Catherine Kelly | Smart Futures

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Catherine Kelly
Catherine Kelly is chief pharmacist at UPMC Whitfield Hospital. Each day is different for her – she might be talking to a consultant about an antibiotic for a patient or chatting to a patient about the possible side effects of their chemotherapy.
Job title
Chief Pharmacist
UPMC Whitfield Hospital.

My name is Catherine Kelly and I am the chief pharmacist at UPMC Whitfield Hospital. In secondary school, I was really interested in science as I was naturally curious, which makes these ideal subjects to learn. In school I absolutely loved biology experiments and I recently had the chance to bring my two daughters to the Eureka Science festival in Carlow IT as part of Science Week. They absolutely loved it there and they got to see demonstrations relating to light and sound that help explain how we see and hear the world around us. But the real highlight was extracting DNA from a banana!


Has your opinion of STEM changed since you were a teenager?

Definitely – I was turned off STEM slightly as a teenager as I was worried that it was all maths based, but, actually, most of STEM is about ideas and concepts and imagining solutions.


In your opinion, what is the biggest myth about STEM careers?

The biggest myth is that learning ends after school or college. STEM, especially in the areas of pharmacy and medicine, is constantly changing and I have to keep up with the latest technology and research to stay on top of my field and give the best care to our patients at UPMC Whitfield. STEM based careers give you more options than most career paths, but the misconception is that you’re limited to strictly one of four areas – physics, biology, chemistry or maths. The reality is that, once you have the fundamentals and an enhanced general ability to solve problems, these skills can be applied to any field.


Do you believe that there is enough being done to encourage girls to study STEM and pursue STEM careers?

I think there could be more done to encourage girls to study STEM subjects. As a mother to two girls, I am constantly trying to boost their curiosity about the world. By creating a fun, hands on, educational technology experience at an early age, it’s easier to spur curiosity among young girls. Their favourite book at the moment is Fantastically Great Women who changed the World, and their favourite woman in the book is Marie Curie… of course!


Describe an interesting day in your current position.

Tuesday morning is chemotherapy day. I must review all the prescriptions for the chemotherapy patients, making sure that they have all been prescribed correctly and that they have been prescribed an appropriate anti–sickness medication. I transport the chemotherapy treatments to the IV infusion ward at UPMC Whitfield and confirm with the Oncology nurses about the list of patients for the day and discuss any issues. I also have the opportunity to speak to our patients who have questions about their treatment.  I then review a patient on the inpatient ward who has an allergy to penicillin and needs an alternative antibiotic. Then it is straight to the orthopaedic ward to review elderly patients’ medications.


 What do you love about your current role?

I love the way each day is different – I might be talking to a consultant about an antibiotic for a patient or chatting to a patient about the possible side effects of their chemotherapy. Pharmacists are scientists, trained in the science of pharmaceuticals—pharmacokinetics, pharmacology, and more. As scientists, we are experts in drugs—the way they act; how, why, and when drugs should be taken; how to reduce the risks associated with the drugs they dispense; how to compound and mix drugs to make them more effective; and much more!


What has been your most exciting career moment to date?

I entered a photo competition entitled ‘Prescription for a Healthy Ireland’ and it was displayed in the RCSI for a week!


Do you get to work with any new technologies?

I work with new technologies all the time, and we are currently working on a project which will allow me to carry out audits in a paperless way. Also, we are looking at technologies to unite the medical oncology at UPMC Whitfield with the radiation oncology at UPMC Hillman Cancer centre to give the best possible cancer care to our patients.


What kind of other experts do you work with on a day to day basis?

I deal with all the consultants, doctors and nurses that work in UPMC Whitfield, including specialists in orthopaedics, general surgery, ophthalmology, oncology, gastroenterology and many more. I work with radiographers, medical scientists and physicists to ensure the best possible care is given to our patients.


If a young person told you that they would like to get into your role, what advice would you give them?

Go for it! I would advise students to try and get some work experience – whether a summer placement or a day visit – and make the most of these opportunities. It’s important to be honest with yourself though: you may get some work experience and realise it’s not for you after all – this is OK! There are plenty of different fields that a pharmacist can work in, and something will suit you.


What do you want to see change in the industry in the next 10 years?

As robotics and technology improve, the physical aspect of pharmacy dispensing is bound to change how pharmacists do their job, moving them away from mechanics to more intellectual aspects of pharmaceutical delivery. Over the next ten years there will be a rise in the number and sophistication of newer, more formidable drugs and biological products entering the market. The scientific knowledge pharmacists possess will become even more valuable. But this knowledge is useless if they cannot communicate it to the patient, the prescriber, or the caregiver. The future of pharmacy is in the art of communication.


Did you complete any sort of placement or internship during your studies? If so, did it prepare you for what you do now?

Yes, after four years in University I had to do a year-long internship under the supervision of a pharmacist, and then had to sit another set of exams before I became a qualified pharmacist.


Name one thing on your bucket list.

To ride in a hot air balloon!


What television series are you currently watching?

I am re-watching Friends!


What living person do you most admire, and why?

Bernard Fisher, a University of Pittsburgh surgeon and a pioneer in the biology and treatment of breast cancer. He is recognised for his ground-breaking research in breast cancer, which ultimately ended the standard practice of performing the radical mastectomy, a treatment that had been in place for more than 75 years. His laboratory and clinical investigations led to more effective therapy, increased survival rates, and improved quality of life for women with breast cancer. Fisher’s work fundamentally changed our understanding of breast cancer and improved and extended the lives of thousands of women. Fisher, still writing, publishing and questioning, celebrated his 100th birthday  in August!


STEM, especially in the areas of pharmacy and medicine, is constantly changing and I have to keep up with the latest technology and research to stay on top of my field and give the best care to patients.