April 2020: Noreen Wilson '77

If you had told pharmacist Noreen Wilson ’77 ten years ago that she would be living and working in a small town on the Ohio/Indiana border, she would have laughed! Yet, today, she treasures working at Joint Township District Memorial Hospital in Saint Mary’s, Ohio, for the ease with which she can connect with patients. The Alumnae Office is profoundly grateful to Noreen for taking the time to share her story and respond to these questions (which were provided shortly before the outbreak of COVID-19 in Ohio), all while serving on the front line and caring for patients.

Why did you choose Laurel?
My fifth grade teacher, Kaye Oker (mom of Mindy Oker Gallagher ’91), told my parents I needed a more challenging environment and suggested Laurel. In sixth grade I took the test and I started at Laurel in Seventh Grade. My elementary school classmate Kennita Watson ’77 joined me at Laurel in Eighth Grade! 
 
When you entered Laurel as a Seventh Grader, the School was not very diverse. If you feel comfortable sharing, how did that play into your experience at One Lyman Circle? 
Laurel was welcoming and open more than some places at the time, or even some places now. It was the ‘70s, a time of social upheaval and great change. Laurel was a great place for a young girl coming into her own, full of curiosity and learning. Among my dearest friends through all these years are Grace Lockett ’75, Valerie Raines ’78, the late Roberta Madison Garrison ’76 and my classmates and other friends. I treasure them all. I learned so much and had such fun! 
 
Who influenced you the most during your time at Laurel? Did you belong to any clubs or participate in any extracurricular activities? 
I was in Green Key, the Black Unity Society and Dress Code. I think the English department—Miss Hotchkiss, Mrs. Beasley, Mrs. Pollitz, Ms. McCullough—instilled such appreciation of grammar and literature. Studying Faulkner and dissecting passages in Ms. McCullough’s class was sometimes fun and sometimes somber. Also influential were Mrs. Minshall, my Latin teacher and advisor Ms. O’Neil, Mrs. Arnold in the audio-visual department, Mrs. Kammen and Mrs. Boatright in history, Miss Cultrona (who became Mrs. Farrell), Mrs. Daley and Mr. Klitz in science, and Miss Wilson in physical education.
 
Tell us about your journey to becoming a pharmacist. Were there many women in your doctoral program studying pharmacy? 
I earned my BS in pharmacy at the University of Cincinnati. My class was about 55% women. It was when the tide was starting to turn. In the 1990s, I returned to study towards a PharmD in a program through The Ohio State University at the Cleveland Clinic. I did not finish but my class was all women. 
 
What advice would you give to other women looking to enter a STEM field?
Do it! STEAM includes an ever-expanding knowledge base applicable to many disciplines and careers. I’d recommend exploring courses in math and science, English (must write well-prepared papers and reports), and foreign language (explore a few for fun and travel!). 
 
How has the pharmacy profession changed since you first entered the field? What future trends do you anticipate seeing in the profession?
Technology! I’m seasoned enough to have practiced pre-computers when we calculated so much by hand. Then there were programmable calculators. Now, there’s also the invaluable benefit of having a fairly complete patient history and profile in your hands, so no more going through charts or records to find information.
 
After working in big hospital systems in Cleveland, you took a job in St. Mary’s, Ohio, near the Ohio/Indiana border. From a pharmacist’s perspective, what are the differences in healthcare in serving a rural community? 
I was a traveling pharmacist for a few years, spending a couple of years in Columbus and then in other areas of Ohio before my assignment in Saint Mary’s. Originally just a few-months-long assignment, I continued working there and eventually was hired by the hospital. It has been the right fit for me. But if you told me this ten years ago I would have laughed! 
 
While I value the experience I gained in huge settings, sometimes big can be unwieldy. Working at University Hospital’s Ahuja Medical Center allowed a smaller setting within the framework of a large system. I loved my department there. Plus, it was a chance to work from the beginning in a brand-new hospital. 
 
Joint Township District Memorial Hospital in Saint Mary’s is my home now and it’s just right. I appreciate the small yet progressive hospital serving many smaller towns and cities in the region by providing an array of inpatient and outpatient services. It’s more personable and easier to connect with patients. It truly is less than six degrees of separation; they are one’s neighbors or friends. 
 
What is one professional or personal milestone that you are most proud of achieving?
 
Rolling with the tremendous changes and advancements of the practice and patient care environments over the past 30+ years. Wow! Ever-changing as experienced in the past month with COVID-19. The past month has been seen hold in elective surgeries, a good portion of our business. Also, patients aren’t coming to the emergency department with minor ailments, they’re truly more seriously ill. Certain areas have been designated for COVID-19 care in preparation for a surge and changes have been made to screen employees at entrance to hospital. We’re following expert guidance to conserve PPE (personal protective equipment). Mostly we’re telling each other we will remain calm and do our jobs through this. 
 
Who/what inspires you?
My great grandparents and my sister’s grandchildren inspire me. My great grandparents were part of the Great Migration of the 20th century (see the book The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabelle Wilkerson). They sacrificed so much to give my parents and my generation a better life. And I love my sister’s grandchildren more than I ever imagined! 
 
Can you share how you’ve been involved with Laurel as an alumna and your thoughts on the importance of a powerful alumnae community? 
I served two terms on the Alumnae Board (including a term as secretary) then worked on committees, gaining new perspective and insight. I loved it. Join up alums! Stay as involved as you can. When people see my ring or I wear a Laurel shirt, they comment that it’s great that I still “represent.” But I tell them it’s more than that—Laurel has a tradition of engaging and welcoming alumnae of all ages. Our community is so unique. 
 
What’s next on your bucket list? 
Maybe France. Or Alaska again.
 
Anything else you’d like to share?
Go Gators! Support the Laurel Fund!
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