For Brianna Hawkins, PharmD/MBA candidate, class of 2023, cancer has been a constant presence in her life. Many of her grandmother’s siblings and their children suffered from colon, liver, breast, pancreatic, and lung cancer, along with other malignancies. Hawkins said after contemplating the impact of cancer on her family tree, she decided to pursue a career in solid tumor oncology research.
“Just a little over a year after my great aunt lost her battle against cancer while she was a patient at Sarah Cannon Research Institute — the cancer research sector of Hospital Corporation of America — I was overjoyed to be given the opportunity to join their multidisciplinary team, so I could play a significant role in finding cures and shaping the standard of care through new cancer drug approvals,” Hawkins said.
While at Sarah Cannon, Hawkins connected with Jeff Infante, MD, who previously served as director of the Sarah Cannon Research Institute Drug Development Unit and had since joined Janssen Oncology as its Global Head of Oncology charged with Early Clinical Development. Hawkins informed him that she wanted to return to the classroom so she could leverage her experience as a way to pursue a career in the pharmaceutical industry.
Dr. Infante encouraged Hawkins to apply to the Janssen Oncology Global Summer Internship Program, to which she was accepted in 2021. The co-leads of the program, Eunice Artis and Nikki DeAngelis, among others, quickly became mentors to Hawkins and were integral to her exposure to the roles and processes within the pharmaceutical industry. According to Hawkins, the internship offered her many opportunities, including serving as a Janssen Oncology Clinical Scientist Intern (Early Development Oncology) and working with trial teams dedicated to patients with multiple myeloma. After graduating, she will join Janssen as a full-time oncology clinical scientist.
During her internship, Hawkins took on a first-of-its-kind position as a Janssen Oncology Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council Co-Op and was charged with assisting with programming efforts for internal work streams such as the Women’s Mentoring Circle Summit/Speaker Panel and DE&I Dialogues and coordinating and leading efforts for the Summer Internship Program. This eventually allowed her to parlay the internship into an APPE rotation at Janssen Oncology, where she works to create mentorship opportunities for P1 and P2 students in the UTHSC College of Pharmacy.
Hawkins said mentoring is one of her absolute passions, because it allows her to help fellow students prepare for interviews, share networking spreadsheets, and give them insight into her own experiences.
“I speak to the P1 and P2 classes each year about my internship experience and my passion for and approach to networking and building lifelong relationships. One student, Esther Borteye, reached out to me after my presentation to gain more insight, and I told her about an opportunity to become a mentee in the Janssen Cardiovascular, Metabolism, and Retina (CVMR) Therapeutic Area Diversity Engagement Program (DEP),” Hawkins said. The program promotes mentorship, internship, and job placement opportunities at Janssen, and Hawkins said she worked daily with Borteye on her successful application.
“I am so proud to be able to advocate for one of my own mentees, and I am so excited to see another UTHSC CoP student at Janssen.” She added that even though she serves as the mentor, she also continues to learn from other students and their experiences. “Mentoring also challenges me to sharpen up my skills and gives me a new perspective on many different topics.”
Hawkins said mentorship opportunities allow her to continue her commitment to giving back to underclassmen and helping them with anything they might need.
“When I came on campus for the interview, I felt like I was home, and I know other students feel the same way. UTHSC was an easy choice for me because it encourages students to pursue opportunities that will help them in their future careers.”Brianna Hawkins
Hawkins continues to serve as an example in the UTHSC College of Pharmacy. She was one of three students honored with the Student Social Justice and Diversity Healthcare Leadership Award at the UTHSC Impact Awards in December. The award recognizes students whose actions promote the acceptance of diverse views, backgrounds, and experiences. “Winning this award makes me proud to reflect on the many underserved and uninsured patients that we as students get to care for regularly and the genuine relationships we build with them and their families,” Hawkins said. “The diversity and inclusion within our student class and the community we serve is a true testament to why UTHSC is so special.”
This story was initially published in the Winter 2023 issue of Pharmacy Magazine.