Albert S. Bowie
Perseverance Pays Off
Bowie, Ohkay Owingeh (formerly San Juan Pueblo), Pharm.D.,
is currently acting director of the Santa Clara Health
Center in the Santa Fe Service Unit of the Indian Health
Service. When the following article was published, Bowie
had recently earned his Pharm.D. and was preparing to go to
Anchorage to serve his payback to the Indian Health
Service. An update follows the article.
Albert Bowie, San Juan Pueblo, has been interested in the field of medicine as long as he can remember. While growing up on the reservation in the Española Valley of New Mexico, Bowie was exposed to the use of traditional plant medicine for healing purposes. By the seventh grade, his determination to pursue a health career was already established. It wasn’t until his junior year of high school, however, that Bowie was introduced to the field of pharmacy through a health career opportunity program offered by the University of New Mexico to expose prospective college students to the allied health possessions. Bowie already knew that “becoming a medical doctor didn’t fit me” whereas pharmacy “clicked – it fit”
In 1990, Bowie entered the University of New Mexico (UNM) as a pre-pharmacy major in the bachelor of science (B.S.) program. Bowie remembers that first year as rough. He failed a pharmacy class in his first semester, which, in his words, “hit pretty hard.” According to Bowie, he was “embarrassed, ashamed, isolated.” He knew that he was one of a handful of Native American pharmacy students in the country. He also knew that slightly more than half of all pharmacy students who started the program at UNM were likely to graduate in pharmacy. Bowie did not want to be on the negative end of that statistic. So he forced himself to discuss his options with the assistant dean of the pharmacy program, mustered the courage to face the other students in his program, and revamped his course load. He ended up retaking two of his pharmacy courses that first year and reducing his semester hours to allow him to learn at a pace more suitable to him.
During his fourth year at UNM, Bowie applied for and was accepted into the highly-competitive Pharm.D. (Doctor of Pharmacy) program. As a Pharm.D. major Bowie states, “I often had a feeling I had eyes on me –anything I did would probably have an effect on the profession and other (Native American) students who would follow behind me. I spent a lot of time in the library and made a lot of sacrifices” which included not being able to be at home with his people. Bowie was also challenged by his living situation. He had moved off campus during his first year in the B.S. program, only to find himself facing the day-to-day demands of cooking, transportation (he didn’t have a car) and bill playing. He decided to return to the dormitory so that he could concentrate on his studies and experience the conveniences dorm life offered. Upon his return, Bowie found himself “facing the stigma of being older in a dorm with younger students.” Fortunately, he was able to find a roommate who was a serious student “even older than me”
Bowie lauds Dr. Joe Hubbard, one of his pharmacy professors at UNM for “encouraging me to trust I could do it, get through and be an asset to the profession of pharmacy.” He also credits his family for supporting him throughout his intense academic journey. His parents, both college graduates themselves, “didn’t push, they just supported” and his older sister and brother and younger sister “never looked down on me.”
During his training, Bowie participated in several paid internships to heighten his understanding and experience in the technical end of pharmacy. In 1993, his internship took him to Alaska where he spent three months working in a Juneau clinic through Indian Health Service’s COSTEP (Commissioned Officer Student Training and Externship Program). IHS paid for his last year of school in exchange for his commitment to give them two years of his time in Anchorage upon completing his residency. In his last year, Bowie participated in 10 externships of four weeks duration each. This part of the training was a hands-on opportunity to follow patients, go on morning rounds, work in the intensive care unit and participate in patients’ therapy plans.
In May 1996, Albert Bowie became the first Native American person to graduate from UNM’s Doctor of Pharmacy program. He spent the following year as a resident in pediatric pharmacy at the highly acclaimed Children’s Hospital in Denver. “Working with children is rewarding – it’s nice to know you can have an impact and to see the difference you’re making,” stated Bowie, in considering his year at Children’s “It also gets depressing and frustrating.” It was hard for Bowie to relocate so far from home after spending six years at a school located only two hours from his family home. His schedule during his residency was also exhausting--twelve 10-hour days on, and two days off. During this time Bowie was unable to visit his family as often as he would have liked. Fortunately, one of his sisters had moved to Denver earlier, and he was able to live with her while pursuing his residency.
In mid July of 1997, Albert Bowie packed up his possessions, drove to his family’s home in New Mexico for a brief visit, and went off to Anchorage to fulfill his obligation with Indian Health Service. Thanks to his perseverance and willingness to meet challenges head on, it is clear that Bowie will serve with integrity, compassion and technical skill all those who seek his services now and in the future.
