Commitment to Health Care: The Covalent Bonds Between my BCOP and MBA
by Thu Oanh Dang, PharmD, BCOP
Chair, BPS Specialty Council on Oncology Pharmacy
An unforgettable situation I witnessed was a mother comforting her dying child with her loving embrace, knowing it was the only therapeutic option because she couldn’t afford to take her child to a hospital. I grew up in a rural village in South Vietnam where severe poverty and hunger were rampant. My mother was a midwife with a small medicine cabinet, but she was the village’s doctor and the pharmacy. This attuned me to the suffering of my neighbors and loved ones due to the lack of access to healthcare. When my family immigrated to the United States (U.S.), I had the chance to go to school, follow my aspirations, and study healthcare to help people. With the golden opportunity of being in the U.S. and a set target, I worked tirelessly to learn English, obtain a full-ride scholarship, and become the first member of my family to attend a university. I eventually earned a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Biochemistry, in four years instead of five, and a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) at the University of Washington.
Thirteen years ago, I completed my PGY2 oncology pharmacy residency, and I have been symbolically wearing my PharmD, along with my pharmacist credential Board Certified Oncology Pharmacist (BCOP), earned in 2011, proudly to help caregivers and patients with cancer. My patient-care journey has been humbling, rewarding, and fulfilling. However, there were still a myriad of challenges that I had to navigate to provide patient care in the rigid infrastructure of the U.S. healthcare system, such as complex drug pricing and staffing shortages, to name a few. As these challenges increased with frequency, I realized the similarities between healthcare and the business sector. In a capitalistic country where businesses (e.g., insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, healthcare systems, etc.) exist to survive and create a profit, I knew that something had to change. Upon my realization, I determined that I need to be a part of the effort to change the healthcare infrastructure to help patients more globally. With that determination, I went back to school in 2021 for a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a leadership focus. I wanted to learn the language of business, effective leadership, and how I can create positive change.
My MBA courses provide me with fresh new perspectives and a toolbox of skills and strategies to use towards changing the infrastructure of the healthcare system. The knowledge and skillsets I’ve obtained so far from my MBA have increased my resiliency, confidence, business proficiency, and strengthened my leadership ability. I am learning the language of business to more effectively communicate with the people who manage the resources necessary for patient care. My newly acquired knowledge coupled with my experiences as a practicing board certified oncology pharmacist specialist, make me feel equipped to tackle the broader health care system with the know-how of someone who has been deeply emerged in direct patient care.
While I am not trying to be the next revolutionary, I believe I am on my journey to enact the change I want to see in the world. I do not know what the future holds, but I do know that it is a blank canvas waiting for me to create my masterpiece, with patient-centered care as my ‘True North’. I see my BCOP achievement as a reminder of my commitment to my patients and their caretakers, and I see my MBA as a reminder of my commitment to health care on a broader level. Both make me a stronger practitioner and allow me to act as a community resource, much like my mother in Vietnam. Whether it’s obtaining an advanced degree, pursuing board certification, or engaging in another professional improvement opportunity, I urge you to find the best pathway to becoming a patient advocate and a community resource!