Allison Sok Adekanye '98, B.S., PHARM.D., BCPS (Board-Certified Pharmacology Specialist) is the inpatient Pediatric Hematology/Oncology and BMT (bone marrow transplant) clinical pharmacist at Yale New Haven Hospital, a position she has held since 2013.
Adekanye grew up locally and attended the Salisbury Central School before entering Hotchkiss as a prep in 1994. Science grabbed her attention at an early age. "I always wanted to be a veterinarian as a child, but around age 16, I started to consider laboratory work. Around the same time, I became very interested in infectious diseases, and especially Ebola, after the release of Richard Preston's novel, The Hot Zone, in 1994. I thought I might become a scientist and work for the Centers for Disease Control, so during my time at Hotchkiss, I immersed myself in AP biology and chemistry. I was fortunate to have former co-head of the science department, Erica Hamlin, as my instructor. I served as a research assistant studying sea anemones, helping to radio-tag them. I was also able to do a semester work-study project in the Sharon Hospital lab, where I gained experience in the microbiology, chemistry, and pathology labs. It was amazing because it exposed me to many aspects of lab work and really let me see how the science I was learning in the classroom was applied. It was a real privilege to have had such a large and expansive lab so close and to be able to rotate through from microbiology to hematology to chemistry and pathology. I was able to do hands-on work on tests and complete lab work for real patients. I have fond memories of that semester, especially of the microbiology lab and being able to run my own gram stains and grow bacterial cultures. To me, that was amazing!"
While at Hotchkiss, Adekanye was also able to pursue another strong interest, music. "I played the alto saxophone, which I started in fifth grade. I had also taught myself most of the woodwinds (including clarinet and flute) and trumpet. But the saxophone was my main instrument and my favorite, and the weekly lessons were often the highlight of the week. I loved being able to clear my mind and play music, and to challenge myself with harder pieces. I had a great instructor, Mr. Paul Noble, who really pushed me to develop my talent. I always thought it was wonderful that we were encouraged to explore all facets of our personalities, talents, and interests. I was also able to feed my passion for English literature. I had the great fortune to have Patricia Jones as my English teacher senior year, and she pushed me to explore literature and my writing. She is one of the greatest, most influential teachers I have had over my entire academic career. I think she was so successful because of her passion for teaching. Pat truly believed in your potential - pushing you to work your hardest. And she could be tough when she knew that you weren't bringing your best work to her! She was always engaging, inside and outside of the classroom, and had a knack for bringing the works she taught to life."
After Hotchkiss, Adekanye went on to pursue a B.S. in Communications (with a concentration in Public Relations) from Boston University College of Communication. She spent a semester abroad at The American International University in London, at that point thinking that she wanted to work for MTV and be a music journalist. "But I soon discovered that I preferred Public Relations, and during my semester in London, I enrolled in an internship program and interned for Primary Talent, a large UK music agency. They represented Oasis - my favorite band of all time! This internship provided me with contacts for my subsequent internship at ICM in New York and Clear Channel Entertainment in Boston, MA. Hired later by ICM, I worked as an agent assistant, booking concerts across the country. It was very exciting, and I had the opportunity to work with up-and-coming artists at that time, and classic acts like The Beach Boys and Bryan Adams. I saw a new show almost every night, which was incredible for a music lover! Though I loved the job, I began thinking about giving back more. I considered pursuing a higher degree, maybe in law, or a master's, when in conversation with my dad (a fellow pharmacist) he simply said, 'What about pharmacy?' It clicked. That was it."
Pharmacy seemed to be the exact thing Adekanye was looking for. "Within two weeks I left my job in New York City and enrolled in prerequisite courses for pharmacy school. I had to take 2.5 years of courses to make up for the science and math courses I never took as an undergrad, which included chemistry, biology, microbiology, genetics, calculus, physics, and economics, at differing levels. My studying skills, developed and taught to me at Hotchkiss, proved truly invaluable, as were the time-management skills I learned there."
