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Clinical pharmacist’s career path winds to St. Jude

Clinical pharmacist Melissa Bourque dispenses the details of how her career in medicine took shape.

Melissa Bourque, PharmD, partners with clinical care teams to determine which treatments might work best.

Finding an ideal career through my experiences is much like the path that it takes pharmacists and colleagues to arrive at drug treatment plans for individual patients—it’s all about the right fit.

When I entered Southeast Missouri State University as a freshman, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study or pursue as an occupation.

During my sophomore year of college, my father passed away from lung cancer, and I became interested in the oncology field. Seeing what he went through and the people who helped us along the way, I knew I wanted to do something related to cancer. I didn’t know what yet, but I was starting there.

While in college, I worked in the photo department of a retail drug store chain. Our manager asked me if I wanted to try something new when a technician position opened in the pharmacy.

Working with medicine was intriguing—so much so that I decided to enroll in pharmacy school at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, after graduation.

I was fascinated by the idea that a pill could help save your life or alter your body in some helpful way.

In late 2013, I came to St. Jude for a student rotation. The final piece of the puzzle fell into place because that rotation changed my world. I knew that I wanted to be a pediatric oncology pharmacist. It was perfect.

I later did a residency at St. Jude before joining the hospital full-time in July 2015. As a clinical pharmacist, I work with solid tumor and neuro-oncology patients, rotating between inpatient and outpatient service every two months.

During inpatient service, I work to check dosing on patients before completing rounds. Clinical pharmacists partner with a patient's care team to determine what treatment plans might work best and make recommendations based on a patient's symptoms and reactions to treatment.

I feel like we’re all practicing on one plane, and we’re a real community. I'm relying on the physicians as much as they rely on me. We know that we can rely on each other and ask questions—I can ask them about certain protocols or they may come to me about specific medications.

I enjoy interacting with patients and families and being a resource when they have questions about medicines, side effects and treatment plans. As someone who loves to learn, I also challenge myself to stay updated on newly approved drugs, changes in the oncology field and new protocols.

In my spare time, I’m an avid runner. My passion for helping patients and my love of running came together last December as I ran the full marathon in the St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend. I was also one of 20 St. Jude employees who participated in the annual 2018 Memphis to Peoria Run.

The biggest satisfaction in my work comes from collaborating with colleagues to help patients. Knowing that I helped at least one patient today is the most rewarding part of my work. We all come together to help save children each day in our own way.

Melissa Bourque, PharmD, is a clinical pharmacist in the Pharmaceutical Services Department at St. Jude.

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