Prescription of Success: Director of Pharmacy Leads COVID-19 Vaccination Efforts at Cook Children's
Celebrating Ozioma Olowu on National Pharmacist Day
This common remedy for itchiness is the reason Director of Pharmacy Ozioma Olowu decided to pursue a pharmacy career.
“In high school, I was given the chance to visit Rutgers University’s pharmacy school and we got to create (or compound) our own calamine lotion,” Ozioma recalled. “My mom used to slather us up in it when we had itchy mosquito bites and I thought it was the coolest thing ever that I made that! I never looked back.”
From that high school student enamored with the compounding for the first time to leading the charge on the first ever COVID-19 vaccination effort at Cook Children’s, Ozioma continually embraces the challenges in front of her.
For this most recent challenge, she shared, “With the COVID-19 vaccine, not only was there so much unknown but we’ve had to work through that unknown at a much faster pace than normal.”
Typically, the flu vaccination plan begins with an order placed in February and arrives in late August. These several months of preparation for the COVID-19 vaccine was distilled down to only a few weeks this time.
“I filled out the application for the vaccine at the end of October, we began planning these vaccine clinics the week of December 11 and the first employee doses were given on December 17,” she explained. “This was no small feat and I definitely had some sleepless nights since late October. I don’t think I fully exhaled until the vaccine arrived on the loading dock.”
According to an employee survey, the initial employee response was that approximately 60 percent said they would be willing to get the vaccine. Ozioma understands the apprehension by those that replied that they wouldn’t want it. She acknowledged, “There can be mistrust in healthcare, some of which is warranted based upon what has happened historically when ethics have failed disenfranchised populations.”
“Since I think of the pharmacist as the most accessible health care professional in the community right around the corner at a local pharmacy, we have an extra responsibility and accessibility to help build trust in this current situation,” Ozioma added. “And I believe we have done a great job of laying out the facts and clearing up misconceptions, especially with our employee population.” The success of these efforts is evident with a total of 72 percent of employees now saying they would get the COVID-19 vaccine.
This desire to persevere and overcome obstacles is rooted in her own upbringing. Having grown up in New Jersey to Nigerian parents, who immigrated in the late 1970s, Ozioma felt pressure early on. “In our culture, the parents invest so much in the oldest child, which is me, and, even more so, my parents specifically told all their kids, ‘The only option for you is to succeed. We didn’t come all the way here for you to fail,’” Ozioma said with a slight chuckle while thinking back.
Having spent time at the CVS pharmacy at Boston Children’s, Ozioma knew pediatrics was where she wanted to be. What drew her in was the same thing that appealed to her during that Rutgers visit. OK, it wasn’t the calamine lotion, but the ability to compound medications.
With an excited tone in her voice, Ozioma said, “Most medications aren’t dosed for children from the manufacturers; so we have the unique opportunity to create and not just dispense medication. In the pediatric setting, we also get to establish relationships with the staff and the families.”
Pictured: Ozioma with UPS drivers delivering the COVID-19 vaccine.
Eventually, Cook Children’s showed up on her radar because of her husband, who had met the then-director of Pharmacy at a conference. After hearing about Cook Children’s and the breadth and depth of services offered here, Ozioma made the choice to venture to Fort Worth in 2006 over offers from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and University of North Carolina Medical Center.
“I like to think of Cook Children’s as a sleeping giant. While those other hospitals are great and have national name recognition, Cook Children’s is a place that I feel we can blaze our own trail,” she said. “We do so much for so many children with such a wide range of services that people just don’t know about.”
There’s no doubt that her parents are proud of the success that Ozioma has earned in her career, having elevated to the role of director over a team of 193 employees, who fills 1.5 million doses of medication every year.
“That’s an enormous responsibility for m team because that’s 1.5 million chances to help heal a child,” explained Ozioma. “This team is so great at what they do and I have the highest confidence in them. I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of this group.”
“I like to tell my staff that we are in the basement because we are the foundation of the hospital and we hold the building up,” Ozioma said. “Our team is likely one of the only teams in the entire building that has a hand in the care of every patient in our hospital because almost every patient will need medication that we compound or dispense at some point.”
Given the widespread influence and impact that her team can have within our walls, Ozioma recognizes that the diversity of her staff plays just as important of a role. As they spread out and touch the care of every patient, it’s vital to show that Cook Children’s is a place where diversity is valued.
Ozioma humbly said, “One of our Spanish-speaking pharmacists shared with me that she has seen patients and parents physically relax with an easing of their shoulders and letting out a relieved breath when they saw her and heard her. They simply needed to see and hear someone that looked and sounded like them.”
As a woman of color herself, she feels that same sense of responsibility not only at Cook Children’s, but in the community as well.
Following a program presentation at the Tarrant County Public Health, an older woman specifically approached Ozioma to tell her that she was proud to see a Black woman in a position of authority and respect. The lady told Ozioma that 40 years ago when her own child was in our hospital, the only people in the hospital that “looked like her were cleaning the rooms.”
This exchange resonated with Ozioma because she understands that she’s a role model for those around her, whether she knows them or not. At Cook Children’s, she embraced the chance to forge her own path and relishes the continued support and opportunities that have been given to her by our administration.
Ozioma concluded, “I have complete faith in our administration and our culture here at Cook Children’s. The supportive and collaborative approach across the system, which is even more evident during this COVID-19 crisis, proves to me that Cook Children’s always strives to make the right decisions in the best interest of the patients each time.”
That’s because together we are better for all of our patients, their families and each other. And together #WeAreCookChildrens.
About Cook Children’s:
Cook Children’s Health Care System embraces an inspiring Promise – to improve the health of every child in our region through the prevention and treatment of illness, disease and injury. Based in Fort Worth, Texas, we’re proud of our long and rich tradition of serving our community.
Our not-for-profit organization encompasses nine companies – a medical center, two surgery centers, a physician network, home health services and a health plan. It also includes Child Study Center at Cook Children's, Cook Children's Health Services Inc., and Cook Children's Health Foundation. With more than 60 primary, specialty and urgent care locations throughout Texas, families can access our top-ranked specialty programs and network of services to meet their unique needs.
We’ve worked to improve the health of children from across our primary service area of Denton, Hood, Johnson, Parker, Tarrant and Wise counties for more than 100 years. Based on the exceptional care we provide, patients travel to Cook Children’s from around the country and the globe to receive life-saving pediatric care built on leading technology, extraordinary collaboration and the art of caring.
For more information, visit cookchildrens.org.