| Pundit Profile

A Q&A with Mary Lynn McPherson, PharmD, MA, MDE, BCPS, CPE

What inspired you to become a healthcare provider?

Right after graduating with my first degree (business), I got a job as a pharmacy technician. I loved it, but decided I wanted to BE the pharmacist, not just work for one. So I went to pharmacy school and eventually accidentally (happily) ended up in academia, which allows me to indulge all my passions of clinical practice, teaching, and research.

Why did you focus on pain management?

My focus is on pain management and palliative care. When I was in pharmacy school I signed up for what I thought would be an easy rotation: Hospice. The preceptor almost worked me to death, but I fell in love that month. It may sound cheesy, but helping to care for this fragile patient population absolutely fulfills part of my personal mission statement to make a difference every day. It is a privilege and honor to walk with a patient on their final journey.

Who were your mentors?

I have had many mentors throughout my career, brilliant and gracious individuals. Through-out pharmacy school and early in my career: Dr. Gary Hollenbeck, a pharmaceutics professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. In palliative care I have been very fortunate to learn from the giants: Dr. Mellar P. Davis, Dr. Eduardo Bruera, and so many others.

If you weren’t a healthcare provider, what would you be?

If I didn’t practice in palliative care I’d probably be a sit-down comic. Bad knees preclude me being a stand-up comic.

What is your marked characteristic?

I think I have several distinctive characteristics. I believe people should do what they feel passionately about, and with a great deal of compassion. I am rabidly passionate about meaningful education, and I have great compassion for people living with a serious illness. Of course, I also tend to enjoy living “out of the box.” My bestie has promised that somewhere on my headstone one day it will say “There’s a box?”

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

My daughter Alexandra (see her Next Generation interview in this issue). Alex has an incredible personality that allows her to immediately put vulnerable populations at ease—pets, small children, delirious patients, patients with an advanced illness, and so forth. We are so proud of her decision to also become a palliative care pharmacist (sorry Jim [hubbie, an accountant], you lose!). After Alex, it would have to be the book I wrote on opioid conversion calculations, which has been astonishingly successful. Probably because most people would rather eat a bug than do drug math.

What is your favorite language?

I’m fluent actually in several different languages: English of course, drugs, profanity, and my favorite—sarcasm (specializing in the dialect of snark!). Seriously, I wish I spoke the beautiful language of French. After four years of high school French, I can tell you that Jean-Claude is at the swimming pool, but that’s about it!

If you had to choose one book, one film, and one piece of music to take into space for an undetermined amount of time, what would they be?

I wish I could tell you I’d select some erudite book like One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but I’m going to go with the entire Eve Dallas In Death series written by JD Robb (who is really Nora Roberts in disguise). For the film, it would have to be The Princess Bride—seriously, I do palliative care for a living; there’s a HUGE difference between “mostly dead” and “all dead!” For the music, I would go with Rachmaninoff/Rimsky- Korsakoff’s Flight of the Bumble Bee. I aspire to play it like Maksim, but that might be a while in coming.

What would you like your legacy to be?

I hope that when I transfer to the Eternal Care Unit that I will have made a difference in people’s lives. And if I have, I hope it continues to self-perpetuate, with people paying it forward.

What is your motto?

There are so many to choose from! I frequently borrow from Mahatma Gandhi: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” (Have I told you about my masters in palliative care program yet?). Another favorite is “Work smarter, not harder!” But I must not be following my own advice because I’m frequently heard to say “Eh, I can sleep when I’m dead!”