At the May commencement ceremonies at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, one family's love for medicine, people and service flowed through four generations of pharmacists.
Members of the Harmon family celebrated the recent graduation of Leslie Harmon, who earned her doctorate from the SIUE School of Pharmacy. She expects to become licensed sometime in June.
"Ever since I was able to say the word 'pharmacist,' I knew that's what I wanted to do - even at the age of five," the new graduate said. "As I grew up and started to understand the diversity of the pharmacy profession, it was clearly a perfect match for my personality. I love taking care of people and have always had a drive to be an advocate for others."
And ever since Harmon can remember, there has been a pharmacist in her family. Her great-grandfather, Ezra Harmon, began working in the 1920s for pharmacists O.F. Edwards and his son, Bob, at their local Rexall Drugstore in Oblong. Ezra Harmon became a registered pharmacist in 1945, and a year later he and his wife, Caroline, purchased the local Rexall Drugstore. Harmon's Rexall Drugstore is still in operation in Oblong, which is east of Effingham.
Leslie's grandfather, Jack Harmon, was the next in line to become a pharmacist. Jack Harmon graduated from St. Louis College of Pharmacy in 1959 and worked alongside his father, Ezra. He had two children, Thad Harmon and Joez (Harmon) Lickliter. Both children became pharmacists and worked at the family's pharmacy store. Thad, Leslie's father, graduated from St. Louis College of Pharmacy in 1997. Thad Harmon is now working at Schnucks Pharmacies in the Metro East and Leslie plans to do the same. Lickliter, Leslie's aunt, is a pharmacist in Indiana.
Seventy-six-year-old Jack Harmon continues to work at the family pharmacy in Oblong.
"My family has never pressured me to go into pharmacy, but has always been very supportive of my plans," Leslie Harmon said. "At the age of 16, my dad encouraged me to work for an independent pharmacy and gain experience, to ensure that this profession was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life."
She said that she remained sold on the profession, in part, because it allowed her to be an advocate for people. For instance, she noted when she worked as a pharmacy intern in Troy, she routinely encountered seniors who had reached their maximum spending level for Medicare and were faced with the dilemma of choosing to buy their prescriptions or groceries.
"I would call their doctors and ask if we could switch their medication to another kind that would achieve the same results, but would cost much less," Leslie Harmon said. "This put many seniors in the position where they could both buy their medication and buy their food."
Many people don't realize that the pharmacist is a critical part of the health care team, she added. Pharmacists are skilled clinicians who are great resources. They also are the ones who are the most familiar and most accessible to the patient. Much has changed in pharmacy over the years, such as the way medications are prepared. In Ezra Harmon's day, pharmacists made each prescription for a specific patient, using crude materials. Now, medications are mass produced by manufacturers and there have been advances in education, medication therapies and technology. But what remains the same, the pharmacist said, is her profession's commitment to deliver safe products and provide sound advice to customers.
Leslie Harmon added she hopes to become the kind of pharmacist that her father is-caring deeply for patients and treating them on an individual basis. And she believes that she is off to a good start, partly due to the excellent education she received from SIUE.
"The University has an incredible academic reputation," Leslie Harmon noted. "I have been extremely pleased with the education I received from the School of Pharmacy. It's a wonderful program and the faculty and students are exceptional. The faculty is completely dedicated to the students. They go out of their way to know each student personally."