The majority of Kira Adkins' new classmates at the MUSC College of Pharmacy in the fall of 2018 were still getting to know one another's names and backgrounds, but they all seemed to already be familiar with her.
She had, after all, made headlines in the neighborhood press as the 16-year-old who had been accepted to pharmacy school.
They didn't know her, even though they were aware of her story. Adkins recalls discussions about "that girl who got in, and she's only 16" between other new students at a table during orientation week. Adkins sat silently and listened, curious to hear the rumors. Fortunately, the responses from the other students were overwhelmingly positive and centered on awe at what she had accomplished. Afterward, she identified herself as "that girl."
Adkins, who was formerly the College of Pharmacy's youngest approved applicant, has now graduated at the age of 21. It's a time when the majority of college students, including her former Academic Magnet High School classmates, are preparing to start their professions or submitting their graduate school applications to study medical, law, business, or, of course, pharmacy.
By taking Advanced Placement classes in high school and taking courses at Trident Technical College and Greenville Technical College, Adkins avoided the undergraduate years and received college credits instead. She started by selecting classes with the intention of completing her prerequisites because she had already made up her mind that she wanted to be a pharmacist.
"After that, I got going and realized that this was manageable. I simply started enrolling in additional classes and began attempting the sciences,” she added.
Randy and Sherlonda Adkins, her parents, are incredibly proud of her. But they tried to make room for her to relieve the stress during those years when she was juggling both college and high school courses.
Randy Adkins stated, "There were definitely trying times, of course, since it was a lot - being in college and high school. We always made it obvious that she may go if she wanted to whenever she had those moments. You don't have to execute your strategy exactly as you planned just because you have one.”
But according to her father, Adkins was always able to refocus, recharge, and carry on.
When Kira Adkins was 13, her parents asked her to join them on a mission trip to Honduras, which sparked her interest in a career in healthcare. Her mother is a physician assistant, and her father is a software consultant in addition to being an ordained minister. Adkins enrolled in the SCRUBS program at Roper St. Francis Health Care for middle and high school kids interested in careers in healthcare back in South Carolina.
She claimed that it became clear really soon that she didn't want anything to do with a profession involving blood and gore. She also started to notice how approachable pharmacists are as she learned more about the field of pharmacy. There is a CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, or grocery store almost around every corner, and they all have pharmacists.
She came to realize how other healthcare providers relied on pharmacists, noting that they are among the professions with the best reputations. Nevertheless, she claimed that it wasn't until she started her rotations at pharmacy school that she really started to grasp the scope of the profession.
Adkins has benefitted from the experience that rotations are supposed to provide students with in a variety of environments. She has experience working in community pharmacies, hospital pharmacies, long-term care facilities, and ambulatory clinics. She has gained knowledge about herself and pharmacy in each environment.
Working at a pharmacy integrated into a Fetter Health clinic, which largely serves underserved and minority populations, brought home how important it is for Black women to participate in this field. Numerous studies have demonstrated the value of healthcare professionals reflecting the communities they serve, however just around 5% of pharmacists nationwide are Black.
Adkins remembers one instance when her preceptor, or trainer, pointed out that the patient had been looking at Adkins the entire time she had been responding to his queries.
Her preceptor informed her, "She was staring at you because she trusted you.”
“That's when I truly began to understand my role as a young, Black female provider in the healthcare system,” Adkins said. “I needed that rotation to truly understand that.”
Her rotations convinced her that she preferred working in an acute care setting, despite the fact that she valued building relationships with patients in the ambulatory and community settings.
"You never know what you're going to encounter in an intensive care scenario. Every day when I entered the building, I said, ‘OK, what did we get overnight?’" she recalled.
She also appreciated the fact that pharmacists were integral part of the care team rather than only an afterthought. Every day, a pharmacist participated in rounds and was consulted by the doctors virtually universally regarding the appropriate drug, dose, and potential interactions.
Adkins stated, "I didn't really realize that until I was there that they needed a pharmacist on rounds.”
Similar circumstances occurred to her at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, where pharmacists on rounds were required to carefully analyze lab results in order to provide recommendations because many of the patients were sedated or intubated and unable to talk for themselves.
She claimed that her preceptor at the VA was particularly difficult—in a good way. He assured her that he would treat her similarly to a resident—someone who has already completed pharmacy school—and assign her projects in addition to patients.
I thought at the time, 'This guy is nuts. I'm not sure if I can do all of this that he's wanting me to do. But when it was all through, I thought, ‘OK, I needed that.’ I was able to complete everything,” she remarked. "So that proved to me that I can balance having patients while still working on long-term objectives and coaching the squad. It demonstrated to me my capacity to communicate with and teach other healthcare professionals.”
Adkins' fourth-year rotations were all located in the Charleston region, which is unusual. As the student who organized three classmates to find rotations in Hawaii after their first year so they could live there for a month, she had originally intended to do some "away" rotations. However, COVID had already canceled her second-year rotation in New York City, forcing her to scramble for a replacement, and she didn't want to go through that again.
Thankfully, all but one of her fourth-year rotations were in person by the time she arrived.
Adkins, who prides herself on being a people person, has already begun to get to know the folks she will be spending the coming year with. She will work as a resident at Prisma Health, where she will rotate between acute care settings to focus her interests. She currently has an interest in pediatrics, critical care, and psychiatry, and she believes the residency will help her decide which career path is best for her or possibly open her eyes to a new option.
"I adore the notion of maintaining an open mind because you never know what you might learn. I never would have guessed I was interested in psychiatry, and I only completed that rotation in March. Before I did the rotation, I had not given it any thought," she claimed.
Adkins thanks the community that helped her get where she is, beginning with her family and expanding to include her instructors, the pharmacists at the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children's Hospital, with whom she's worked since her first year, and many others. Adkins is getting ready to graduate.
"I couldn't have completed it alone. I give my parents a lot of credit. They are constantly there for me and in my corner. Additionally, even though they are younger, my siblings are a significant part of my support system,” she added.
Randy Adkins claimed that their church family had been crucial in teaching Adkins how to accept help when she needed it and how to help people in return. Furthermore, he and his wife are interested in what their daughter will do next.
"We are confident she will accomplish fantastic things."