Carolyn O'Donnell: From Music to Pharmacy: Taking Every Opportunity Along the Way

Carolyn O'Donnell Headshot

It’s never too late to become a pharmacy student. This is the main impression one has after learning about Carolyn O’Donnell’s educational journey. O’Donnell had a degree in music business and the entertainment industries from the University of Miami. She was working in the music industry before she changed career trajectories. Today, she’s an award-winning pharmacy student at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy’s Duluth campus and is slated to graduate in May 2020. 

O’Donnell is from Chicago, Illinois, and has lived in Miami and California, before moving to Duluth, to attend the College of Pharmacy. She spent a portion of her life working in the music industry including work at a record label, an artist management company, and a booking agency. She loved it but didn’t see herself staying  in music forever. She started exploring other options and found herself s interested in health care. So,, O’Donnell volunteered at a hospital and that’s where her fascination with pharmacy was sparked.

“I volunteered for a hospital in Chicago, in their organ transplant unit, and I realized that I was fascinated by all the different medications and how they worked. So, I took a pharmacy technician certification course and immediately fell in love with pharmacy,” O’Donnell said. “I have loved every moment that I have been pursuing pharmacy and it was definitely the right career move for me.” 

When looking at potential pharmacy schools to attend, the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy stood out to her because of the opportunities it offers. 

“There are  so many organizations through the College of Pharmacy, plus a lot of unique experiences to help guide you along your career path and figure out what you are passionate about pursuing,” O’Donnell said. “For example, opportunities like the Leadership Emphasis Area are unique to our school. I feel that gaining more experience in leadership has made a large impact on my future career. Right after my interview, I felt like I would gain the most experience through the University of Minnesota that would help me pursue my ideal pharmacy career.Even then, I could not imagine how much of an impact going to this school would help me pursue my dream role.” 

O’Donnell was right in believing that attending the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy would afford her a number of opportunities. During her time at the college’s Duluth campus, O’Donnell has been a teaching assistant for multiple courses.. She has also served as  a public relations officer through the Health of People Everywhere (HOPE) Clinic, a student-run clinic focused on an underserved population. She was the liaison for International Pharmaceutical Students’ Federation (IPSF), where she developed outreach opportunities on both a local and global level. She has also been the health fair coordinator for Phi Delta Chi and a co-coordinator for Operation Mental Health. 

O’Donnell has also pursued many internships including student assistant for the University of Minnesota’s Medication Therapy Management Clinic, a pharmacy intern for Cub pharmacy and an intern with the Industry Pharmacists Organization (IPhO). O’Donnell also  interned for Essentia Health’s Chronic Opioid Analgesic Therapy (COAT) program, where she tracked opioid medications and provided information to physicians about how often they were filling their medications. 

Taking advantage of all these opportunities has helped O’Donnell  win numerous awards for her work in pharmacy. They’ve included the Century Mortar Club Student Award, for exceptional leadership and engagement in the College of Pharmacy and the profession; the Interprofessional Student Achievement Award from The Nexus Summit, a national award won for a poster presentation that she gave at a conference focused on bridging care between a mental health center and family medicine clinic; and  the Outstanding Teaching Assistant of the Year from the University of Minnesota. She was nominated for the Dean’s Research Award by two professors for research she completed through the College of Pharmacyand was the Rho Chi Research Day Poster Winner twice. O’Donnell was also awarded the John Y. Breckenridge Memorial Award, an award for a second-year pharmacy student in recognition of outstanding scholastic achievement, professional promise, and leadership ability. 

O’Donnell is grateful for the awards she has won, but she believes they wouldn’t have been possible if she didn’t attend the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy.

“These awards to me signify how many opportunities the University of Minnesota’s College of Pharmacy has provided,” O’Donnell said. “Every award is in some way related to projects I have completed with various professors and I cannot thank them enough for their willingness to include me on different projects. Every time I have been interested in a project and asked if I could get involved, professors have been extremely willing. I feel very honored to have received recognition for my hard work, but I really feel like these awards show how many opportunities I have gained in working with faculty within the College of Pharmacy.”

O’Donnell isn’t sure what the future holds for her, but she does know that her experience at the College of Pharmacy will help her as she makes her way in the field of pharmacy. She has learned a lot since her time spent in the music industry, but the biggest thing she’s learned is applicable to everyone. 

“I think I have learned to take advantage of every opportunity because all these roles have expanded my knowledge, opened so many doors, and have helped me figure out what roles I want to pursue in pharmacy.”