With hard work and time management as their foundation, siblings Mitchell and Weston Keen, along with Mitchell's wife Jessica, discovered the perfect prescription for success. Freed-Hardeman University alumni and recent Pharm. D. graduates of the University of Tennessee Center for Health Sciences, Mitchell and Jessica are employed by Kroger pharmacies in Knoxville and Maryville. Weston is in his first year of study at UTCHS.
The three are sterling examples of FHU's excellent placement rate for graduates desiring to enter pharmacy school. Ninety-eight percent of all FHU students who have completed the pre-pharmacy program have been admitted to professional school.
Jessica graduated FHU in December 2010 with a Bachelor of Science in biology and a minor in chemistry. Mitchell left FHU after his junior year, 2011, and entered pharmacy school. "I did this so Jessica and I could be in the same pharmacy school class and I could graduate from pharmacy school a year early," he said.
Both Mitchell and Jessica say FHU prepared them well for the rigors of pharmacy school. "I never felt any less prepared than my classmates," he said, "and some of them went to Vanderbilt and Yale."
Jessica concurs. "I never felt academically disadvantaged compared to our peers," she said, "and we graduated at the top of our class." They, in fact, both graduated with honors and were members of Rho Chi, the academic honor society comprised of students in the top 15 percent of the class.
All three Keens were involved in research opportunities while undergraduate students. "The research I did was a great starting point for my career in science," Jessica said, "and it was an excellent talking point during interviews for graduate school."
And, there was a bonus. "Besides academically, FHU also gave me the skills to communicate and empathize with patients from different backgrounds," Mitchell said.
Weston, still in his first semester of pharmacy school, feels ready for the challenge. "Through the numerous science classes at FHU, I feel like I was prepared academically for the course work," he said. "I also feel like FHU prepared me spiritually for the large workload and the temptation of stress that graduate school can bring."
Although the Keens were well prepared for the difficulty of the course work, they admit the time devoted to study increased dramatically. "The step up from undergrad to pharmacy school is similar to the step up from high school to undergrad," Mitchell said.
"The work wasn't more difficult in pharmacy school;" Jessica said, "there was just more of it. You have to discipline yourself to study the material several days in advance of exams if you want to do well."
The FHU science course curriculum is hard, but the pharmacy school curriculum is even harder, according to Weston. "Both curriculums are doable," he said. All three agree that the hardest part is the bulk of material on the tests. All courses are on one computerized test and students are tested every two weeks.
"There are only exams for grades in most classes, and there aren't many of them, so you can't risk not doing well on even one of them," Jessica said.
Time management is key, they say. "Time management was definitely the hardest thing to train myself to do well," Jessica said. "There just isn't ever any downtime."
Mitchell described his study schedule this way. "On non-test weeks, I tried to study two hours a day; on test weeks, I tried to study three hours a day on week days and during the weekend before the test, I would not do much else besides study, go to church and take breaks to eat." Jessica estimates she studied 40-50 hours for each exam.
"All I do is study," Weston said, who admits in reality he averages two or three hours a day during the week and on the weekend before tests, is "usually locked in a study room somewhere for most of the weekend." He thinks he has learned to study and manage his time effectively. "I do have time to enjoy life and be involved with my church family," he said.
Mitchell and Jessica completed their final pharmacy school rotation in Sweden, an opportunity that allowed them to see the differences in a socialized healthcare system and that of the United States. "It was interesting to see the positives and negatives that socialization brings about," he said. They also visited the entire country of Sweden--from Stockholm, a major city, to Lulea, a small city located less than 70 miles from the Arctic Circle.
Weston was elected president of the 2019 pharmacy school class last fall. "I am the bridge between my class and the administration," he said. "It is my responsibility to handle any internal problems with the class. I also oversee service projects and social events throughout the year." In that role, he launched "Do a Little Good," an initiative encouraging the class to do a little good each day. Their first service project involved writing notes to Don Alan Riggs, a former FHU student undergoing cancer treatment at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. "Our class collected more than 115 notes of encouragement for Don Alan," he said.
The Keens advise students thinking about a career in pharmacy to begin by shadowing pharmacists in different settings and, if possible, get a job working in a pharmacy. Once they are in pharmacy school, Jessica advises them to be involved. "Employers want to see well-balanced individuals. Most potential employers didn't even look at my GPA. My work experience and involvement were the key factors in my employment," she said.
Now that there are two Keen pharmacists and a third on the way, it's reasonable to wonder about the possibility of a Keen Family Pharmacy. "Long-term, owning our own pharmacy would be something I am interested in," Mitchell said, "but there are a whole lot of regulations involved in running a pharmacy, not to mention a huge financial investment."
Jessica deems it "possible but not probable," also citing regulatory and financial burdens. Weston likes the idea of a joint venture, particularly if Mitchell and Jessica have it up and running by the time he graduates! He thinks working with his siblings could be "interesting." "There were a few fights in the tobacco fields when we were growing up…," he said.
"At this point, we are content and happy to be out of school and are enjoying getting to be involved in our patients' lives and in our community," Jessica said.