An Occupation I Never Knew Existed: Pediatric Pharmacist–an Interview With Andrea Matthews

A while back, I sat down with Andrea Matthews, a young woman who has recently joined our adult church choir. She brings a lovely soprano voice to the group. She sees her musical talents as a gift from God developed while growing up in various churches through the South.  Much of her training was received from her father, Joel Duncan, who is a Southern Baptist Minister of Music currently at St. John’s Baptist Church in Greer, S.C.
I talked with Andrea shortly after an early Sunday afternoon choir rehearsal.
Dan: Thank you for taking the time to sit down and share some of your background. This has been a full day with church this morning and a rehearsal this afternoon. I appreciate being able to talk with you.
Andrea: I’m pleased to be able to share what I’m doing. I enjoy being a part of the choir. It feels like home already!
Dan: I had never heard of a pediatric pharmacist until I met you. What does a pediatric pharmacist do that differs from a drug store pharmacist?
Andrea: I am trying to improve the safety of medication administration and appropriateness in the pediatric population. We work with a team of doctors and other health professionals at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg to make treatment appropriate for the age and weight of our pediatric patients. We take into account drug interactions and allergies. Children must be dosed differently from adults.
Dan: So how did this initiative come about?
Andrea: The hospital where I work has more adults in its population than children and the children were being treated by doctors who were used to working with adults. The initiative was begun as I have said, to make sure the children are being dosed appropriately with their meds. They are not simply miniature adults! We have to take that into account when working with them.
Premature babies in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) differ from full term infants in their developmental aspects and that must be taken into consideration in prescribing and administering their meds.
Reyes Syndrome in children when they are given aspirin is a prime example of what can happen when the differences between pediatric and adult patients are not taken into account. Antibiotics can have negative side effects in preemies. We need to understand our experiences and do research to understand these conditions, the pharmacokinetics—how the body processes medications—of children.
Dan: How did you become interested in becoming a pharmacist?
Andrea: I remember writing in a book in second grade about being a nurse. I participated in music at church—vocal music, handbells, piano and French horn, but my dad steered me away from music as a career. He said that I needed a career that made me more independent. Pharmacy makes my money, but music is my hobby and my ministry.
As a high school project, I interviewed a pharmacist and became interested in that as a career. I was good in math and science and a strong all-around student. And there was a couple in our church—he was a University of South Carolina pharmacy professor and she was a pharmacist, and they influenced me.
To become a pharmacist, one can have a four-year degree or a two-year pre-pharmacy certificate and then study for four more years for a Pharm. D. degree. I took my degrees from the University of South Carolina at Columbia. When I heard about pediatric pharmacy, I knew that’s what I had to do. I graduated in 1999. And I almost minored in music.
Dan: How did you get into pediatric pharmacy?
Andrea: I did a general practice pharmacy residency at Richland Memorial hospital in Columbia, South Carolina for a year. Then I worked as a general staff pharmacist at Greenville Memorial Hospital in Greenville, South Carolina for four years. Finally I became a pediatric pharmacist for  six years at a Medicaid Clinic in Easley, SC with the Medically Fragile Children’s Program for children who needed more care than the general pediatric population.
The program included a pediatrician, therapist, dietician, pharmacist and a patient educator. The children had to show a medical and emotional benefit and progress. It helped compensate for impact of their conditions. I spent six and a half years there.
Dan: So, how did you come to this area?
Andrea: In 2009, Medicaid changed the program’s method of reimbursement and eliminated the pharmacy program in 2010. I took some part time jobs until I moved here in June of 2011. My sister lives in the Manassas/Woodbridge area. I moved to Woodbridge on September 1, 2011, and started at MWH on September 26, 2011.
Dan: Please describe your work there for us.
Andrea: I have established procedures and protocols for pediatric patients and help in the NICU. To make it safer for both adults and children, we have a program to separate their meds. We push medication safety for the general pediatric population as well, of course.
Dan: Sounds like you enjoy your job.
Andrea: I do enjoy my job very much. I believe it is God’s calling for my life. I do not experience such enjoyment in other areas, except for church music.
Dan: We see you bringing your son to sit with you in the choir during the 9:30 service. He is very well behaved during the service.
Andrea: My son Cameron was a patient at the Medicaid clinic whom I adopted. I “hold the hymnbook” for him even though he is only seven to help him experience the faith and learn music and theology through the hymns. I think children can and should be a part of “big church” from an early age.
Dan: And how did you come to be with us at our church?
Andrea: We were visiting my sister and her family and liked the church. She takes care of Cameron when I’m at work. Typically I leave for work at 6 or 7 AM and get back around 5 0r 6 PM. I have to finish whatever work is there before I can leave. And we all know about the commute around here.
Dan: We sure do. Thank you for talking with me. I’ll put this up on my blog, Biscuit City as an  Occupation I Never Knew Existed feature. It’s great to know you and to have you as singer in our choir!
Andrea: Thank you. It’s great to be here and I enjoy singing with the choir so much.

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