Meet Our Expert: Achieving the Impossible – Why Heather Easterling Puts One Foot in Front of the Other, Day After Day

Discover why, to Heather Easterling, the business of pharmacy is personal.

Read time: 3 minutes

By: McKesson Health Systems Editorial Team, Heather Easterling

Like most kids her age, then-16-year-old Heather Easterling had one thing on her mind: a car. There was just one problem – her mother told her she would have to help pay for one. As luck would have it, her older sister had just graduated from pharmacy school and accepted a pharmacist position at another pharmacy, so there was an opening behind the register at their small community pharmacy in Summerville, South Carolina. Heather didn’t think twice, jumping at the opportunity to start saving toward her goal. Little did she know, she would get way more than she bargained for. What started as a means to an end (she did, in fact, get that car) inadvertently set the scene for finding her “why” early in life – helping people overcome barriers in order to get what they need, when they need it, even when it seems impossible – something she still works toward every day.

When asked about her days at that small community pharmacy, it’s the people that Heather remembers most. Getting to know customers and their families, seeing their health struggles and triumphs over the years, and looking forward to the fresh baked bread and other heartfelt tokens of gratitude they’d bring during the holidays are some of her fondest memories. And when things didn’t go the way they were supposed to – when a patient faced challenges getting their medication, for example – Heather remembers how they looked to the pharmacy for help and the overwhelming sense of fulfillment and joy she experienced when they were successful.

A whole new world

It was during her own time at pharmacy school years later that Heather learned how much more there was to pharmacy than retail pharmacy alone. Hospital pharmacy, in particular, piqued her interest, in part because it would still allow her to interact with patients – something she had grown used to during her time in retail pharmacy – while also expanding her ability to effect change and solve some of the bigger-picture problems, like barriers to access. It was there she began her residency, ultimately becoming a clinical pharmacist in a hospital before transitioning to hospital pharmacy leadership and academic medicine. In each stage of her journey, though she was moving further away from the patient’s bedside, Heather knew that her potential impact could be even greater.

Not the same old story

While at the Medical University of South Carolina, Heather saw an opportunity to grow what was, at the time, a very limited scope of specialty pharmacy offerings in order to strengthen the continuum of care, expand patient access, and positively influence case outcomes. The task at hand wasn’t an easy one, but – as Heather is known to do – she found a way. And she didn’t stop there. Even with a more robust specialty pharmacy, Heather recognized that patients still needed help accessing these drugs; “It doesn’t matter how good the drug is if the patient can’t get it.” So, she set her sights on building up programs that would allow patients more affordable, or even free, access to specialty drugs. Through a 340B-funded program spearheaded by Heather, countless patients were able to get the treatments they needed, when they needed them, even though it had previously seemed impossible. Things were coming full circle.

And again, while she was no longer face-to-face with patients on a daily basis like she had been at the pharmacy register, she was still motivated by those personal stories. She remembers receiving a letter from a teenage girl who had alopecia and was struggling with both her appearance and her self-confidence. Had it not been for the pharmacist in the MUSC specialty pharmacy and the availability of assistance programs, she would never have been able to get the drugs that she credited for transforming her life in more ways than one. These are the stories, Heather says, that will continue to motivate her regardless of where in the ecosystem she sits. In her current role as Assistant Vice President of 340B Solutions at McKesson Health Systems, Heather (more formally, Heather Easterling, PharmD, MBA), works tirelessly to make sure stories like these can still be written.

Crossing the finish line

Heather has a self-professed commitment problem, but not in the traditional sense. “I’m over-committed.” As a streak runner, Heather has run a minimum of 1.25 miles (usually more) every day for more than 12 years. Even when she’s sick, traveling, stuck in an airport, or nursing an injury, she finds a way to get her run in. It’s easy to see how that commitment carries over to her professional life. No matter the challenge, Heather is committed to finding a solution. “The healthcare system can be challenging, especially when you have a chronic disease,” Heather says, “and people can get caught up in that. Trying to figure out the hard stuff is discouraging, and understandably so, but I don’t get discouraged. I keep going for them.”

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