The Road to Success – 4th Edition

PILs presents reflections from recent grads of the PILs Coach Program and their pursuit of postgraduate opportunities, including residency and fellowship training.

The PILs Coach Program pairs aspiring residents and fellows with personal coaches to assist them in achieving their desired goals through a customized strategic plan.  Learn more about their personal journeys below. #ProductofPILs 

Melissa Milfort
Mercer University College of Pharmacy
PGY1 Community Pharmacy Resident at Nova Southeastern College of Pharmacy

It was Match Day of 2019, I was in my third year of Pharmacy school when the hashtag #ProductOfPILs began circulating across various social media platforms.  #ProductOfPILs, #PILsProtege, #NumberOneChoice were some of the many hashtags being posted by fourth year pharmacy students that recently secured a Residency post-graduate training opportunity.  Within minutes of seeing the various Match Day results, I instantly felt intrigued!  I couldn’t resist the desire to ascertain all there was to know about PILs.  So, I googled “PILs Pharmacy” and discovered the Pharmacy Initiative Leaders (PILs), Inc.  It was the organization’s major principles that resonated with me the most and cultivated a sense of hope as I approached my last year of pharmacy school.  I was then determined to become a PILs protégé.  As luck would have it, I was fortunate enough to meet the Founder of PILs, Dr. Bryan Sackey, while attending the NPhA – SNPhA annual convention in Houston, TX.  After expressing my sincere interest in becoming a PILs protégé, I wasted no time ensuring all proper steps were executed during the application process.

As I matriculated through pharmacy school, there were a myriad of professional and personal experiences that fueled my passion to work closely with under-represented populations.  By my third year, my goal to pursue a Community or Ambulatory Care residency program was solidified.  However, the path to obtaining that goal felt unnerving, until I was paired with my PILs coaches, Dr. Bryan Sackey and Dr. Oluchi Emelogu.  From our very first telephone call, I knew PILs was a powerhouse organization on the brink of positively impacting the pharmacy profession.  The devotion, passion, and consistency that I felt from my PILs coaches were genuine.  As time progressed and comfort grew on our telephone and skype calls, I felt at ease revealing my fears and insecurities about the residency process.  My coaches transcended professional development as their guidance and wisdom fortified my confidence level.  I never felt alone! Even during the hustle and bustle of their busy lives, my coaches were always present and accessible with timely, constructive feedback and advice.  In retrospect, I needed PILs.  I could not have done this alone.  There personal testimonials and insight truly shed light on what I did not know and needed to do.  I can proudly attest that the usage of my strategic plan and mentorship received through CV and Letter of Intent review, ASHP Midyear preparation, mock interviews, etc played an instrumental role in my matching with my #NumberOneResidencyProgram!

I am forever grateful for the selflessness of my PILs coaches, Dr. Sackey and Dr. Emelogu, the newfound bond with my PILs co-protégé, Alyeshka Jusino – Acosta, and the uniform vision of the entire PILs team.

Yodit Teklu
Northeastern University School of Pharmacy
PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident at University of California, San Diego Health

I am immensely grateful for the support and mentorship I received through the PILs Connect program.  My mentors, Nicole Anidiobi and Ashley Harold, were instrumental in guiding me through the post-graduate process.  They shared their experiences, provided honest and constructive feedback, and helped calm my nerves about residency.  One of my favorite memories was attending the PILs Connect reception at the 2019 American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) Midyear Clinical Meeting in Las Vegas.  The reception helped me learn more about PILs and connect with other student and clinical pharmacists.  It was inspiring to hear from successful pharmacists that looked like me talk about their journey and passion for our profession and giving back.  I remember leaving the reception feeling motivated to take on the residency showcases and applications.

The residency timeline can be initially overwhelming, but we had a game plan that kept me accountable.  If things needed to be modified, however, my mentors were flexible and understanding.  We were in frequent communication from the moment I joined PILs through receiving my match results and beyond.  Interviewing was an area of improvement for me and the part I was most nervous about.  My first mock interview with Nicole and Ashley was mediocre.  I was rambling and talking so fast I could barely understand what I was saying.  They took the time to reflect on that session with me and provided feedback for the next session.  My next mock interview with them was so much smoother because I had taken their input and practiced my elevator pitch.  They helped me learn how to better advocate for myself and boosted my confidence, which allowed me to be my best self during on-site interviews.

Through the support of my family, friends, colleagues, and mentors, I matched at the University of California – San Diego Health PGY1 ambulatory care residency.  This accomplishment is as much theirs as it is mine.

