Dr. Laura Licari, assistant professor of clinical sciences

Dr. Laura Licari, assistant professor of clinical sciences at Roosevelt University, did not follow a traditional path to pharmacy school. She started college at Augustana College, a small liberal arts school in the Quad Cities. There she enjoyed a tight-knit learning community with hands-on professors. “Everybody there wanted to interact with their students,” she said.

At Augustana, Dr. Licari was enrolled in a longitudinal honors program with a focus on the principles, history and ethics of science. She started with a merit scholarship, but unfortunately lost that scholarship after one semester because of poor grades. “I could not conceptualize the impact of losing that scholarship would have on the long run, at that time,” she said.

The road to her pharmacy education

Dr. Licari knew that she wanted to pursue pharmacy school thanks to a company that specializes in career placement. Her parents took her there while she was in college to help her decide on a career path. “My mom said that it was the best $500 that we ever spent,” she said.

Dr. Licari applied and was accepted to the Chicago College of Pharmacy at Midwestern University, but her acceptance was contingent on the successful completion of her last prerequisite course: Calculus. During the spring semester before she was to matriculate into pharmacy school, she failed the course.

After graduation, she enrolled in calculus again at the College of DuPage the summer before pharmacy school. “I could not focus and was totally distracted, and I got a D again,” she said. “I could not buckle down at the time. I was immature, and I was distracted by so many other things that I could not dedicate the time to learning the difficult concepts.”

Embarrassed and ashamed, Dr. Licari had to admit to family and friends that she would not be attending pharmacy school due to the failed class.

Shortly after, she received a cold call at home from the Illinois Eye Bank, a not-for-profit that performs cornea transplants, who found her resume through Augustana’s graduate resume referral service. They were looking for recent graduates with degrees in biology to work for the eye bank procuring corneas from donors. 

a life-changing opportunity

Dr. Licari accepted the position, and soon she was working on call with a pager and visiting morgues throughout the area with a gym bag full of tools. The corneas had to be procured within 12 hours after the donor passed away.

“Cornea transplant is really cool because there is not a blood source to the cornea,” she said. “It’s very unlikely that you will have a rejected cornea.”

It’s hard to imagine Dr. Licari, the chipper professor with the eternal smile, visiting morgues in the middle of the night to procure corneas. Her parents, she recalls, were horrified at the thought: “My poor parents said, ‘What are you doing? You’re where?’”

Before she could procure the corneas, Dr. Licari had to first contact the next of kin and request consent from the families who had just lost a loved one. “That really teaches you empathy extremely quickly,” she said.

Dr. Licari was also enrolled in calculus for the third time at the College of DuPage while working a full-time job, still in pursuit of admission to pharmacy school. She did pass the course on the third try. “If I had gotten into Midwestern when I wanted to, I would not have that job,” she said. “It was life-changing.”

She continued to work for the Illinois Eye Bank while in pharmacy school, and the job helped fund her education. She was able to save, start a 401K and avoid borrowing student loans.

Dr. Licari has come a long way since her academic struggles in college. She served as the seventh woman president of the Illinois Pharmacists Association and leads the Professional Development and Leadership series here at Roosevelt University.

Her advice to students who have had a difficult path to pharmacy school: “Follow all of the rules, get good grades, be involved in extracurriculars and be well rounded. But those experiences that feel like failures, if you can overcome them, those are the experiences that will make you a good pharmacist.”

About the Pharmacy Program

The Roosevelt University Doctor of Pharmacy program is the first accelerated PharmD in the Midwest. With rigorous, patient-centered courses, you’ll be ready to join the health care team, providing evidence-based pharmaceutical care in all practice settings. Join our community of competent, committed and compassionate pharmacists. Learn more

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