Dr. Ashley Walker returns to the podcast today to talk about being a pharmacist, an entrepreneur, and an advocate. She was also featured in my Back-to-School Series in August 2022 (Episode 173), which promoted her Speed Signing (American Sign Language) Classes and OTC Hearing Aids Class.
Ashely is deaf, but you will hear her speaking voice in this episode. This interview is also available as a YouTube video: YouTube Link. *Updated subtitles will be added after the video has been published.
Bio (January 2023)
Dr. Ashley R Walker is a pharmacist, entrepreneur, and an advocate.
Dr. Walker holds a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Xavier University of Louisiana and a Bachelors of Science in Biotechnology from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has been a pharmacist for 7 years and recently transitioned into full time entrepreneurship. Prior to her transition, she has had experience in retail pharmacy, hospital pharmacy, and long term care pharmacy.
Her recent transition into full time entrepreneurship has led to the birth of her business Med Max Consulting, LLC. Under this business, Dr. Walker can advocate for members of the deaf and hard of hearing community as well as offer medication counseling services to help this unique community maximize and optimize their medication therapy.
Since her high school years, Dr. Walker has been an advocate for members of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. She spends time speaking to students in elementary, middle, and high school encouraging them to never let their hearing loss be a reason not to dream big and go after their dreams. As a deaf person herself, she also helps business owners and healthcare professionals make their businesses/practices inclusive to members of this unique community.
Dr. Walker enjoys reading, traveling, going on walks with her family, and attending festivals.
With her personal experiences as a deaf pharmacist and advocate for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community she aims to remind the world that deafness should not be viewed as a DIS-ability but rather a UNIQUE-ability.
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Links from this episode
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Highlights from our conversation
Keayva Stiell was our ASL Interpreter. Thank you Keayva! I know Keayva from online sign language classes with Ashley. Keayva is Ashley’s go-to interpreter and ASL co-teacher. She does a great job keeping the conversation going.
Why did Ashley choose pharmacy? She loved science starting in middle school. Then, she took advanced science classes in high school. A teacher suggested pharmacy, and she fell in love with it when she shadowed a pharmacist.
How did Ashley pick her undergrad program and college? She picked a state blindly off a map! Her finger landed on New York, and she ended up at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). She won a full scholarship and earned her BS Degree in Biotechnology from RIT. Accommodations that helped Ashley succeed in college.
- An interpreter for classes and university events
- A note-taker
- Living in a deaf & hard of hearing dorm
- Learning about her Rights under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act
When Ashley graduated with her BS Degree, she felt some hesitation about going to pharmacy school. She took a year off of school to help her Mom. Then she applied to 2 schools of pharmacy. She was wait-listed at one school and rejected from the other. Her brother encouraged her to reapply. 2 years later, but she reapplied and got accepted to Xavier University of Louisiana College of Pharmacy. Ashley was the first deaf student ever to apply to Xavier University of Louisiana College of Pharmacy.
Stereotypes can be difficult to overcome. Because she is deaf, staff at the University assumed she could not speak. Ashley advocated for herself and got her needs met (including interpreters and note-takers). However, it was challenge getting interpreters during the first two weeks of each term. Ultimately, she was successful in the PharmD program and graduated!
College is expensive. Vocational Rehabilitation Services helped Ashley pay for pharmacy school.
Getting internship hours was also a challenge. No pharmacies in Louisiana had ever employed a deaf pharmacy student. She was the first. She also need the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy to give permission for interpreters to accompany her on rotations. In the end, her family helped her find suitable locations, and she met her requirements for graduation and licensure.
Finding her first job was a challenge. It took 18 months for Ashley to find her first pharmacist job. Then, she was laid off right after the pandemic started. It took over a year to land the next job.
Company leaders need to “Think ability first.” According to Ashley, employers don’t know how to accommodate people with hearing loss. But, they also don’t ask what they need to do. People with unique abilities are underrepresented in the medical field, and accommodations are lacking.
Ashley posts this phrase on LinkedIn often: “Deafness should not be viewed as a DIS-ability. Rather, it’s a UNIQUE-ability. Ashley’s strengths:
- Reads lips
- Uses a videophone to communicate via phone
- Reads body language and facial expressions
Stories in this episode
- Ashley told a story about a deaf man who was in a car accident. He was pinned to a backboard and could not sign with his hands. Because he was non-verbal, he could not tell the medical team that he was deaf. Ashley picked up on his body language and informed her team. Ashley prevented a misdiagnosis and unnecessary medication.
- Ashley also told her son’s birth story. He was born prematurely, and she didn’t understand what was happening at times because of a delay in getting an interpreter, masks worn by medical staff, and blurred vision (drug side effect).
In high school, Ashley was in the ROTC program. Her dream job was to be in the US Marine Corps. Unfortunately, she was not allowed to join due to her hearing loss.
Her dream job now is to take care of the men and women who give their lives on a daily basis to protect this country (USA). That could be working at the VA or serving retired police officers, fire fighters, doctors, nurses, etc by providing comprehensive medication review services. Accommodations Ashley needs in order to serve in this role: an employer who believes in her, a phone she can use, clear masks (if masks are required in the workplace), conversations with staff about how best to communicate with her, and an interpreter for large-scale (company-wide) meetings.
Access to healthcare can be a struggle people with hearing loss. As a volunteer, Ashley does a “Brown Bag Review” at her local Deaf Action Center.
Ashley owns her own consulting business. She helps businesses engage with the deaf community (patients, employees, and business owners). Services offered:
- Self-advocacy training
- Tools and resources to engage with the deaf and hard of hearing community
- Needs assessments to help businesses meet their patients’ needs.
Current pharmacy students and recent graduates who are deaf or hard of hearing reach out to Ashley to ask her questions about navigating the pharmacy workforce.
What questions do pharmacy students ask Ashley? Re: rotations. How did you do it? Did you get an interpreter? Did you have a hard time getting an interpreter? How do you do rounds with a team of people?
What advice has Ashley given?
- Meet with your preceptors. Get familiar with one another. Let them know what you need so that you can be successful.
- Advocate for yourself. Only you know what works best for you.
- Don’t expect a boss or preceptor to know how to accommodate you. They may not know how.
- Be compassionate. Have grace.
- Share what you know.
- Make personal trips to show what you can do (drop off resumes, etc).
Ashley will be teaching a beginner American Sign Language (ASL) Course once/week for 6 weeks starting January 25, 2023. It will include ASL, deaf culture, types of hearing loss, and more.
Follow Ashley on LinkedIn for announcements about future classes, and join her LinkedIn Group “Let’s Get Engaged: A community of UNIQUE-abilities.”
Thank you for listening to (or watching) episode 197 of The Pharmacist’s Voice ® Podcast!