Adam Hussain
Howard University College of Pharmacy
Vertex Pharmaceuticals | Global Regulatory Affairs Fellow

When I first entered pharmacy school, I was overwhelmed with the numerous opportunities and student organizations available.  I struggled to focus and determine where I wanted to invest my time.  I applied to various internships within different fields of pharmacy in order to gain experience.  I obtained experience in clinical settings, retail, business, and regulatory.  When I finally made the decision to pursue a career in industry, I was in the middle of my 4th year rotations and felt unprepared for the arduous process of applying for fellowships.  I sought out PILs mentorship for help.  The mentorship and professional experience I received through PILs was instrumental in my development as a leader and future industry professional.  I was fortunate to meet my future mentor, Dr. Mitchell Linton, early on in pharmacy school through industry events.  When he became my mentor during the fellowship application process, he helped me set realistic benchmarks and goals for me to maximize my potential to obtain a fellowship.  As I navigated rotations and Midyear, Mitchell would check in with me and provide hands on coaching/advice to ensure I maximized my chances at multiple interviews.  I also benefitted from advice regarding my CV and elevator pitch.  I can attribute much of my success through the fellowship process to the mock interview practice he gave me immediately before I left for Midyear.  PILs effectively provided myself and my classmates the opportunity to expand our networks, aid in our professional development, and prepare for postgraduate careers in pharmacy.  I would not be where I am without this organization and my mentor. Thank you to my family, school, professors, mentors, and PILS coach for taking the time to advise and prepare me for this critical juncture in my pharmacy career.

Shannell Gaillard
Medical University of South Carolina College of Pharmacy
PGY1 Health System Pharmacy Administration and Leadership Resident at University of Wisconsin Health

Through a series of fortunate connections, I was able to meet my PILs coach who graciously took me under his wing within the program.  I can’t imagine how lost I would have been without the guidance and support of the PILs program.  I was interested in Health System Pharmacy Administration throughout pharmacy school, but was unsure how to truly compare programs and align them with my goals.  My PILs coash had completed a HSPA program and successfully guided his previousl mentees to top programs in the country, and this allowed him to ask me the right questions and connect me with the appropriate people.

We really hit the ground running with my PILs Residency Strategic Plan in terms of planning and reflecting on rotations, leadership positions, extracurricular activities, and making connections.  We discussed the order of my rotations, the experiences I will gain from each one, and how to truly maximize time in each rotation to not only become a better pharmacist but a better HSPAL candidate.  I always felt multiple steps ahead of where I would be without this program.

ASHP Midyear as a HSPAL candidate is a very different beast compared to my P4 general PGY1 seeking classmates.  To prepare for this, my coach was able to provide tips and advice to successfully navigate PPS as a fourth year.  I was able to participate in mock interviews that reflected the PPS process and eventually the general interview process.  My CV and letters of intent were reviewed and I was provided with valuable feedback to highlight my administrative and leadership achievements along with my clinical experiences.

I am very excited to start my Health System Pharmacy Administration and Leadership Residency at University of Wisconsin Health and am so honored and thankful to have been able to participate in the PILs program!

Obinna Ekechukwu
PCOM School of Pharmacy – Georgia
Pharmacyclics/Abbvie | Post-Doctoral Medical Affairs Fellow

I followed a non-traditional path to pharmacy school which provided me with a different perspective of pharmacy compared to many of my peers.  My undergraduate degrees were in Biology and Finance, but I found myself working in the telecommunications industry for 5 years after college.  Although I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the pharmaceutical industry, how I was going to get there was still uncertain since I was not already connected to the pharmacy field.  To help bring my vision to life, I made meaningful relationships with healthcare professionals across the country to seek guidance along the way.  The support that I received over the past 4 years has been tremendous for my growth and development.  The most beneficial assistance that I received, however, came from the PILs program.  This unique program provided the structure I needed to prepare me for the rigorous post-graduate program interview cycles.  We countlessly reviewed my curriculum vitae, personal statements, and interview strategy until everything was polished.  I received numerous interviews from programs across the country.  Thanks to the detailed preparation provided to me, I was confidently able to go far into the interview process for many competitive fellowship opportunities.  My PILs mentor, Joshua Blackwell, has been assisting me in my journey since Fall 2017 and for his mentorship I am forever grateful.  The PILs family has become just that – a family for me – supporting and guiding me as I pursue my dreams.  I truly believe in this program and look forward to giving back as a mentor, to hopefully help the next generation of pharmacy leaders. 

