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CU Pharmacy Alumna Uses Skill and Passion to Benefit the Geriatric Community

2012 alumna stepped out of comfort zone to find her passion

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Written by Jaron Bryant on June 3, 2022

2012 CU Pharmacy alumna Renee Castilleja (née Torres) hits new stride in career as a long term care pharmacist, stepping out of her comfort zone and aligning her passion for working in geriatrics.

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What are you currently doing as a pharmacy professional and how did you progress to where you are today?

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Renee Castilleja, PharmD '12

I was recently promoted to Pharmacist Supervisor for Grane Rx -- a long-term care pharmacy that services PACE programs (Program for the All-inclusive Care of the Elderly). Post-graduation, I started my career with Walgreens as a float pharmacist and spent some time as a staff pharmacist for a couple of years before managing for almost six years. I loved being able to care for the general population, but I have always had a special interest in geriatrics and really wanted to pursue a path that would gain me more knowledge and experience in the care of the elderly. It was a big change to step out of my comfort zone, but I made the change in fall 2020. I have learned so much in my time working in long term care so far.

What is different about the person you are today compared to the person you were while in school?

When you are a student, you soak up all you can and become confident in the knowledge and facts that you obtain with every test you take. When you are a new grad who suddenly is the sole pharmacist working and a complicated problem comes up that you are the one making the decisions and choices, you become humbled. You make mistakes. You learn from them. Much like in school where you rely on your friends to help you study, you learn to rely on your colleagues who have been there and help talk you through the problems to find a solution. You learn that, unlike an exam where there is usually one right answer, there can be lots of answers and the one that works best isn't necessarily the most ideal. I've realized how valuable experience can be and learning from those with more experience too.

What has been a defining moment for you as a seasoned professional?

I spent my first eight years post-graduation in retail and loved the relationships I made with my patients. Yet, I knew I really wanted to try to get more into geriatrics. When the pandemic hit, things slowed down a lot that early summer and I had a lot of time to really think about what I wanted to do. It was hard for me to leave retail because it was comfortable, I didn't want to leave my patients and it was all I had known since graduation. Realizing what kind of pharmacy practice I truly enjoyed and stepping out of my comfort zone to an area I enjoy learning more about every day has been very rewarding.

What inspired you to attend the CU Pharmacy program and what was your experience while in the program?

As an undergraduate, I worked in a lab that was researching a doxorubicin prodrug and for a few months I worked for a biotech company that had an oncology adjunct treatment in stage 4 trials. The chemistry and implications of the drugs were fascinating to me, and I wanted to learn more about drug development and clinical practice. I had some friends who were a couple years ahead in CU's pharmacy program who really sold it for me, so I applied. It was a very time consuming four years for me as I chose to work two different jobs in research and retail while in school. That provided me with such valuable knowledge to apply to what classes taught me. I feel like I graduated CU prepared to work successfully in the real world.

What is your proudest moment and your favorite thing about working in the pharmacy profession?

My favorite thing is there is always something new to learn. Just when you think you have a grasp on something, the guidelines change; a new drug is thrown into the mix and it's always expanding. It keeps you on your toes to see a drug name you have never heard of and getting to research it and find its niche in practice. I'm not sure what I would label as my proudest moment per se, but there is a lot of satisfaction in working with providers to find a good solution and ensure that you follow through knowing that the result is that you made a difference in a person's medical care.

What sage advice would you pass on to current and future students that was helpful for you in preparing for the job market?

When you are a student and an intern, hold yourself to the same professional standards and qualities as a working pharmacist. Realize that four years go by fast and in that time, you will make a lot of connections in the small world of pharmacy. Be responsible, be on time, communicate with your preceptors and employers. Treat every IPPE and APPE as a job interview and present yourself as a person they would want to employ. Oh, and learn how to fix a printer because, no matter where you end up, I can guarantee you will need to fix a printer.

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