Whitney Pittman’s career path seems pre-ordained.
When she was 10 years old, a classmate and friend was diagnosed with a brain tumor. At age 15, her friend died. “It was the first time I had ever heard the word cancer and that really left an imprint on me,” says Pittman.
“Since high school I knew I wanted a career in health care, specifically pediatric oncology,” says Pittman.
Pittman earned a summer internship at the University of Texas Health Science Center where she looked at cancer in a biology lab. “After that summer, I realized I wanted something with more direct patient care. So that’s when I started focusing on pharmacy.” She followed that experience by shadowing an investigational drug pharmacist at Shands at the University of Florida and that sealed the deal.
Her second brush with cancer came during her first year of the pharmacy program when her father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. “It was emotionally draining for me. Between wanting to spend time with my family and continuing on in the curriculum, I was torn. But my parents wanted me to continue. And as far as I knew, the prognosis was good.”
Unfortunately, Pittman’s father took a turn for the worse during finals week of her second year of the program. “I called after my last final to talk with him and less than an hour after the call he went into respiratory distress,” remembers Pittman. She flew home to Florida immediately. Her father was put on hospice the following day. “I had the summer to grieve and be with my family,” says Pittman.
“My father and my friend are the reasons I have kept on this track,” says Pittman. “It’s bittersweet. Neither are her, but they both encouraged m to continue a career in oncology so that I can better advocate and improve the quality of life of my patients.” Their individual struggles provided the spark, but research, shadowing opportunities, and patients and their families fueled Pittman’s passion and drive.
“This is what my dad really would have wanted. He as so proud of me and my siblings. This is what I’m meant to do,” says Pittman.
Pittman’s next stop after graduation is residency at Children’s Hospital of Orange County in pediatrics. “Right now I’m at Children’s Hospital in Aurora and get to see a wide variety of things. But it’s the positive outlook of the children and their parents that provide me with hope. You look at the parents and it makes your heart melt. That’s what spurs me on.”
Pittman graduated from CU Skaggs School of Pharmacy May 26, 2017.