Latresa Billings ’02 PharmD, BCPS, started her journey in pharmacy focused on becoming a researcher.
After completing her bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia in 1995, she was ready for her next step and began searching for a graduate program in pharmacology and toxicology.
“I was interested in forming my own pharmaceutical company,” Dr. Billings said. “I had big dreams and so I started looking for a school that had a great pharmacology and toxicology program.”
During a national Society of Toxicology Conference, Dr. Billings had a chance meeting with A. Jay Gandolfi, PhD, who at the time was a professor within the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy department of Pharmacology and Toxicology.
While attending an alumni function as a guest to former summer research students and faculty, she had the opportunity to present her CV to Dr. Gandolfi during this introductory meeting. Notably, Dr. Gandolfi had already extended offers to candidates for the doctorate program. So she instead accepted a position within the master’s of science in pharmacology program to begin her journey at Arizona.
But life had other plans for her. As she started the program, her mother became ill, which influenced her to adjust her plans to focus on becoming a pharmacist and earn her doctor of pharmacy degree. She graduated from the College of Pharmacy in 2002.
“Though I did not complete my master’s degree, I have utilized the research skillsets gained while serving investigational drug pharmacist roles as a part of my clinical practice,” she said.
Her years spent as a researcher in pharmacology and toxicology helped form the foundation she needed to advance her roles and to support her current role as an appointed member of the Institutional Review Board (IRB) for her long-term employer.
Today, Dr. Billings is a pharmacy clinical coordinator and post-graduate year one (PGY1) residency coordinator for the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. The knowledge and experiences she gained during her time of graduate studies and as a pharmacy student at the University of Arizona have helped her immensely in her role.
From a clinical perspective, Dr. Billings leads by example to ensure patients receive quality care.
“Pharmacy practice is an act of service,” she said. “And I share this with my fellow staff because it is often the pharmacist who needs to go the extra mile while caring for our patients. For example, the pharmacists often take on the tasks of clarifying conversations with our patients and family members at their bedside or telehealth calls to obtain up to date health histories the initial introduction to our health system and ongoing care provisions.”
She added: “It’s important to advocate for your patient because at times the physicians may need assistance to apply the tailored regimens providing the most appropriate therapy intended for their patients.”
Another component of her role is overseeing the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) accredited PGY1 Pharmacy Residency Program as an inaugural PGY1 Residency Coordinator. Dr. Billings currently serves as a primary preceptor for Advanced Internal Medicine-Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. For pharmacy students, she serves as the preceptor for institutional and advanced practice rotations, as an adjunct faculty member in the role of clinical assistant professor for several institutions.
When the residency program started in 2011, they had seven preceptors and only one was board certified. Today, there are 29 pharmacists, with most of the preceptors having board certifications. They currently have three residents in the PGY1 program and continue to expand other programs with the additions of the PGY1/PGY2 Health Administration Residency, PGY2 Critical Care Residency and a PGY2 Investigational Drug Residency.
When she isn’t traveling or spending time with family and friends, she picks up a shift at Walmart. Dr. Billings has served as a relief pharmacist for Walmart and Sam Club Pharmacies for 20 years, as of January 2023.
"My extended service as a relief pharmacist keeps me grounded from the standpoint of knowing why I enjoy hospital practice and it also helps introduce me to new drugs incoming to the market beyond our restricted formulary,” she said.
Her time within retail pharmacy also helped during the pandemic as she was one of only a few inpatient staff members certified and readily available to support immunize patients with the initial vaccine distributions.
“I had been providing vaccinations to patients for the last 10 years or so and being able to bring that skillset into our hospital setting was impactful,” she said.
As pharmacy organizational engagement remains dear to her heart, she continues to maintain her connections with faculty and peers. Notably, attending national conferences have helped her stay in touch.
“I would always seek out Dr. Michael Katz, Dr. John Murphy, Dr. Nancy Alvarez and Dr. Brian Erstad’s presentations and the alumni receptions. I encourage our residents, students, and colleagues to attend these presentations because there’s always something you can learn from their shared practical experiences and insights forecasted for the future state of pharmacy