Kathy Monangai
University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy
PGY1 Community-Based Pharmacy Practice Resident at Nationwide Children’s Hospital

Pharmacy school is full of challenges, triumphs, and growth.  Looking back, I know that I had the most growth during my final year of school.  The mentorship that I received through the PILs Coaching Program was instrumental in my professional development during that year.  I heard about PILs during the summer going into my third year through students and pharmacists who I looked up to.  The next summer, I reached out to the Director of the PILs Coaching Program, Dr. Ashley Oliver-Harold, and inquired about the program.  After some research and the interview process, both she and Dr. Justina Lipscomb became my coaches.  I cannot express enough how great of a pair these two were to have as a protégé.  Both of these women were equally as welcoming and helpful to me from the very beginning of our pairing.  They took the time to get to know me, learned about my strengths and weaknesses, and most importantly, we discussed my career goals and ways to achieve them.

The plan we set in motion at the beginning of the program was very thorough and detailed.  Mapping out my journey going into ASHP Midyear and residency interview season made everything seem less daunting.  I wouldn’t say it removed the stress, but it helped to know that I had my coaches to lean on and talk through it.  The preparation with my coaches allowed for the week spent at Midyear to go extremely well.  One of the many highlights was getting to meet one of my coaches (in-person)!  After spending months strategizing on the phone, getting the chance to see Ashley in person calmed any last nerves I had.  Justina and Ashley were strong teachers and mentors as I prepped for my residency interviews.  The intensive mock interview and case presentation preparation allowed me to be ready to take on the on-site interviews.  I remember calling them after my first interview (which happened to be with my top program) and I was over the moon.  I truly felt like it had been one of the best, if not the best, interviews I had in my professional career so far.  I wanted to be a part of this hospital’s team for almost two years and I am now proud to say that I am an incoming PGY-1 Community-Based Pharmacy Resident at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.  It is currently the only pediatric ambulatory care program in the country and I’m honored that I will learn from some of the best.  I truly believe that my success is partly due to the help of Ashley, Justina, and the PILs Coaching Program.

Alyeshka Jusino-Acosta
University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy
PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident at Albuquerque Indian Health Center – New Mexico

It was a fantastic experience to be a part of the PILs Coach Program.  My professional goals going into my P4 year were to secure a PGY-1 at a federal institution focusing on my passions of ambulatory care and geriatrics.  Now, at the end of the program, I am proud to say I will be the PGY-1 Resident at an Indian Health Service Hospital.  I knew my strength coming into this program were my interviewing skills, but my weakness was making myself look the best I could on paper.  The most humbling experience for me was the thought the CV and LOI draft I made for a residency elective I took in school was top-notch.  In school, it was one professor and over 40 students turning in assignments such as CVs and LOIs.  It made an incredible difference having the one-on-one attention from my coaches who thoroughly looked over all the details of my application.  They helped allow me to represent myself in the most professional and best way that I could.  If it wasn’t for my coaches’ feedback, I wouldn’t have gotten the 9 residency interviews that I took part in.  My PILs coaches were very knowledgeable and accessible throughout the year.  They communicated openly with me and worked very well with my schedule.  I appreciated all the time and effort they put forth outside of their full-time jobs to help aspiring pharmacists like myself.

Another great asset of this program was that I was not restricted to only associating with my two coaches.  The PILs organization has grown so much that I was able to make great friends with my other peers along the way.  I was also exposed to other coaches from my APPE sites, at the ASHP Midyear conference, and mock interview.  It was great to have these networking opportunities and be around professionals that I look up to, knowing they have nothing but the best intentions for me.  The PILs coach program OVERALL IS A STRENGTH!  Now, I have the professional confidence and skill set that I can carry with me throughout my professional career to obtain future goals that I have made for myself, such as becoming a Commissioned Corp. Officer with the U.S. Public Health Service after my residency and becoming board certified in ambulatory care and geriatrics.  

Yanet Adere
Howard University College of Pharmacy
Novo Nordisk | Medical Affairs Fellow

I spent the first three years of pharmacy school working hard to maintain a great GPA while serving the community, obtaining internships, and sharpening my leadership skills through various opportunities on and off-campus.  This is all great, but ultimately, there is no replacement for reaching out and learning from those who have career paths similar to the kind I wanted to pursue.

