Native American Student Spotlight: Desiree Ann Smiley

In honor of Native American Heritage month we are recognizing some of the exceptional Native American students at the College of Pharmacy.

Name: Desiree Ann Smiley 

Degree: PharmD 

Graduation year: 2022 

Tribal affiliation: Diné 




Q: What brought you to pharmacy at the University of Arizona? 

The University of Arizona had a rural health program, opportunity for research, and dual degree options. When I visited Arizona, the College of Pharmacy staff were very helpful in getting my pre-requisites aligned with acceptance. The staff also encouraged me when I expressed pharmacy was my second career by giving me examples of others who had succeeded. Lastly, I had extended family in Tucson that would provide added support for my family. My husband and daughter relocated with me for pharmacy school from northwest New Mexico. 

Q: Do you have any role models that inspire you - at the college or in general? 

The role models that have inspired me are Dr. Elizabeth Hall-Lipsy and Dr. Jenene Spencer. These ladies have been able to balance a family, career, and maintain personal well-being.   

Q: Have you experienced any challenges in school? How did you overcome them? 

The challenges I faced were prioritizing my time, school-life-family balance, learning how to study independently during the pandemic, and maintaining family ties out of state. I overcame these challenges by utilizing the calendar in excel provided by Director of Student Services, Barbara Collins; color-coded for each family member. I found other parents of my daughter’s classmates and team sports who had similar challenges that helped when needed. My daughter and I created a pandemic schedule that included sitting across from each other at the dining room table for zoom/study sessions, cooking together for meals, exercising outside with walks and short videos provided by her PE teacher to break up the day, and learning about science and art in parks and nature trails. My family and I set-up weekly zoom meetings and face time on a regular basis so we could share each others activities, triumphs, and support each other during hard times. 

Q: Has being Native American influenced the way you approach your studies or research? 

I performed research on determining the plant extract found to treat MRSA (methyl resistant staph aureus) on skin infections in local honey a few years ago. I discussed the results with my grandmother who had knowledge about natural medicinal cures for animals. The team was unable to isolate a specific plant out of the 20+ plants within a 1 mile radius of the bee hive. She then asked me if I tried the trees. I told her I did not. It occurred to me that her teachings passed down from her mother and grandmother were learned from years of trial and error similar to the scientific method without the fancy tools of the gas chromatograph mass spectrometry. The Native Americans had learned by treating patients with diseases and learning which plant, tree, root, flower, or berry had worked with each medical situation through oral presentation. Science was in essence trying to catch up, but not always having the time to look at the entire spectrum of living plant life in all of its stages. After years of relying on science, I was humbled by taking a step back and looking at the larger picture and all of my surroundings for answers. When I interview patients in pharmacy, I make sure to ask about the entire person’s life and exterior inputs that could influence their condition besides medications found at the pharmacy.     

Q: What are your goals for after graduation? 

My goals post graduation are two years of residency specializing in transplant pharmacy or critical care pharmacy. I want to gain as much knowledge in the urban setting where transplantation and critical care occur. In several years, I wish to take this knowledge and experience back to the rural setting to provide pharmacy services to the rural population where I come from and wish to practice. 


Story by: Gracie Lordi