Determined To Do More

Published on 17 December 2018

Rebakkah Johnson, Pharm.D. ’16, embarked on her path to a career in pharmacy as a 15-year-old and never looked back.

After completing her sophomore year of high school, Johnson was offered a place in the inaugural class of the BESt Pharmacy Summer Institute. The experience proved to be formative and introduced her to her future career.

Established in 2008, the BESt program is a collaboration between Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Express Scripts and St. Louis College of Pharmacy that helps educate and prepare students for careers in health care.

Johnson participated in the program for two summers during high school, and after finding success in the program, she decided to pursue an education at the College. With the help of an institutional scholarship and a student pharmacy position at Barnes-Jewish Hospital that allowed her to work while pursuing her degree, Johnson enrolled at the College and began her journey in pharmacy.

During her time at the College, Johnson participated in an advanced pharmacy practice experience in Essex, England, that truly ignited her passion for pharmacy.

“The clinical experience in the last year of school shaped me,” Johnson said. “That’s when everything changed for me. It showed me that there are so many avenues available in pharmacy.”

Her experiences also helped her discover her love for working directly with patients, which led her to a career in community pharmacy. Now, 10 years after her introduction to pharmacy, Johnson is a full-time community pharmacist at CVS Pharmacy in Clayton, Missouri.

“I fell in love with pharmacy even more when I became a community pharmacist,” Johnson said. “I really love the patient care aspect of it.”

Johnson also serves patients as a PRN psychiatric pharmacist at St. Luke’s Hospital in Chesterfield, Missouri. In this position, Johnson works alongside a psychiatrist at St. Luke’s offering medication recommendations and counseling.

When she is not caring for patients, Johnson focuses on her passion for philanthropy. Currently, she is working to grow the nonprofit organization she founded during her final year at the College, BooksFromBekkah.

BooksFromBekkah was born on Johnson’s 24th birthday when she asked her friends and family to each donate $2.40 toward a scholarship that would fund the cost of text books for a single African-American student during their first semester of college. Her goal was to raise $240.

“We ended up raising $500,” Johnson said. “I thought, ‘OK. We might be onto something.’ And then it just kept getting bigger and bigger.”

Johnson’s idea was born from her personal struggles to pay for textbooks and school-related expenses. Through her philanthropic efforts, Johnson hopes to address a trend among African-American students who are unable to continue their college education after their first year because they can’t afford the direct or indirect costs associated with pursuing a college degree.

Since 2016, 17 scholarships have been awarded to students in St. Louis during the annual BooksFromBekkah Scholarship Soiree, held on Johnson’s birthday. As the organization continues to grow, Johnson’s goal is to one day reach all African-American students in St. Louis who are in need of assistance.

“I don’t want to see another freshman drop out of college because of textbook costs,” she said. “I want them to know that I’ve got them.”

Johnson also co-hosts the weekly St. Louis radio show “Health Connections” on Mix 99.5 FM. The show features a panel of doctors from various fields who provide insight and advice on important health care issues affecting the African-American community.

Johnson is politically active, having most recently advocated at the Missouri State Capitol for the passage of Missouri House Bill 1542. The bill was created to prevent pharmacists from being penalized for or prohibited from alerting patients when the cost of a prescription co-pay exceeds the out-of-pocket cost.

At the same time, Johnson also remains active with the College and its Alumni Association. She is an active member of the Recent Graduate Committee and serves as a mentor for current students.

“As a former student, I want current students to know I’m there for them,” Johnson said. “It’s important to lift people up and show them that you’re rooting for them, that you care, that they’re loved and that you want them to be successful.”

Earlier this year, Johnson’s many career accomplishments were recognized by the National Pharmacy Association, which named her its 2018 Young Pharmacist of the Year.

“I just feel blessed to be doing what I am doing and to be working on projects and with people that I am passionate about,” Johnson said.