by Lekeshia Bush, registered pharmacy manager of local specialty in Miami
11 February 2021
On International Day of Women and Girls in Science, pharmacist Lekeshia Bush shares her story of pursuing a STEM-based career, overcoming adversity and finding a sense of belonging along the way.

Growing up, my home was filled with love. I can remember joyful times with my siblings. I can remember feeling safe in the company of my grandparents. However, there are some realizations that come with time and distance. As I got older, I realized my childhood was also filled with the trials of poverty and a parent overcoming addiction. Although my story could have ended differently, I’m proud to share my journey to success and the power of being shown opportunity.
 
Looking back, it’s incredible to see how great an impact just one person can have on others. Through their individual contributions in my life, my family, my friends, and my teachers all provided inspiration and drive, and encouraged me – a feisty, optimistic, young black woman from St. Petersburg, Fla. – to reach higher and dream bigger than I would have allowed myself to do on my own.
 
Middle school is an awkward time for anyone, but a growing realization that my family life didn’t look like some of my peers’ made it even more challenging. My focus began shifting from obstacles to opportunity thanks to an inspiring and observant teacher who believed in me. She saw my potential, and because of her encouragement, I was increasingly able to see the possibilities that were opening for me, too. Around the same time, I began living with my grandfather, who pushed me to be better, do more and reach higher. He constantly reminded me of the opportunities around me and my duty to be the best version of myself.
 
Although these champions made me believe in myself, it wasn’t until I could see myself in someone else that the pieces really began to fall together.
 
As a high schooler, I craved freedom and looked for ways I could create stability and independence in my own world. I began to see the path that would become my career when I met a friend’s mom who was a retail pharmacist. I admired her ability to connect with and care for the community, to create positive impact in the health of others – and I wanted the same for myself.
 
By showing me what was possible as a Black woman – someone who looked like me and was from my own neighborhood – my friend’s mother created the first ring in a chain of empowerment and motivation I’m dedicated not to break.
 
And so I began my journey to become a pharmacist. There was no telling me I couldn’t once I saw it could happen. I got my very first pharmacy job at a Walgreens in St. Petersburg, and now I’m back as part of the Walgreens pharmacy family, more than two decades later.
 
I often revisit the quote, ‘You can't be what you can't see,’ by Marian Wright Edelman. My own experiences have shown me just how important and true those words are. That’s why I’m committed to speaking up, reaching out and mentoring individuals who are looking to advance their careers and become pharmacists. I work hard to model high-performance behaviors and constantly encourage my mentees to give back, continuing to add another ring to the chain of support we are creating together.
 
None of this is to say I didn’t have struggles or doubts or hardship. Pursuing a STEM-based career when I didn’t always feel like I belonged was challenging, and I had to work at building up a support system of like-minded and driven peers to make it to the finish line. We all need support in some way, but it takes being vulnerable – which in my dictionary is just another way to say ‘courageous’ – to ask for that support.
 
Perhaps your strengths lie in your ability to push through challenges or to be the first in your family to pursue a healthcare career. Maybe you feel best when helping others develop their faith and spiritual gifts. Or it might be that you can help others imagine the future that can be, and our imaginations are some of the most important tools for success.
 
No matter your path, it matters that you keep giving back. It matters that you know yourself and what you want, and that you put in the work to get it. It matters that you create the opportunity to show someone the possibilities that are open for them.
 
Each time you push yourself beyond your fears and doubts, you create a ring on the chain of inspiration and support you’ve been building upon your own life.
 
Don’t stop with you. Encourage yourself and others to keep the chain going to overcome adversity.
This story was originally published by Ultimate Medical Academy (UMA), a non-profit educational institution with the mission of equipping and empowering students to excel in healthcare careers. Although Bush is not a student or graduate of UMA, Walgreens partners with the institution for talent recruitment, and Bush has worked with a number of UMA graduates.