ASTCT asked Laura Whited, PharmD, BCOP, questions about what it is like to be a woman in the transplantation and cellular therapy field in celebration of Women's History Month, March 2021.
Who inspired you to enter the BMT and cellular therapy field?
My interest in BMT and cellular therapy dates back to the time when I was studying for my Doctor of Pharmacy at Purdue University College of Pharmacy. My professors in immunology and pharmacology nurtured my passion for understanding the immune system, and how its dysregulation can cause cancer.
This passion grew even deeper during my clinical rotations as a student and pharmacy resident in hematology/oncology at Indiana University Health. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to train with Drs. Patrick Kiel and Nicole Morgan, both Board Certified Oncology Pharmacists, who became outstanding mentors. I was inspired by watching their interactions with BMT physicians, their deep knowledge of oncologic pharmacology, and the respect they commanded as experts in pharmacology from the physicians, patients, and other members of the medical team. That rotation motivated me to rise to their level of professional competence.
Both Drs. Kiel and Morgan, along with Dr. Abonour, the BMT attending, strongly encouraged me to specialize in BMT due to my deep understanding of immunology and hematology. That ultimately led me to my current career as a clinical pharmacy specialist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, where I have had the amazing opportunity to work alongside key leaders like Drs. Qazilbash and Al-Atrash. They have been supportive of my career growth, and have mentored me to become a successful researcher and educator.
Dr. Alison Gulbis, a clinical specialist in BMT, also encouraged me to pursue my passion for research and education. With her encouragement and support, I have been able to launch an academic career, which has allowed me to contribute to improving the safety of the BMT procedure for our patients. With Dr. Gulbis’s encouragement and support, I had the opportunity to lead the ASTCT Pharmacy Sig Education Committee and ASTCT Pharmacy Sig Fundamentals of HCT Planning Committee, which has allowed me to educate new practitioners and trainees in the field, who are going to be the leaders in the future.
How do you inspire others?
In my role as a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist in BMT and Cellular therapy I believe I have inspired others with my passion for teaching, research, personal and professional growth. And, by forging research collaborations with several leaders in the field.
As a passionate teacher, I have been able to mentor pharmacy students, interns and my junior colleagues. My success is a combination of my innate curiosity and my tendency to question the existing dogma. As a result, I have been able to develop research projects that will hopefully lead to improved outcomes for our transplant patients.
My resilience in the face of personal and professional challenges has allowed me to thrive in my role as a transplant pharmacist, and allowed me inspire others to be persistent in their career goals regardless of the temporary obstacles and provide mentorship. Every day my goal is to inspire others, and I gain tremendous personal satisfaction through educating my patients and their caregivers. I believe that spending time with my patients greatly reassures them, and improves their quality of life in the long run. Their gratitude is the most rewarding part of my job.
What does it mean to be a women in this field?
It is exciting to be a woman in the field of BMT and especially the BMT Pharmacy. The number of medical and pharmacy graduates is increasing, although there is still a discrepancy with fewer women in academia, especially in tenure-track and senior leadership positions. I believe as women practicing in BMT, it is important for us to highlight our work, to encourage the next generation of female leaders to get involved in research, to encourage them to be vocal, and to support female colleagues in advancing their careers.
It is encouraging for me to see many professional organizations starting to recognize the contributions of women, and highlighting women leaders. I feel privileged to work with outstanding women and role models, including Dr. Linda Burns, Dr. Elizabeth Shpall, and so many others.
As a woman in my field, I hope to inspire the next generation of women leaders to achieve new levels of personal and professional excellence. I would also like to acknowledge the efforts made by ASTCT to promote women and diversity in the field, which enriches everyone.