Pursuing My Goal to be a Pharmacist After Transplant

I believe my passion for science and math — and the unique perspective cystic fibrosis has given me — will help me make an impact as a pharmacist.

| 6 min read
Meghan Zimmerman

My name is Meghan, and I have cystic fibrosis. I am almost ready to celebrate the sixth anniversary of my lung transplant. This fall, I began my second year as a pharmacy student at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy.

I always knew that I wanted to go to college and I always loved science and math. It seemed like a natural progression to continue to spend time with those subjects on a collegiate level. I graduated from the University of Nebraska with a degree in physical science and secondary education. I met my husband during undergrad, where we were both active on campus and attended many football and baseball games together.

After graduation, I went on to teach high school physics for several years, which I loved. I decided to be open with my students and others about my CF early on, and that decision continues to benefit me now. Personally, the more I talk about my illness, the easier it is to address, and the easier it is to fight for what I need to be successful. I found that most of my students were genuinely curious and compassionate. I taught while on home IVs, lesson-planned from hospital beds, and explained “the science of a PICC line” to one of my study halls. Gradually my disease progressed, I resigned from my teaching position, and I was evaluated for a double lung transplant.

I received my double lung transplant in mid-November 2014. I decided to use my new lungs to honor my donor by finding a new career path that would help me improve the lives of my fellow CF fighters. After much consideration, I decided not to pursue another teaching position. Instead, I choose to pursue a career in pharmacy.

A career as a pharmacist felt like a natural progression because I developed a love and appreciation for the profession after spending decades as a pharmacy patient.

As a person with a chronic illness, I have had the privilege of working with the same health care team for several years. My pharmacists have battled insurance companies for me, ensured that I had refills of home IV medications (even when dosages were changed at 8 p.m. on a Saturday), and participated in my transplant fundraising efforts. Having someone who understands the intricacies of working with unique patient populations — especially those with CF who are often overeducated about their own illness and underwhelmed with most medical professionals — requires a specific skill set that is missing in many health care settings. As a person who grew up in clinics and hospitals, I can bring the unique perspective of being a person with cystic fibrosis to this profession.

I also have a confession: my name is Meghan, and I am a life-long pharmaceutical nerd. I am the patient that annoys all of my providers for details on new treatments, therapeutic decisions, and medications coming down the pipeline. I can breathe using someone else's lungs because I take medications that stop my immune system from attacking them. I can eat fats, proteins, and carbohydrates because I take a medication that mimics the enzymes a healthy pancreas would normally produce to break them down. Most of you know that I could go on for DAYS about all of the ways in which medication has changed my life as a person with CF. When I combined my passion for pharmacy with the need for more health care professionals who also have the unique perspective that comes from life-long management of an illness like cystic fibrosis, I felt that pharmacy was the best place for me to be.

I have big dreams and have undertaken a very ambitious goal. I do not know how I will get there or what influence I will have on the greater good when everything is done. I DO know that every step I have taken on this journey has shown me that I am exactly where I need to be.

Getting into any graduate or professional program is difficult. I had to go back and take several undergraduate courses to fulfill pre-pharmacy course requirements. Beyond that, entrance exams like the PCAT, personal essays, letters of recommendation, and interviews are all required. My story is unique, but it is honest, powerful, and centered on faith that can only come from going through the unimaginable. I am a non-traditional student with an extremely non-traditional story, but those things allow me to bring a powerful perspective to the world of pharmacy.

I ultimately chose to attend a school that is nationally recognized for its innovative work in infectious diseases, pharmaceutical science, and pharmacy practice. It also happens to be associated with my CF care center. The hallways that I walk every day are connected to the hospital where I was diagnosed with CF at 6 months old. This is the hospital where, at one point, an entire floor of nurses knew my name, my dogs' names, and those of my family members because I was a “frequent flyer.” These halls have seen more than their fair share of my tears, and although I cannot say that I am done with that part of my life, the feeling I have while walking the halls of this school and this hospital as a student practitioner and not as a patient are indescribable.

Pharmacy has changed my life. I have years of pharmaceutical and patient experiences that may be unimaginable for my classmates.

At the same time, they have their own experiences that I probably cannot relate to. Together, we can share our experiences and stories. Every story we tell, and every success we share, is another moment when a “sick kid” breaks through the barriers put upon us. Sometimes things do work out for the best, and we're given opportunities that we never thought were possible. Be amazed by those around you. Be inspired by their contributions. Sick kids are starting to take over the world, and together we are going to do great things.

Interested in sharing your story? The CF Community Blog wants to hear from you.

This site contains general information about cystic fibrosis, as well as personal insight from the CF community. Opinions and experiences shared by members of our community, including but not limited to people with CF and their families, belong solely to the blog post author and do not represent those of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, unless explicitly stated. In addition, the site is not intended as a substitute for treatment advice from a medical professional. Consult your doctor before making any changes to your treatment.

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Meghan was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was 6 months old and received a double lung transplant nearly 6 years ago at the University of Minnesota. She is a former high school physics teacher and current pharmacy student at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Meghan earned a bachelor's degree in physical science and secondary education from the University of Nebraska, where she also met her husband Ken. Together, they enjoy spending time with family and friends, running, kayaking, traveling, and trying new foods. Meghan recently ran her fourth half marathon and plans to run a fifth … as soon as her entire body stops hurting. Ken and Meghan currently live in Omaha, Nebraska with their two dogs.

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