Pharmacy graduate overcomes difficult journey to fulfill her dreams
When Samantha Watson was in middle school, she dreamed of becoming a doctor. Through many ups, downs and detours along the way, she realized her dream Friday when she finally held that title, Doctor of Pharmacy, from the HSC College of Pharmacy.
“It’s very surreal,” Watson said. “The magnitude of it hasn’t hit me yet.”
Her journey is one of sheer determination to end her battle with depression and anxiety and to fight her way back to realizing her dream. There were times she wanted to give up, but with a great deal of support from her family and friends, and after starting her own family, she’s right where she wants to be.
A Challenging Beginning
Growing up with a bipolar parent, Watson and her siblings faced difficult moments shrouded by fear and uncertainty at a young age. “There’s so much stigma around mental illness, and I internalized my fear that it would happen to me as well,” she said.
Despite these challenges, Watson forged ahead and pursued a degree at Baylor University while on scholarship. Early on, she was interested in forensic science. It was during an exam that she experienced her first panic attack, feeling as though she couldn’t breathe. She sought counseling and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
“Depression was my battle, and it became exacerbated in college,” she said. “Many times, I thought I couldn’t finish, and I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Watson continued to work hard and had her eye on medical school. After graduating with a master’s degree in Medical Science from HSC’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, she was accepted to medical school. As her struggle pursued, she tried to cope, but found herself in a very dark space.
“I was pushing for perfection and walking a tight rope with my health,” she recalled. She kept pushing herself and didn’t know how to stop. Before long, she was in the throes of major depression and decided to leave medical school.
“In retrospect, it was the best thing I could’ve done. I had to find my own value and self-worth. It was a very rough time, and I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
A New Outlook
Watson began substitute teaching and quickly discovered it suited her. With a master’s degree under her belt, the school asked her to obtain an alternative teaching certificate. She began teaching high school anatomy and physiology and created their first forensic science program.
“It was trial by fire; I was just thrown in there,” she said. “It was fun but tough. Teaching was a life-saver for me. I started to see my own intrinsic worth. I thought to myself, ‘I’m innovative, I can work under pressure, I can teach, and I like it!’ It was a great time to discover that about myself, and teaching helped me find my confidence again.”
Another milestone was met when she married her longtime boyfriend, who had been by her side through her struggles, and they soon welcomed a baby boy.
Teaching eventually brought them back home to DFW, and that’s when her role as a teacher came full circle.
As she encountered students experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts, she realized she could become a support and a refuge for them. “I’m glad that I was able to be there in that moment for those students. Out of everything I accomplished while teaching, this was my greatest contribution,” she said with great emotion.
As she gained more and more confidence and her family grew with a second baby boy, she started to feel the pull of professional school again. Her husband was supportive, and she explored medical, physician assistant and pharmacy schools.
She credits fellow classmate, Deidra Lee, who was also a teacher at her school, with introducing her to pharmacy and telling her that there was more to pharmacy than meets the eye.
“It just felt right!” Watson reflected. “We both applied, interviewed and accepted the same day, and we started this journey together.”
“Having Samantha on this journey with me felt like home,” Lee said as she reflected on the many values and experiences they’ve shared. “We’ve motivated each other and made sure that we both adhered to a standard of excellence throughout pharmacy school. Samantha’s resilience, her professionalism, and dedication to her family are a few of the things that I admire most about her. Prior to pharmacy school Sam and I were colleagues. Through this journey, we’ve bonded as lifelong friends. I have no doubt that she will be an amazing addition to the pharmacy profession!”
Although starting pharmacy school was intense, she wanted this experience to be different. She proactively sought out the Center for Academic Performance and counseling resources to begin on the right foot.
Watson was older, more mature, a wife, a mother of two, and she had learned to cope with her anxiety and depression. “I was surprised by my own success,” she said.
She was also surprised to learn she was expecting her third child during her first semester, but she didn’t miss any school or skip a beat. “I was proactive in communicating and very grateful for a supportive faculty,” she added.
“What has always impressed me about Student Pharmacist Watson is her tenacity for achievement,” said Dr. Emanuel George, Associate Dean of Student Engagement and Alumni Affairs. “I am so proud of her perseverance to get to this very moment. She has proven hopefully to herself that she is an overcomer. I know she will make an impact as a pharmacist, and I look forward to her continued career growth and success.”
After teaching for seven years, Watson said it was strange being the student again.
“It gave me a unique perspective, and I was able to identify with the professors and understand what goes into preparation.” Additionally, she put her teaching expertise into practice helping fellow students as a CAP tutor. “I was in my element,” she said.
Watson excelled in pharmacy school and was accepted into the Promoting Diversity in Research Training (PDRT) Program. She was selected for the Rho Chi honor society, Phi Delta Chi, and held leadership positions in the Student National Pharmaceutical Association and the Black Professional Pharmacy Association.
During her fourth year rotations, her interest in infectious disease clinical pharmacy grew, and she hopes to pursue a residency in the future. For now, she already has a job lined up with Walgreens as a pharmacist floater, covering Texas and southern Oklahoma.
“In the midst of things, I’m just living life and living day-by-day,” she said. “I feel very fortunate for the things that have gone my way and for the things that haven’t gone my way. I’m most excited that my kids got to see me in school. I hope they feel proud of me.”
If you have concerns about your well-being or concern for another student, contact the Care Team at (817) 735-2740 or CareTeam@unthsc.edu.
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