Student Feature: Rowan Mahon

Rowan Mahon Class of 2020: Combining a Passion for Pharmacy, Public  Health and Advocacy

Rowan MahonWhile preparing to apply to pharmacy schools, Rowan Mahon became fascinated with an article on medication recycling and repositories in the writing portion of the Pharmacy College Admission Test.

Intrigued by the concept, Mahon discovered that medication repositories actually exist.

“During my second year at the college, I realized that it would be illegal for long-term care facilities in Minnesota to donate medications in the way that 20 other states with repositories are currently doing,” said Mahon.

“I realized that in order to start a medication repository program in Minnesota, the law had to be changed.” 

Mahon’s passion led her to found the Public Health Advocacy Student Alliance at the college—an organization dedicated to public health, advocacy and the power of the legislative process.

“Once this group was created, we focused on the lofty goal of changing the current law in Minnesota.”

Faculty members at the college provided guidance on the legislative process. As she and the group explored and made connections with potential legislative authors, Mahon found an advocate in Representative Debra Kiel, who serves as the Chair of the Subcommittee on Aging and Long-Term Care. 

“Representative Kiel agreed to meet with us, and with our passion, sincerity and history of success with medication repository programs in other states, she agreed to sign on as the chief author of the bill.” 

From there, Representative Jennifer Schultz agreed to be an author, which led to support from other members of the House as well as the Senate side, and hearings during the 2017-2018 legislative session.

“While we were working on collecting authors, it was equally important that all other stakeholders were notified and updated on what this legislation could mean to their profession and to public health,” said Mahon.

A breakthrough came with Cody Wiberg, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy.

“Dr. Wiberg allowed us to present to the Board of Pharmacy twice, and he provided insight and advice on the language in the bill,” said Mahon. “This eventually led to the board voting in support of medication repositories, which was so critical to our efforts.”

In addition to the Board of Pharmacy, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and the Minnesota Public Health Association officially endorsed and supported the legislative proposal. 

“In all of our meetings, we came prepared with materials to summarize the public health benefits of medication repositories and what other states have accomplished,” said Mahon.

The bill passed through four different committees and was eventually added to the Health and Human Services Finance omnibus bill. Although the omnibus bill was eventually vetoed, the bill passed many hurdles and is well positioned for the next legislative session.

In early 2018, Mahon received the United States Public Health Service – Excellence in Public Health Pharmacy Award for her work to bring medication kiosks to North Memorial Medical Center in 2015. She plans to pursue a pharmacy career as a professor with a long-term goal of serving in the government someday—perhaps as a state governor.

In the near-term, her interests are focused on the intersection of health informatics and public health. 

“My work is focused on getting the public the medications they need,” explained Mahon. “Politics gets a bad rap and the focus is on the party divide and gridlock. That wasn’t my experience at all. I saw good people working really hard to do great things for the state of Minnesota.”