Shanea McKinney, PharmD, points her grandmother’s experience with chronic conditions and the pharmaceutical care she received as the inspiration behind her journey into the profession of pharmacy.
“My grandmother, Mary Katherine Chandler, saw doctors regularly, but the health care professionals that she interacted with more often were her pharmacists,” Dr. McKinney said. “She trusted their knowledge and ability to help her make the important connections with her prescribed medications and how those medications positively impacted her medical conditions. I really appreciated witnessing, firsthand, the value of those relationships in improving her overall quality of life.”
Now, Dr. McKinney, a graduate of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Pharmacy, serves as a member of the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees and became the first person of color to serve on the Tennessee Board of Pharmacy.
“That is a lot to sit in and rise to the awesome obligation and purposeful duty of representing my profession and regulating professional colleagues at the highest level in our state,” Dr. McKinney said of her appointment in 2020 to the Tennessee Board of Pharmacy. The board, established in 1893, licenses and registers pharmacists and pharmacies in the state and ensures pharmacists are giving quality pharmaceutical care in accordance with state and federal laws.
When Dr. McKinney received the call from the Office of the Governor in 2021 about her appointment to serve on the UT Board of Trustees, at first, she was surprised, followed by immediate excitement for the opportunity. “I said, ‘wow, why me?’ and they said, ‘why not you,’” she said. “I really appreciated the foresight of Governor Lee for making this nomination because there wasn’t an appointee from UTHSC, and few from the western portion of the state, at that time. The thoughtful process in seeking an individual who has a connection to the governing principles that the Governor and his office sees as important for citizens’ service, was not lost on me.”
Dr. McKinney began serving on the UT Board of Trustees in 2022 and was confirmed by the Tennessee General Assembly. The board governs the educational and operational effectiveness of the statewide University of Tennessee System.
“I cannot underscore enough the gravity of this responsibility. The University of Tennessee Board has the phenomenal task in a way that the few other boards have, to provide access to all Tennesseans in their pursuit of higher education,” Dr. McKinney said. “I am so fortunate to serve alongside 11 other trustees, including our student trustee, to learn from each one of them. Many of whom are experienced titans of education and business and all who share a passion for the great state of Tennessee and the University of Tennessee System.”
A native of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Dr. McKinney was accepted into a six-year accelerated program after graduating from high school at Mercer University’s College of Pharmacy, initially starting in Macon, Georgia. After the first semester, feeling she wasn’t receiving a robust collegiate experience and seeking to return to Tennessee, she transferred to the University of Memphis to complete her undergraduate studies. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from the University of Memphis in 2004. She earned her Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the UTHSC College of Pharmacy in 2008.
She said, “the depth and breadth of opportunities that UTHSC brought” encouraged her to pursue admittance to the college. “The UTHSC College of Pharmacy has been highly ranked for years,” she said. “They were expanding their experiential, clinical experiences across the state, and while I was familiar with retail pharmacy, I sought to explore other disciplines of the practice of pharmacy. The robustness of the rotations offered at UTHSC allowed for a tremendous amount of professional experiences that other schools couldn’t offer at that time.”
During her time as a student, she participated in rotations in Memphis and Knoxville, gained connections with faculty and joined the Student National Pharmaceutical Association (SNPhA) and served in the Black Student Association in various roles, including as president.
“Although we had the largest class size of 100 students at the time, it didn’t feel as though our class size kept each of us from having close connections with our professors, preceptors, and administrators throughout the college, which I appreciated,” she said.
After graduating, she completed a postgraduate fellowship in U.S. regulatory affairs and drug development at Eli Lilly and Company, where she also served in several roles before moving back to Memphis. Now, she is the senior clinical account manager at Cigna, serving clients in Memphis, Nashville, Little Rock, Louisville and Atlanta, providing analytical insights on integrated pharmacy trends and helping clients and members experience positive outcomes from their health plan benefits.
“What I learned at UTHSC is the power of relationships and the awesome impact that the practice of pharmacy can bring to people. As a profession, we are the middle point that connects other health care professionals. When we are able to build conscious credibility for others within our profession, across other disciplines, and with our patients at the forefront, that’s when we can do the most good,” she said. “From my training at UTHSC, I took away the importance of not only being knowledgeable about medications, therapeutics, and disease states, but also the power of connecting that knowledge to your audience for the purpose of advancing health for your patients. These concepts were taught well throughout the College of Pharmacy, I’m grateful for that and I carry these precepts with me at all times, because your audience matters to your outcomes.”
In addition to her service statewide, she serves locally as the immediate past chair of the Downtown Mobility Authority (DMA), a member of the Diversity Committee of the Downtown Memphis Commission, and on the executive committee of the Memphis River Parks Partnership. She is also a trustee member of the University of Tennessee Foundation and serves on the healthcare advisory board for the University of Memphis.
With a passion for performing arts, Dr. McKinney is a proud member of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra Circle of Friends. “My family, my husband David and I, we love the arts and music,” she said. “The Circle of Friends was initiated because of Mei-Ann Chen, who was the first female conductor for the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, and a small group of women wanted to ensure she felt supported and encouraged by a village. Although she is no longer the conductor, we have maintained the Circle of Friends to be an instrument of inclusion for the arts and we are specific about increasing the number of minorities who have seats in the orchestra by providing scholarships to guests or full-time musicians to create greater access to the orchestra for people of color. I am proud of that inclusion.”
During her address as the keynote speaker for this year’s Black Student Association Awards Ceremony, Dr. McKinney shared the lessons and experiences in her life and career.
“I spoke about one my life’s tenets, something that my grandmother always impressed upon me throughout her life, which was the importance of always being prepared. The understanding that doing the little things in life, will help you build upon the next hurdle that you are looking to cross. It’s the little things that really prepare you for the big things,” she said. “A quote that I often play in the back of my mind and try to encourage others with frequently is ‘you must fall in love with the process of becoming great, because that’s what will keep you there!’”
This story was initially published in the Fall 2023 College of Pharmacy Magazine.