Alumni Spotlight: Danielle Colayco

Meet Danielle Colayco, PharmD (’08), MS (’10), who will be honored with the Young Alumni Award at USC Mann Annual Alumni Awards Gala on Sunday, May 7, 2017. Here, she describes her experiences at USC Mann, shares advice for current pharmacy students and talks about the meaning of the Trojan Family.

Tell us about your current role as Director of Health Outcomes & Value Strategy at Komoto Healthcare and Synergy Pharmacy Solutions.

I lead the research initiatives to evaluate the value of our clinical pharmacy programs, which include comprehensive medication management and transition of care services.

As part of my day-to-day responsibilities, I develop and oversee the research projects, I work with our executive leadership team to ensure that we are focusing our priorities on the highest-value services, and I interface with external stakeholders including the Department of Public Health and medical directors of health plans to identify the most pressing issues facing our community.

Lately, we’ve turned our focus to the high rate of unplanned pregnancies in Kern County, California, which has led to a qualitative research project to describe the community’s knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about family planning. Upon completion of our research projects, I oversee the publication of our findings through peer-reviewed journals and scientific meetings.

How did your experiences as a student at USC Mann guide your career to where it is today? Do you have any specific mentors or opportunities that were particularly noteworthy or meaningful?

I can boil it down to three transformative experiences. I took a leap of faith and ran for co-president of the American Pharmacy Student Alliance (APSA) along with my friend, Christina Phan. It was through this leadership experience that I learned invaluable skills in communication and time management, and I even met some lifelong friends, including my husband.

My inpatient psychiatric rotation with Dr. Susie Park was another important experience. She expected us to know our stuff inside and out, which motivated us to be the best. When I first started out, I generally deferred to the medical students, speaking up only when solicited. As the weeks progressed, however, I gained the confidence to take the lead on making treatment recommendations to our attending psychiatrist. Eventually, she trusted me enough to allow me to write the medication orders, which she would review and sign off. At that point, I felt proud to be a student pharmacist and grateful to Dr. Park for being a role model of knowledge and empowerment to her students.

Another pivotal moment came in the spring of my graduation year, when I had failed to match with any of the residencies I’d applied for. I felt defeated. It was Dr. Kathy Johnson who’d gently suggested that I was applying to too many different disciplines, and it made me look unfocused. She was absolutely right. During pharmacy school, I had spread myself so thin with multiple responsibilities that I had lost sight of what I really wanted. I decided to take a deep breath and reevaluate my priorities. It was during this interim that another fellowship opportunity came up at USC: the Takeda Fellowship in Pharmaceutical Economics and Policy. I have Dr. Gustavus Aranda and Dr. Jeff McCombs to thank for this one – and Dr. Johnson for putting in a good word for me. Dr. Johnson’s kindness and honesty have touched thousands of lives: her students, her patients, her colleagues, and most of all, her family and friends. I consider myself fortunate to be counted among them.

What is your advice to current pharmacy students?

Success is the result of both hard work and good luck. Unfortunately, you don’t have any control over the latter, but you do have control over your perspective. All of us will experience moments of failure. The question is, what will you do with it? Will you pity yourself and blame others for your loss, or will you take an honest look in the mirror and ask yourself what got you here? And more importantly, how will you move forward?

If you were speaking to a student who was considering attending USC Mann, what would you tell them about what experiences they can expect at the School?

As you might expect of one of the premier pharmacy schools in the country, the course load at USC is rigorous, and you will be spending a lot of late nights studying. More importantly, though, you will be joining the Trojan Family. It’s more than a name—it’s a real network of friends and colleagues looking out for one another. My first hiring manager after I graduated was a fellow alumna of USC. Similarly, when I seek candidates for fellowships through our Komoto Family Foundation, USC is one of the first places I look. The reason for this is that we know the quality of education that USC provides through firsthand experience.

What do you envision the pharmacy landscape looking like in 5 years, or 10 years? What is your hope for the future?

I’m optimistic about the future of our profession. When I was in pharmacy school 10 years ago, most of the legislation that our professional associations fought for were defensive – bills that would prevent reimbursement cuts or other threats to our practice. Today, we are still fighting those battles, but we’ve also celebrated big victories in California like SB 493 and AB 1114 that enable more pharmacists to practice towards the top of their licenses.

Right now, pharmacists are still America’s best-kept secret. When people find out that their pharmacist is a great resource, they feel like they’ve just stumbled upon a new taco truck that the Yelpers haven’t discovered yet. In another 10 years, I hope that it will be just as routine for a patient to walk into a pharmacy for a birth control consultation as it is for her to pick up her cough syrup.

Read about a USC School of Pharmacy study conducted in partnership with the Komoto Foundation, Synergy Pharmacy Solutions and Kern Health Systems, published in the American Journal of Managed Care in March.