From serving in the military, to receiving a doctorate after having two careers, raising a child as a single mother, beating breast cancer, and dedicating her life to helping others, Rosie Ann Riley, PharmD, embodies courage.
An alumna of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Pharmacy, Dr. Riley was one of four recipients of the Patients of Courage Award at this year’s Plastic Surgery: The Meeting. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) presents the awards to inspiring patients whose lives have been changed or saved through reconstructive surgery. According to ASPS, “Each Patient of Courage personifies the limitless potential of reconstructive surgery as well as the power of the human spirit.”
“Winning this award was validation to me,” Dr. Riley said. “It was like God saying to me, ‘I see what you’re doing. I know you’re going through a lot in life right now, but I want to reward you.’”
Dr. Riley, who lives in Canton, Mississippi, has gone through a lot. She was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in December 2021. The diagnosis came as a surprise to her, happening just months after she was hit by a car while riding a bicycle.
“I wasn’t afraid,” Dr. Riley said. “I was frustrated because I had two surgeries on my rotator cuff, 11 months of physical therapy, and I had just recovered from the cycling accident, and now I had to spend more time under a doctor’s care.”
In January, she had a bilateral mastectomy with implants, performed by Jared M. Davis, MD, at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi. A few months later, Dr. Davis nominated Dr. Riley for the Patients of Courage Award.
“I nominated Rosie Ann Riley because she exemplifies boldness, strength, and is an agent for positive change in our community. Her story deserved recognition because we truly do not hear enough about the many good things and great people in our community, and I believe it may be an inspiration to others.”Jared M. Davis, MD
“I have been helping people all my life and I just really appreciate that Dr. Davis saw that, and he actively did something to acknowledge it after being my doctor for only three months. That is heartwarming,” Dr. Riley said. “He really cares about his patients.”
Among the criteria for the award is a passion for helping others through charitable actions. According to ASPS, the patients have transformed their experiences into unique programs that give back to their communities. Dr. Riley has done that in more ways than one.
Her passion for service began when she joined the U.S. Marine Corps after dropping out of college for financial reasons. She served during the Persian Gulf War before leaving the service in 1992.
“My time in the military taught me to be more independent, more responsible. It taught me that freedom is not free,” Dr. Riley said. “The Marines always expected the best from me, so now, I always strive to do my best.”
Dr. Riley’s military service helped her pay to return to school. She graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice.
As a single mom, she decided a career in the criminal justice field would keep her away from her daughter, so with the help of an acquaintance who was a general contractor, Dr. Riley took a job as a professional wallpaper hanger. While it paid well and allowed her to spend time with her daughter, the job also made her bored, and she wanted something more. Dr. Riley began looking into other fields, and decided pharmacy was the one for her.
“I wanted to do something to help people,” she said. “With pharmacy, I could help people become healthier and help prevent disease.”
Dr. Riley investigated several pharmacy schools and began classes at UTHSC in 2010. According to Dr. Riley, the education she received was top-notch, and not just because of what she learned in the classroom.
“It felt like I had a family,” she said. “It felt like, no matter what I was going through as a student, the College of Pharmacy made sure I was successful.”
Dr. Riley graduated in 2015 with a Doctor of Pharmacy degree, but she never ended up working as a pharmacist. She has a strong relationship with God, who she says called her to move in a different direction to help people more directly.
“I wanted to teach the people in my community how to become healthier,” Dr. Riley said.
Her passion for healthy living led to her starting a community garden in 2018. Dr. Riley leases two acres of land owned by her church near Canton, grows fresh produce, and delivers it to elderly people in her community for free.
“It’s like I’m taking care of my village,” she said. “These are the people who took care of me when I was a little girl and watched me grow up.”
Dr. Riley has also volunteered with multiple organizations, including the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, and the Museum of Mississippi History. She also volunteers for an organization that mentors and tutors children and has mentored refugees in the past. “I’m trying to help wherever I’m needed,” she said.
As a Patients of Courage Award recipient, Dr. Riley was invited to share her story at the opening ceremony for the 91st annual Plastic Surgery: The Meeting in Boston in October. The conference brings together the best and brightest plastic surgeons from around the world to share their expertise with others in the specialty.
Three other patients received the award: former professional football player Alex Smith, whose leg was almost amputated after an injury during a game; Onyinye Udebuani, who survived a deadly car crash in 2018; and Shamira Reeves, who suffered severe burns as a child in Uganda.