Once accepted into a professional, accelerated Pharm.D. program at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Adekanye discovered her particular passion. "There are a couple different tracts in pharmacy: retail, clinical, and industry. I went in wanting to practice as a clinical pharmacist, meaning I would work in a hospital and round as part of a medical team with the doctors. And having been so interested in infectious disease, I had thought that would be my focus. But during my pediatrics rotation at Baystate Medical Center, I discovered a passion for pediatrics. Many of these young patients were hospitalized with infectious diseases, and I realized that I enjoyed engaging with not just the patient, but also with the family. As a pharmacist, I was able to provide counseling and patient education, help in terms of getting a medication covered, or by finding a dosage form that the child would take easily. Through these actions, I felt like I was helping both the child and the family during a very scary time."
"This led me to pursue a pharmacy practice residency at Children's Hospital of Michigan, part of the Detroit Medical Center, in downtown Detroit, where I completed my PGY-1 (postgraduate year 1) training over one year. As soon as I had the first rotation in hematology/oncology, I started looking for jobs in that field. This was one of the greatest years of my life. Not only was I exposed to some incredible experiences, but I also met my future husband, Seun, there. He was completing his Pediatric Medical Residency, and we met while taking care of a patient with a brain abscess who needed pharmacy assistance to reach therapeutic levels of his antibiotics. I happened to be the pharmacist on Seun's team, and together, we were able to get the infection under control. In Detroit, I was exposed to things that you would only see in a tertiary innercity hospital. There were some tough cases, such as a three-year-old who was caught in the cross-hairs of a random shooting. He just needed some stitches on his leg where the bullet had grazed him, but his father, who was brought into the adult hospital next door, was dead on arrival with a head wound. I also saw some infectious disease cases referred to us from more rural hospitals, such as meningitic influenza and a botfly infestation on the scalp of a teenager who had just returned from a trip to South America.
"Life brought me back to Connecticut, where I have been working at Yale New Haven Hospital as the inpatient Pediatric Hematology/Oncology and BMT pharmacist ever since completing my pharmacy PGY-1 residency in Detroit in 2013. Seun is a pediatric hospitalist at Yale. We have our beautiful daughter, Gracie, who is 2 ½, and are just celebrating the birth of our twins, Rosie and Jimmy."
For Adekanye, science and medicine were a natural fit. "My dad is a pharmacist and worked as staff RPh and then, Pharmacy Director at Sharon Hospital. He was a bit of a pioneer in the pharmacy world, as he was one of the first in Connecticut to initiate unit-dosing into pharmacy dispensing. He started his own company, which consulted out to nursing homes and provided medication 'unit-dosed' for each dose and patient versus the bulk bottle style of dispensing. This soon took off nationally and is a very common style of dispensing today in both long-term-care health facilities as well as for home use. He then got an M.S. in Healthcare Administration and an M.B.A. in strategic planning and became President and CEO of Sharon Hospital, and later President and CEO of Sheltering Arms Rehabilitation Hospital in Virginia. I am also third- generation healthcare on my mom's side, as both my grandmother and mother were nurses. For me, practicing inpatient clinical pediatric hem/onc pharmacy is very rewarding. You see the same patients over and over throughout their treatment and really become involved with them and their families. I also really love being a valued part of the care team and working alongside pediatric oncologists, mid-level providers and pediatric residents. I always liked the aspect of discovery in science - trying to solve a problem by discovering an answer. The answer you are searching for could be anything and is not necessarily one that is already known; so for me, it's like trying to solve a crime - look at the evidence in front of you and figure out what happened. I never looked back from the day I decided to pursue pharmacy."
