Alumni Profile: Kathryn Sawyer

Katherine Sawyer smiling, wearing a blue sweater.It had always been Kathryn Sawyer’s plan to work in health care to fulfill her mission of helping others. After shadowing other pharmacists, she decided pharmacy would be a good fit for her.

Like many other students, Sawyer had her post-graduation path planned out years in advance. However, her journey took an unexpected turn.

During her final year at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy, Duluth, Sawyer applied for many residencies and had a lot of interviews, but was not selected to be a resident for any of the programs.

Nonetheless, Sawyer did not give up. “It’s important to be able to reflect upon what you learned, especially about your strengths,” Sawyer said. “Then to be able to use those to find where a better fit is, and when you do get that interview, you can get that job.”

 “It’s important to be able to reflect upon what you learned, especially about your strengths…Then to be able to use those to find where a better fit is, and when you do get that interview, you can get that job.”

After residency selections were released, the director of pharmacy at Norton Sound Health Corporation (NSHC) in Nome, Alaska, contacted Sawyer to ask if she was interested in a clinical pharmacist position. Sawyer has been with NSHC ever since. In her role as a clinical pharmacist, she is working with patients as a part of a collaborative team and working on a variety of projects.

Sawyer’s primary area of interest is in the utilization of technology to build a better care team with enhanced communication between the different provider staff, from medical doctors, to nurses, to pharmacists. She is most interested in taking care of and ensuring the quality and care of a large population is being met at a very high standard.

These developments are essential in areas similar to Nome. Sawyer and her team are responsible for taking care of 15 communities, which are only accessible by plane, and many do not have running water or plumbing in the houses.

Despite the challenges Sawyer and her team face, they have had a rapid response to COVID-19. NSHC closed their doors to foot traffic immediately to prevent the spread of infection, and began to deliver medication to individual homes across Nome.

The pharmacy team has also been conducting rapid responses to provide testing and immunization for COVID-19 outbreaks.

For the local impact of their efforts and continuing work for COVID-19 prevention, the NSHC pharmacy team was awarded the Local Impact Heroes in Health Award from the National Tribal Health Board.

When looking to the future, Sawyer said she believes that the pharmacy field is “in a good place to ensure that everyone is getting a certain level of care across the board.”

Her advice to current and future students is to build up soft skills because they will set you apart from others. “Be involved in different pharmacy groups and get involved in clinical competitions. Participate in different things going on in the College of Pharmacy,” she recommends. Additionally, Sawyer advises students to work and collaborate with students in other departments.

Sawyer also believes it is important for students to learn their own skills so they can be prepared if their plans do not always go as desired. “Everybody fails, but you have to keep going and not let it get you down completely. You will still succeed.”