Trio from Class of 2006 Share Bond Through College, GSHP

What are the odds that the last three presidents of the Georgia Society of Health-System Pharmacists (GSHP) would be all women….all UGA College of Pharmacy alumni….and all from the UGA College of Pharmacy’s Class of 2006? If you put money down on this winning trifecta, you would have taken the table.  

This impressive trio shares a special bond and commitment of service, not only because they are fellow 2006 PharmDawg alumni, but because of their GSHP leadership affiliation. For the past three terms, the GSHP presidents were classmates in the UGA PharmD program: Dr. Trisha Branan served in 2019-2020; Dr. Susan Jackson served in 2020-2021; and Dr. Christy Norman currently serves for the 2021-2022 term.

“GSHP has always been fortunate to have many female leaders, and we appreciate their role in advancing organized healthcare practices in the State of Georgia,” said Steve Glass, Executive Director of the 1,800+ member organization, the seventh largest state-affiliate chapter of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. “There’s been an added benefit to these outstanding women serving as sequential leaders for GSHP.  As fellow classmates, they have mentored and supported one another as they’ve ascended in their various GSHP leadership roles. We’ve also prospered by having a strong representation from the College’s alumni base. Certainly, it’s been a win-win for everyone.”

While they were pharmacy students, the practice paradigm was shifting from a traditional dispensing model to a more patient-centered counseling and collaborative practice, allowing residencies to be more commonplace. The pharmacy community was looking for young practitioners to lead this evolution. Becoming a part of a professional organization, such as GSHP, was a natural fit for young pharmacists entering the workforce.  

Dr. Trisha Branan, the Assistant Department Head for Professional Education and a Clinical Associate Professor at the College, said she never aspired to be a leader. However, following her residencies and entry into clinical pharmacy, she became involved in GSHP.  After serving on the GSHP board in various capacities for several years, she received encouragement from fellow board members to run for the presidency, which she was elected to in 2019.  “Serving as president allowed me to give back to an organization that has done so much for my career,” said Dr. Branan. “I truly believe GSHP helped raise me professionally and I have acquired so many leadership skills as a result of this opportunity.”

Dr. Susan Jackson, the current  Vice President of Pharmacy Operations at WellStar Health System, was the next to assume the GSHP presidency. Early in her career, Dr. Jackson discovered that GSHP was seeking a district director. Although she wasn’t involved in the organization during her time in pharmacy school, she was encouraged by her supervisor to apply, and she was quickly elected to the position. “Leslie Jaggers ’85, ‘87 and Don Davis ‘79, who were active GSHP members and fellow UGA alumni, were very welcoming and encouraging of my new role,” said Dr. Jackson. 

Completing this golden triangle is the current president, Dr. Christy Norman. As the Vice President of Pharmacy Services at Emory Healthcare, Dr. Norman credits her time at the College for providing her a solid leadership foundation. “I was fortunate to serve as the P1 Class President and later as President of the Student National Pharmaceutical Association,” said Dr. Norman. “These roles taught me the importance of making connections, creating a vision, and sharing messages pertinent to the profession. I also learned the value of shaping the path for others in pharmacy. This foundational experience was a big influence on why I sought a leadership position within GSHP.”

Dr. Jackson echoed her colleague’s sentiments. “The College did an excellent job of broadening our minds in the classroom, grooming us to be bright and reliable practitioners, and instilling a sense of community through volunteerism. One of my favorite things to do while I was a student was to help at Mercy Clinic, because it allowed me to connect practice to purpose in the best possible way.”

In addition to their connection from the College and GSHP, these three have shared numerous life experiences that shaped them personally and professionally, including two world crises — 9/11 and COVID-19.  “We were undergraduates in College when 9/11 happened, and the aftermath caused us all to adopt a spirit of unity, regardless of where we were in life’s journey,” noted Dr. Branan. “Fast forward almost two decades later, and we have experienced an unprecedented pandemic. Similar to the response after 9/11, we have seen our healthcare systems unite to work together to combat this virus. I have been proud to be a part of GSHP during this time and see how many pharmacy leaders and practitioners have collaborated to share information and support each other so that patients in the state of Georgia receive the best care possible. I think these episodes have made us stronger and more resilient, not just as professionals, but as individuals.”    

Dr. Norman reflected on the unique bond the three have. “Trisha worked under my leadership at Augusta University Health as a critical care specialist. She was one of my most trusted colleagues and employees, especially because of the connection to UGA.  She has always had a passion, and still does, for patient care, and she helped me to always keep that front and center as an administrator.  Susan and I are connected as pharmacy executives in the Atlanta-metro area. We often reach out to each other, in an otherwise competitive market, for advice and guidance when it comes to clinical and operational challenges that face us. This has proven to be extremely valuable during the pandemic.”

Trisha and I had our first pharmacy rotation together at St. Mary’s Healthcare System in Athens,” explained Dr. Jackson. That certainly was the catalyst to learning more about each other and developing a high level of trust.  Once we were involved in GSHP, we were strengthened by the common bond of being classmates. It was the platform for developing the mutual trust, respect, and admiration we share for each other.

She added, “Today, I have deep faith in the abilities of both Trisha and Christy.  I know beyond a doubt that I can rely on them to help when needed, to give sound advice, and to provide balanced leadership.  My two colleagues, who I proudly call friends, have directly impacted the person, pharmacist, and leader I am today. I am grateful that I had the experience to work alongside them as a student and a professional. Our common foundation through the College more than 15-plus years ago grew into the tremendous relationship we have today. I thoroughly enjoyed our time together leading GSHP, and I would be honored to work with them again in any capacity.”

Dr. Branan shared the same mutual admiration for her fellow alumni and friends. “Prior to our involvement in GSHP, I worked with Susan during clinical rotations, and I worked under Christy’s leadership in my first clinical pharmacy job. I have always admired both of them and their natural leadership skills. Not having any true leadership experience until I became a practitioner, I have learned so much from working with them and have been shaped by our shared experiences. During the last year and a half, with so much uncertainty and unknown territory, being able to reach out and get advice from trusted and respected colleagues who you have navigated the pharmacy world with since school has truly been a gift.”

“There’s an obvious shared bond and sense of pride that Drs. Branan, Jackson, and Norman have from serving together as leaders through this vital state organization,” said Dean Kelly Smith. “Their commitment to excellence in the profession and their ability to influence health-system pharmacy practice ultimately benefits patients and the future pharmacists this College trains.”