One of the individuals I reached out to was George Okpamen.  His approach to coaching was challenging yet empowering.  His mission was helping me identify and solidify the true “why?” behind my decision to pursue a career in industry pharmacy and a particular functional area within the industry.  He reviewed every CV and cover letter.  He spent hours helping me practice for my interviews.  Throughout the difficult times in pharmacy school and the journey to obtaining a fellowship, he reminded me of the privilege of being among the 6% percent of African Americans pursuing a professional practice doctorate.  He ingrained in me that despite any rejections or obstacles I may face, I can attain anything I set my mind to, and to trust God’s timing.

KayOnda Bayo, my co-coach, did an incredible job of identifying skills I may have overlooked from previous work or leadership experiences that were relevant to the roles I was pursuing.  She helped me stay organized while researching companies and positions, which was tremendously helpful during midyear.  Although she was in HEOR and I was interested in Medical Affairs, she introduced me to the right people who were able to answer my questions.  She showed me the importance of having a woman coach.

It wasn’t just George and KayOnda, though.  As the saying goes, it takes a village, and with PILs, I had access to many extraordinary pharmacists who were ready to lend support and encouragement whenever I needed it.  I am especially thankful to past PILs protégés Iman Ahmed, Chelsea Sumner, Ryan Frazier, Lauren Latten, Mitchell Linton, and many more for the countless hours they spent helping me throughout the entire process.  As a newly graduated pharmacist and an incoming Novo Nordisk Medical Affairs fellow, I couldn’t be more excited to pay it forward to the next generation of PILs leaders!

Raena Rhone
University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy
Florida A&M University/Bristol Myers-Squibb | Pharmaceutical Industry Resident

In addition to completing pharmacy school rotations, preparing for postgraduate opportunities is a full-time job and the uncertainty of where I would end up was intimidating.  However, my PILs coach helped me to come up with a game plan to achieve some of my greatest goals yet.  Dr. Chelsea Sumner and I met on a regular basis to ensure that I could bring my A-game to Midyear and so that I would be prepared enough to earn several fellowship offers.

Together, we determined a timeline that would help me to be thoroughly prepared for Midyear.  We met regularly to review my CV, discuss strategies for finding the right letterwriters, and to practice interview questions.  She even helped me to effectively and strategically network with other individuals who could help me to achieve my goals.  What made my PILs coach special was how approachable she was and how she tailored her coaching to my specific goals.  Most of all, Dr. Sumner, helped me to be confident when approaching fellows and industry preceptors, tackling phone and in-person interviews, and even making positive connections at Midyear receptions.  Because of her guidance and support, I was able to secure the postgraduate program of my dreams.

I hope to have the opportunity to give back to the future of pharmacy in the same way that she gave to me and I encourage all pharmacy students to seek out a PILs coach so that they can exceed their postgraduate goals.  

Ashley Saunders
University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy
Bristol Myers-Squibb | US Health Economics and Outcomes Fellow

It wasn’t until my early high school years where I was introduced to the versatile profession of pharmacy on a large scale.  I immediately knew that I wanted to be a pharmacist, oblivious of the journey ahead.  My journey throughout pharmacy school could be described as “more than I bargained for” at times, but if it wasn’t for my strong foundation of support through family and friends and vital mentoring organizations such as PILs (Pharmacy Initiative Leaders) Coaching Program, I truly believe my journey would have been much more difficult. 

Beginning my journey as a student pharmacist, I had no idea my path would look the way it currently does – an additional degree in Public Health and a new role in a non-traditional pharmacy setting.  But that is just it, you may or may not know what the trajectory looks like.  However, asking a lot of questions, networking and being resourceful certainly paved the way for new exposure and opportunities throughout pharmacy school.  Prior to choosing and interviewing for post-graduate training, I was unsure of a lot of things; doubting due to lack of experience in certain areas and lack of knowledge of certain fields.  I was blessed to have a mentor that introduced and taught me about the Pharmaceutical Industry.  The mentorship I received really set the tone as I was beginning to pursue a career within Industry.  I shared my experiences and concerns with my mentor who, ensured I talked to the correct people and asked the right questions, which resulted in more networking experiences, more exposure and more opportunities.  However, a few months before interviewing season began, I found myself making life-altering changes to the functional area I was once pursuing due to better alignment with my passion and purpose.  I was able to maximize my interview experience in those last few months and even weeks due to the support and mentorship of Chelsea Sumner; from her wise words spoken from experience, detailed and intentional changes to my CV to mock interviews.  Her mentorship and resourcefulness truly honed skills that shaped me to be competitive during the postdoctoral fellowship interview process.  Fast forward to this current moment, I realize that those uncertainties, those doubts did nothing but set me up for success.  Nonetheless, I am a firm believer in taking advantage of resources, mentorship and networking.  Being a part of PILs, I hope to use this opportunity to continue this positive cycle and pour into students and peers and invest in their futures, whatever that may look like, as it was done for me.



