you." I was able to look back on what she had taught me and where I had advanced to and where it had got me, and how it helped me through, even helping me through my courses and my coursework, just never give up... You can do it! Never be afraid to ask questions. She taught me to be inquisitive and never take no for an answer. I look back and I say "Mom, thank you. Had you been like this mom, or this mom, or this mom, I can't honestly say that I would be who I am today standing before you, so I greatly appreciate her and I always try to tell the younger generation that because who wants to listen to their mom as a teenager. You don't understand it and I tell myself it now as a mom. Take every chance to have a teaching moment. That's what my mom did. She showed it, she lived by it. In her life, she imitated how she wanted me to present myself. I got the hard work ethic, by seeing her work. I grew up in the hood, but I thought we were rich (until I got the tuition from Xavier) and realized, no we're not as rich as I thought. The work ethic and sacrifices that she made without me knowing or without me seeing, and just the dedication and being. a go-getter, and knocking through doors. Just being a trendsetter and paving the way, and being innovative, just endurance...My mom taught me all of it.
It was absolutely amazing talking with Dr. Williams. We wish her and We Care Rx Pharmacy continued success.
About Dr. Brandy Williams
Growing up in Houston, Williams explored a variety of career options. While her talent in debate interested her in a law career, it was numbers and problem-solving that truly enamored her. “I love math,” she mentioned several times throughout our interview. Williams found her way to pharmacy through a suggestion from her eleventh-grade guidance counselor.
However, Williams’ first inspiration was her mother. “She encouraged perseverance, dedication, determination, and hard work; I'm thankful for my mom. She knew I could do it and she wanted me to always reach for more and never settle,” said Williams when talking about Ms. Margaret, her mom.
With her goals set high, Williams enrolled at Texas Southern University, where she was captivated by her research. “I’ve actually been published. We researched the effects of moxifloxacin on simulated weightlessness on Earth vs. in space for NASA,” said a proud Williams.
When discussing her years at a major retail pharmacy, Williams said, “I loved it, but they didn’t provide support for their employees.” The noticeable loss of communication with patients was a factor in Dr. Williams’ decision to take a life-changing risk and open her own pharmacy.
We Care Rx Pharmacy opened in 2017 when Williams chose faith over fear. “I didn't want anything to limit how far I could grow.” For now, the best advice Dr. Williams has is to not give up. “If they close the door, you just knock it down.”
About We Care Rx
We Care Rx is a full-service retail pharmacy that offers prescription refills and transfers, delivery services, compounding, and immunization, making us a one-stop shop for all your pharmaceutical needs.
Our Pharmacy offers high-quality products and excellent service to every patient that steps through our doors. We genuinely care about your health and well-being. Our caring and professional team is ready to fill your prescriptions and answer all your health-related questions.
Whether you need a reliable pharmacy to refill your prescriptions or want to learn more about your medications, We are here to help you because, for us, you are family.
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