The article above, which was written by Barbra Wakshul, was first published in the Autumn 1997 issue of Winds of Change. (The cover artist is Sam English, Ojibwe.)
Dr. Bowie: “I am still Acting Health Center Director at Santa Clara Health Center. Only update is my family continues to grow as we have 4 children.”
In August 1997, when Bowie reported to Anchorage Medical Center as a staff pharmacist, he was hoping to work on a pediatric inpatient (hospital-based) service. Soon, though, he found that outpatient care was where his life in pharmacy would be. In addition, he moved from being a learner to a teacher. “I worked with over 12 schools of pharmacy,” he recalls, “setting up rotations, precepting students and completing evaluations.”
After nearly two years in Anchorage, Bowie felt a calling to go home to New Mexico. He wanted to work at Santa Clara Health Center, the center that serves the people of his Pueblo, but no positions were available. Instead he took a position at Taos-Picuris Health Center in Taos Pueblo, New Mexico.
In retrospect, Bowie is glad that he had five and one half years at Taos Pueblo before he returned home to practice. During his time at Taos Pueblo he met and married his wife, Chastity, and they had the first of their three children. He also had an opportunity to mature and fine-tune his skills as a pharmacist before dealing with the sometimes challenging situation of being home in a new role, caring for family and friends.
In November, 2004 when Bowie became chief pharmacist at the Santa Clara Health Center, he indeed faced challenges. As a pharmacist he learned that one of his aunts had a prescription for a medication for cancer. Bowie let his aunt know that he would carry this information, keeping it to himself until she told other family members about her illness. (Unfortunately, Bowie’s aunt declined in health and had an untimely death.)
Also, Bowie had to deal with the loss of friends with whom he had gone to school, played sports and taken part in Pueblo activities. They died of alcohol and drug abuse and other causes. Working with family and friends, Bowie says, “is the most rewarding and also the toughest assignment.”
Bowie is eager to see American Indian and Alaska Natives enter careers in pharmacy. “Your role allows you to give back to Native people,” he says. "Pharmacists in IHS help providers choose the right medications for their patients, and they make sure that patients understand their medications and when and how to take them. In addition, pharmacists are involved in clinics for issues and conditions such as smoking cessation, hypertension, and asthma." Bowie says that he has been trained to give immunizations and to triage patients so he often helps the nurses when they are short staffed.
In his current position as acting director of Santa Clara Health Center, Bowie also has administrative responsibilities. He has had administrative responsibilities in the past, for example, in 2005 he was acting chief pharmacist of the Santa Fe Service Unit. In part he was prepared for his leadership roles when he participated in the IHS executive leadership program.
Advice to Students
Bowie says, “If you feel that schooling is impossible, ask for help from your professors or talk with a family member. Call me (505 753-9421 ext 215), if you like, for a little boost. Several times in my schooling I did not want to go on. You have to know that you can do it, and the rewards are for a life time. Yes, it is hard to be away from family, and if you are from a small town, it can be intimidating at times especially at a large university. But you now have tools that were not available to me such as cell phones and e-mail, so use them to keep in contact.
“Do not guess when asked a question. If you feel rushed, slow down. This worked in my school life and still today in my work and personal life. I would rather have the work done right rather than to have work completed fast but possibly done incorrectly.
“When you make mistakes in life and pharmacy, remember there are pharmacists like me who have made similar mistakes. Learn from your mistakes. Overconfident people can be very hard to work with, so be open to suggestions.
“Studying on Friday nights is a good habit to create. I learned that after my F in college and stuck with my new routine to get nearly straight As. Study some more on Saturday during the day. Saturday night go out and have some fun. Sunday, rest and exercise. Review a little Sunday night. Of course, throw away your television.
“If you are already in pharmacy school or soon to be, complete a residency as soon as you get out. Always look for additional training. Do not be afraid to try something new.
How does Bowie juggle his career and personal life? “Communicate even to the point it hurts,” he says. “Communication is not only talking but actively listening as well.”
Bowie also notes the importance of self-care. “If you plan to work at your home reservation, set boundaries,” he suggests. For example, Bowie will not deliver medication to people’s homes because he knows that will take a huge chunk out of his personal time. “You need some separation of business and personal life,” Bowie wisely declares.