Crystal Onwu
Duquesne University School of Pharmacy
Omada Health | Post-Doctoral Medical Affairs Fellow

My 2nd year of pharmacy school was when I realized that I was interested in pursuing a medical affairs fellowship in the pharmaceutical industry.  I then decided to become the co-founder of my school’s Industry Pharmacists Organization (IPhO) chapter the following year, and that was when I met Mitchell Linton.  At the time, Mitchell was IPhO’s National  Student Officer of Professional Affairs and played an integral role in the development of several student IPhO chapters throughout the country.  I found that Mitchell was very determined in ensuring that my co-founder and I were taking the necessary steps to build a strong foundation for our chapter.  I could tell that our success was his success, as well.  Shortly after, Mitchell became my mentor.

Mitchell frequently checked in with me to discuss my interests and what I wanted to gain from a fellowship in the pharmaceutical industry.  He would then advise me on how to maximize my industry APPE rotations to gain experience and work towards my goal of matching to a medical affairs fellowship.  As Midyear approached, Mitchell helped me to create a plan to ensure that I was well-prepared for the experience.  We reviewed my CV, letter of intents, how to navigate interview questions and most importantly, how to stand in your confidence during Midyear.  Mitchell’s persistence and expertise along with my determination are what let to my success and I could not be happier with my experience.

I am now an incoming Post-Doctoral Medical Affairs Fellow at Omada Health and I could not be where I am today without the support of my coach and the PILs Program.  PILs not only aided me in achieving my goal of becoming a medical affairs fellow but has also provided me the foundation for continuous success.



Jamie Thompson
Texas Southern University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences
Rutgers University/Bristol Myers-Squibb | US Oncology Medical Communications/Field Medical Post-Doctoral Fellow

I am sincerely appreciative for the invaluable guidance and mentorship that PILs provided me during my midyear and interview preparation.  Prior to pharmacy school, I owned a business, which led to my early interest in non-traditional roles in pharmacy.  I wanted to focus on areas which would allow me to utilize and cultivate my previous experience and skills.  I initially had limited knowledge regarding non-traditional opportunities, but I was fortunate enough to attend a SNPhA meeting during the first month of my P1 year.  The speaker was Dr. George Okpamen.  By the end of that meeting, I took the information that he had provided us with, and upon further research, I had decided two things.  SNPhA was an organization whose mission and values aligned closely with my own, and a career in industry was my post-graduation goal. 

As I matriculated through the pharmacy program, I strived to perform as a servant leader taking on several leadership positions and implementing new programs and initiatives where I saw gaps.  It was also important to me to make an impact in the community while also providing support to my fellow classmates and subsequent graduating classes.  These were areas where I was within my comfort zone.  I also knew my end-goal was to obtain a position in industry and more specifically, in oncology.  But as the final year approached, I realized I had now reached a point where I was very unsure of how to proceed.  Navigating towards a field that I had minimal knowledge about or exposure to was where I faced insurmountable obstacles and challenges.  I realized early on that I needed assistance in mapping out a successful plan of action and identifying areas that I needed to focus on improving upon. 

I sought out advice from Dr. Okpamen, who true to his nature, took out time from his extremely busy schedule to guide me in my professional development and career goals.  He introduced me to PILs.  As Midyear loomed closer, PILs paired me with Dr. KayOnda Bayo, who played a pivotal role and was immensely instrumental in my Midyear preparations.  Dr. Bayo met with me often reviewing timelines, letters of intent and my curriculum vitae to ensure that I was presenting myself as a competitive candidate.  She also impressed upon me the importance of ensuring that what I presented on paper was an accurate and thorough representation of who I am as a healthcare professional.  She was very open and honest about her own experiences and was completely transparent when answering my questions and providing me with advice.  She walked beside me during my journey, all the way to and across the finish line. 

Pharmacy school comes with its own challenges, but those are amplified during the Midyear process.  Securing a residency/fellowship can be a stressful and daunting challenge and I personally cannot imagine having gone through that process without the resources, encouragement and support of my PILs coaches and the entire PILs team.

By: Ashley Oliver, PharmD.  Dr. Oliver is PILs Ambassador and staff writer for The Package Insert. 

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