As the inpatient Pediatric Hematology/Oncology and BMT pharmacist at Yale New Haven Hospital, Adekanye is part of the Smilow Cancer Hospital pharmacy services, and she covers units in the Yale New Haven Children's Hospital. "These are another level of kids who need specialized treatment and stem cell transplants for either refractory/relapsed cancer or other bone marrow failure conditions or genetic illnesses. We do about 10-12 pediatric bone marrow transplants a year." Keeping one's perspective can be really hard some days. "I see families at their absolute worst. Most of the patients I see are inpatient, and some outcomes can be bleak; so I try to do everything I can to make life a little easier. When I correct a medication error or stop a drug interaction from occurring before it reaches the patient, these are the times I realize that my job matters. I am proud to be a strong patient advocate in the background at all times, and I fight to get an expensive medication approved, or work tirelessly to get a rare medication to the patient as quickly as possible. I treat each patient as if it were my child or my family member. Though it has always been difficult to work in oncology, it was a million times harder coming back after having my daughter. I saw her face in my patients, but I also could put myself in the parents' shoes. I think that this has helped me to recommit to working to keep my patients safe and try to add a little bit of light to them and their family, however possible."
A typical day for Adekanye begins at 7:30 a.m., when she reviews any new patients admitted to her team overnight. "I then round with the medical team, consisting of the attending pediatric hematologist/oncologist, a physician's assistant, sometimes a pediatric oncology fellow, and the pediatric resident team. We discuss each patient and his or her current diagnosis or differential diagnosis and construct a therapeutic plan for the day. I help the residents with drug choice/selection and dosing. In pediatrics everything is weight-based, and we also have to take into consideration things like the patient's age - can they swallow pills, or do they need a liquid formulation? I monitor for any drug interactions as well as complete a medication reconciliation and make sure that all proper home medications have been reordered. For our patients on chemotherapy, I check where we are in treatment, what treatment was last, and what is due next. I order drug levels for monitoring as well as other labs as needed to check for drug effects. When our patients get really critical and need to be in ICU, I will round with our team there, too. I then return to my office and review chemotherapy orders for any planned admissions. I continue to verify all medication orders for patients on my unit throughout the day. Depending on the day, I sometimes work on checking EMR (electronic medical record) chemotherapy plan builds for new protocols we have opened. I have seven pharmacy residents on rotation throughout the year and will teach them and lead topic discussions with them. I also teach the pediatric medical residents about chemotherapy commonly used in pediatrics, as well as common approaches in supportive care. I sit on Quality and Safety committees and meet with them to ensure we are providing the safest care possible for our patients. I also attend the weekly Tumor Board conference where the entire multidisciplinary treatment team, including radiology, pathology and surgery, discuss newly diagnosed patients and best treatment courses.
"Hotchkiss taught me amazing time management skills, which I use daily, as well as a sense of drive to always strive to bring forth your best effort. But the thing that I recall most is the friendships and relationships I developed there. My four closest girlfriends are my same best friends from high school - we are family. Despite being miles apart, we have only grown closer in the 20 years since graduation. We have cheered each other on as our careers have changed course, celebrated at each other's weddings, and loved each other's children as our own. These women, these relationships, are among a handful of things I treasure most in my life. There is almost a magic to the friendships and family you make at Hotchkiss.
"Current students interested in careers in hematology/oncology pharmacology will find an exciting and rapidly growing field right now," says Adekanye. "There are advances in targeted and personalized medicine daily. There is a boom in cancer centers, and the job market for trained adult hematology/oncology pharmacists is very strong. Unfortunately, in pediatrics there is not as much research happening. Pediatric cancers (of which there are about 20 main types) only receive four percent of total funding for research. Our open studies include 'new' medications that have already been tested and used in the adult population for some time, making us effectively years behind the treatment curve in some cases. There are very few specialized pediatric oncology pharmacists in the country, and my co-worker who covers outpatient and I are the only two dedicated pediatric oncology pharmacists in the state of Connecticut. My advice for someone interested in pediatric oncology would be to decide if you prefer to train in pediatrics or oncology and then look for a position combining both. This is a field that requires not just knowledge of the subject matter, but someone who has an empathetic heart and can treat these patients and families as people first and disease second."