Aug 30 2019

Let's take a Day to Celebrate Women in Pharmacy!

A few years ago, a room was designated in the AmericanPharmacists Association (APhA) headquarters, located in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the significant contributions women have made to the pharmacy profession. Although it may seem that women have a commanding role in today's pharmacies – and indeed they do – it wasn't always this way. Which is why it's important to take a moment to celebrate the innovative women who broke down barriers and blazed the way for today's dedicated women pharmacists.

The story begins with Elizabeth Greenleaf, who is regarded as America's first female pharmacist. According to APhA, Greenleaf is listed among the 32 apothecaries in New England during the last 1600's, and in 1727, owned an apothecary shop in Boston. Today's working mothers can learn a lesson from Greenleaf who, in addition to running her own store, had twelve children.

Other notable women in pharmacy profiled by APhA include:

  • Sister Mary John Geiermann who served as a nurse in France during World War I, after which she entered the Order of the Sisters of Mercy in 1922. Sister Mary John became a prominent hospital pharmacist at Mercy Hospital in Toledo, Ohio, and a charter member of the American Society of Hospital Pharmacists.
  • Katherine Keating who, after serving as a WAVE radio operator during World War II received her pharmacy degree from the University of Colorado in 1948. She returned to active military duty and became the first female pharmacist to attain the rank of captain in the Navy Medical Corps.
  • Mary Munson Runge had the distinction of being the first African American president of the Amercian Pharmacists Association. Runge was a graduate of Xavier University who worked as a community pharmacist before becoming APhA president in 1979.

Flash forward to today, and women continue to excel throughout the profession:

  • Women comprise 55 percent of the pharmacist workforce, with the number of practicing pharmacists on the rise.
  • According to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), women accounted for 63 percent of students enrolled in fall 2018 first degree programs, and 55 percent of full-time graduate students.
  • Of the 15,000 professional pharmacy degrees awarded last year, 62 percent were earned by women. And of the 600 PH.D. degrees awarded, 49 percent went to women.

Not only are women distinguishing themselves in traditional pharmacy settings, but they are increasingly assuming the title of "pharmacy owner." The National Community Pharmacist Association says that 20percent of its membership is comprised of women, a figure that is on the rise.

recent profile of one current entrepreneur highlighted pharmacist Leslie Davis, who in 2012 purchased the independent drug store in her hometown of Attica, Indiana. Davis, a graduate of Purdue University, was asked what inspired her to want to own her own store. Her response noted her passion for helping the people in her community. "I know 99% of the customers when they walk in the door," Davis said. "I know the names of the customers as well as I know the drugs I give them."

In 2017, a new group was formed called, as a way to offer support, resources and networking opportunities for pharmacist moms. The group was founded by Suzanne Soliman, PharmD, and since its inception, the group has grown to more than 28,000 members. 

One of Soliman's first initiatives was to draw attention to the accomplishments of women in her profession by establishing “National Women Pharmacist Day.”  Quite appropriately, October 12 was designated as the date for this event, in recognition of pioneer Elizabeth Greenleaf's 12 children.

The inaugural event took place on October 12, 2018 and was marked nationwide. As we prepare to mark the second "National Women Pharmacist Day," it will be fitting to pay tribute to not only Elizabeth Greenleaf, but also to people like Leslie Davis, and Suzanne Soliman, and the thousands of other women who are making a difference in the lives of their patients, and finding new and better ways to improve their profession.