Your career choice sometimes arises from unexpected places; for Danelle Hunter, PharmD, and Janelle Hunter, PharmD, being a pharmacist wasn’t a career option they even considered. When they were in high school, their goals were clear – they both wanted to go to college and earn their degrees in aerospace engineering. They both exceled at math and science and knew they wanted to use those skills and their aerospace engineering degrees when they joined the military. They had even started the enrollment process for the United States Air Force Academy. They went to a career fair their junior year in high school and were excited to meet with the representatives of a company in the aerospace industry, however that person didn’t show up for the career fair. Since they had to choose another presenter at the fair, they randomly chose Walgreens. “The pharmacist who gave the presentation really spoke to us,” Dr. Janelle Hunter said. Dr. Danelle Hunter agreed and added “That just put a wrench in things for our lifelong plans!” As they contemplated careers in pharmacy, they were both drawn to the fact that they would still use their math and science passion. Additionally, Dr. Janelle Hunter was drawn to the hands-on work. “The trench work really spoke to me. I liked that it was a fast-paced environment, and you were always moving.” Dr. Danelle Hunter was impressed with how the Walgreen’s representative loved her job. “That was my first introduction to pharmacy!”
Drs. Janelle and Danelle Hunter are twins – though Dr. Danelle Hunter was quick to tell me she’s seven minutes older than Dr. Janelle Hunter – and are Tucson natives and Cholla High School graduates. Both played basketball in high school and then attended Pima Community College and played basketball. Dr. Danelle Hunter tore her ACL during her first game of her high school senior season yet continued on to Pima to complete her collegiate basketball career. Dr. Janelle Hunter also played for Pima both years she attended and tried out for the Women’s National Basketball Association. “We learned so much during our years in athletics. We learned, or solidified hopefully, what everyone learns when they are on a team and have others depending on them—work hard, always do your best, play fair and have fun. That has never left either of us. We can see these core values in our teammates to this very day.” They enrolled directly in the University of Arizona’s R. Ken Coit College of Pharmacy program where they earned their PharmD degrees and graduated in 2001.
While both excelled at their studies, the transition from community college to the university wasn’t without its challenges. Dr. Danelle Hunter told me transitioning from high school to community college wasn’t hard, but the transition from community college to university was. “I struggled the first year with studying like I needed to. I studied diligently, but I just didn’t know what good study habits were and my grades were showing that. I would check my test scores and start at the bottom of the test scores page and work my way up to find my test score. There was the learning center at the university and we both went to them for help. They taught us how to study, and it completely changed everything. After we learned our best study techniques with our study-partner and friend, we would then look from the top of the page down for our test scores. There were tests when we knew we were one, two and three in the class.” Dr. Janelle Hunter had additional challenges as well. “I failed the equivalent of a pre-algebra class. It was humbling to me because I always do well in math. It didn’t make sense to me that I failed that class and I had to take that class again!” That experience helped her become the teacher she is today. “That helped me with my teaching to understand there are a million ways I can teach something, and it made me a better teacher.”
While they both faced challenges, they each had methods for meeting and overcoming the challenges. For Dr. Janelle Hunter, it is her competitive nature. “I compete with myself, and I just wasn’t going to fail!” For Dr. Danelle Hunter, it was her commitment to herself, her twin and her family that motivated her. “I don’t want to let people down, mostly myself. We have such pride for each other and our family, that I would not fail!”
Dr. Janelle Hunter and Dr. Danelle Hunter both have fond memories of their time in pharmacy school, in particular the faculty and staff connections they had while in school. “When I think about my time in pharmacy school, it’s the names that pop out; faculty, student services center and the advisors - they all wanted us to be successful. They checked in on us and made sure we had everything we needed,” Dr. Danelle Hunter told me. Dr. Janelle Hunter shared that Dr. Tong has come to her events at Cholla High School, where she now teachers, including to their health professionals career fairs and basketball games. She loves that he stays connected to his students after they graduate.
After graduation, Dr. Danelle Hunter accepted a position at Fry’s Pharmacy as a staff pharmacist. Dr. Danelle Hunter did an externship at Fry’s and then stayed on after she graduated. “My mom walked me to my first day of work!” Dr. Danelle Hunter is still a community pharmacist and now works at Walmart in Phoenix.
Dr. Janelle Hunter also worked at Fry’s right out of pharmacy school and continued coaching basketball at Cholla High School, which she started doing right out of high school. She worked as a pharmacist for nearly eight years when she felt a desire for a career change. “I woke up in the middle of the night thinking I’m going to quit my job! I gave a month’s notice and quit in 2009.” She wanted to teach high school, so she went back to Pima to get her teaching certificate and got a job teaching health and developing the Pharmacy Technician Program at Cholla High School. After a few years, she returned to her pharmacy career, taking per diem shifts at CVS while teaching and coaching basketball at Cholla.
Both sisters felt that the Coit College of Pharmacy prepared them well for their careers. They agree that the clinical rotations they did during school were a key to them being prepared for their first pharmacist job. What they learned on the job, once they were practicing pharmacists, was the hands-on people skills. “Knowing how to work with people and dealing with a variety of personalities with co-workers and patients was the thing I learned on the job,” said Dr. Danelle Hunter. “It’s the human element that you learn on your first job,” said Dr. Janelle Hunter. “You have to experience working with different people on the job. You learn how to build relationships.”
I asked them what advice they would give to current students. “Congratulations already!” said Dr. Janelle Hunter. She noted that they already have achieved big things by being in pharmacy school. Additionally, she shared this: “What I most often talk to my interns about is finances! I teach them to live within their current budget and not to spend based on a future income. I give them a financial plan to work with and we talk a lot about finances!” Dr. Danelle Hunter gets to know her interns and is intentional about meeting them where they are at before giving advice. “I try to offer support and advice that is tailored for the individual. I want to meet that person where they are in their life”.