Dr. Brooke Beavers Bernhardt: Student Success to the Professional Arena

Brooke Beavers Bernhardt, PharmD ’03, has a simple yet powerful mantra for young pharmacists: “Own Your Craft.” As the new Chief Pharmaceutical Officer for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN, she leads by example, taking full ownership of the pharmacist’s vital role as the medication expert on the healthcare team at this nationally renowned hospital. 

Bernhardt’s path to the top pharmacy role at St. Jude began while she was a young student at UGA. A native of Dalton, GA, she was unsure of her professional path when she entered UGA. However, a fellow resident at Brumby Hall shared her excitement for the pre-pharmacy tract, and after some further research, Bernhardt realized the profession was a great fit for her as well.  

“I may have not been familiar with the field when I started at UGA, but my four years in the College of Pharmacy were transformative,” said Bernhardt, who was active in Lambda Kappa Sigma and Phi Lambda Sigma Honor Society. “I loved the more traditional science-based courses – pharmacology, pharmacokinetics, biochemistry, med chem, and the compounding lab.”

She credits faculty and her CoP experiences for her success as a student. “There were so many great faculty members at UGA,” she remarked. “A few who come to mind as being instrumental in my career direction include Sally Boudinot, Dr. Michael Bartlett, Dr. Henry Cobb, and Dr. George Francisco. While in pharmacy school, I worked in several different pharmacy settings as an intern to help identify my area of professional interest, including a traditional chain retail, an independent pharmacy under Jim Horton at ADD Drug in Athens, in a CoP lab with Dr. Cory Momany, and finally at Emory University Hospital during my P4 year. Each of these experiences gave me an appreciation for the different opportunities available to me as a pharmacist, helped me develop my career goals, and certainly opened doors to future opportunities.”

Along with faculty engagement, Bernhardt praised her preceptors as well. As an example, “Dr. Ellen Whipple Delbridge, BS Pharm ’93, PharmD ’94, was my first preceptor on my first rotation at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. She was highly regarded by her physician and nursing colleagues and was one of the first pharmacists to help me understand the importance and ease of cultivating interprofessional relationships.”

The success Bernhardt experienced as a student quickly transferred to her professional endeavors. “After graduation, I completed a PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Residency at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Health System. Unsure of my final path but knowing how much I loved complex pharmacology, I completed a PGY2 in Critical Care at the University of Virginia Health System. About half-way through my PGY2, I realized that my love of pharmacology was also inherent to both pediatrics and hematology/oncology. I accepted my first-post residency position in pediatric hematology/oncology at Texas Children’s Hospital in 2005.”

Bernhardt spent 13 years at Texas Children’s Hospital, where her accomplishments included serving as the group pharmacist for Children’s Oncology Group clinical trials. “Those challenging roles really built my confidence and resilience as a leader,” she said.

In 2018, Bernhardt joined the faculty at Baylor College of Medicine, overseeing pharmacy efforts for the Texas Children’s Global HOPE program to improve pediatric cancer care in Sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, her research explored pharmacogenomic factors contributing to treatment disparities in Latino children with leukemia.

Bernhardt was recruited to St. Jude in 2023 to lead all pharmacy services across inpatient, outpatient, investigational, and specialty operations. “My primary role is more strategic than day-to-day,” she explained, “and is focused on advancing the profession and improving patient care through innovation. I am fortunate to have the support of an amazing leadership team with a deep bench of experience, including five directors and a deputy Chief Pharmaceutical Officer who, combined, have 143 years of experience at St Jude.” 

Among her proudest contributions as a leader has been research highlighting beneficial effects of a drug-to-drug interaction between mercaptopurine and allopurinol in pediatric leukemia. “What was previously a contraindication is now leveraged cautiously to improve therapy,” she explained.  

Through it all, Bernhardt has embraced prolific involvement in professional organizations as a key to opening doors for her success. And this translates back to her days as a student. “Participation in organizations prepared me for leadership by improving my time management, professional networking, and interpersonal relationships. Through involvement, these learning and networking opportunities continue to have an impact.”

Bernhardt’s vision, and that of her Department, is to “…transform pharmacotherapy for patients with catastrophic childhood diseases” through advancing clinical practice, research, and training. She noted, “No other profession has the same depth of training in medications. We should own that. I remember when I first started working in pediatric oncology one of my peers asked me if I was worried about becoming too sub-specialized and not marketable for other jobs down the road. Now that I am down the road, I can see that sub-specializing helped me more than anything else to get to this point in my career.”

Her parting advice to current students? “Explore everything; be open to new opportunities; reinvent yourself when needed – and always ‘Own Your Craft’ as the medication expert.” 

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