“When asked what I do, I proudly state that I am a pharmacist. It doesn’t matter what came after. First and foremost, my profession is pharmacy."
Julia Elia-Pacitti (BScPhm 8T5) is a proud alumna and supporter of the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy. She believes that pharmacists belong to a highly respected profession that has formed a part of her identity.
“When asked what I do, I proudly state that I am a pharmacist. It doesn’t matter what came after. First and foremost, my profession is pharmacy,” said Elia-Pacitti, who now serves as Medical Director of Lymphoid Haematology at The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson.
She also believes that living the full university experience helps contribute to personal development. That’s why she donates to the Paul Halligan Faculty of Pharmacy Spirit Award and is happy to support student leaders who bring people together. These connections — while currently virtual — are crucial now more than ever as students support one another during the pandemic.
The Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy Advancement Office spoke with Elia-Pacitti about her career path, the impact of her education, and why she supports the Faculty.
What inspired you to pursue Pharmacy at U of T?
Choosing a career — and therefore the path I should take in university — was not easy for me. I was fortunate to be doing well in all my classes in high school, whether they be sciences and maths, or art, music and literature. But nothing really stood out. I knew I needed to look inward to figure out what would keep me engaged for the decades ahead, and what qualities or attributes were necessary.
Many thought I would go into music. My piano teacher was encouraging me to apply to the Julliard School of Music, and, as a violinist, I was on scholarship at the Royal Conservatory and a member of the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra. But I realized the uncertain life of a musician, of any artist for that matter, was not for me. I needed a foundation of sorts, something with more certainty that would give me enough security to eventually allow me to then seek additional growth opportunities.
My grandfather felt that my musician hands would serve me well as a neurosurgeon. While that intrigued me, my practical side rationalized that while I was doing well in school, my marks were likely not “good enough,” so, what would I do if I wasn’t accepted into medical school? At the time, one could enter Pharmacy straight from Grade 13. This option addressed a number of things important to me: my interest in the sciences, my desire for a secure future, and the possibility of practicing in different environments.
How has your Pharmacy education at the faculty contributed to your career?
First, without the education and degree, I obviously wouldn’t have had a career in pharmacy, with all the downstream benefits that came with that. Second, I really appreciated being part of a Faculty, of a group of like-minded people, where we all journeyed together toward a common goal. I made life long friends, connections that have withstood the test of time and distance. Third, the experience of “university,” of higher schooling, beyond the faculty, was important in helping to shape me as an individual. I was exposed to new things and experiences, new ways of thinking, which, influenced my personal development and how I approached my future.
Tell us what you've been up to since graduation?
With graduation more than 35 years ago, much has happened. My career in Pharmacy started as I thought it would. I completed a Residency in Hospital Pharmacy, and was able to secure a position in the satellite pharmacy that served the Neonatal ICU at Women’s College Hospital. Here I was able to specialize and serve as an integral part of a small team.
After five years, it was time to move on. Leveraging my positive residency experiences, and identifying characteristics of my NICU job that I found particularly appealing, I secured a job in the Odette Cancer Centre Pharmacy. It was a self-contained pharmacy serving the needs of cancer patients. Oncology was one of my favourite rotations during my residency. Also, as a pharmacy intern for two summers at Sunnybrook, I had had the opportunity to rotate through this pharmacy and so had an idea of the unique opportunities available for pharmacists. I started there in June 2001, having no idea how that decision would shape the rest of my career.
As the pharmacy evolved, I was able to take on specific liaison roles to both the lung and haematology clinics. It was the latter that endured and proved an invaluable experience over the long-term, bringing me to my current role as Medical Director, Lymphoid Haematology at Janssen Canada Inc.
You’ve been a generous donor to the Paul Halligan Faculty of Pharmacy Spirit Award for a long time. Why do you choose to support the Faculty?
The obvious reason is that, without the Faculty, I would not have had the career, and the life that it enabled. I’ve been fortunate in my life, not everyone has the same advantages. Without the Faculty, I would not have received the education I did, resulting in my degree and subsequent license. This is a profession that is highly respected, and that has played a major role in shaping my life.
Moreover, Paul was our Class President. He was engaging and energetic. He inspired and drove the class spirit and pride. For Paul, it wasn’t enough to just get the degree. He found the balance between his studies and athletics, and was the face of our class on the field and the court. To me, he is an indicator of living the full university experience. He passed away much too young, of melanoma, the first of too many classmates who have since passed due to cancer. But I feel that the spirit of what he lived for is manifested in this Fund, and it’s my hope that those who are chosen to receive it continue to lead, to bring people together, and to enjoy life.
If you could give current students one piece of advice, what would it be?
Find the balance between school work and life. Make the most of your university experience and live your life to the fullest. You will be a better person for it.
By supporting our students, you support the growth of the next generation of pharmacists revolutionizing patient care across the world. There are many ways to give, click below to learn more.
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