Kanika Dunn
Alumni | 6/21/2024

From Pharmacist to Physician: PharmD Alum’s Unconventional Path to Healing

By Maaha Rafique

After a long path to medical school, Kanika Dunn sports a coat that identifies her as a medical student while studying in South Carolina.

Kanika Dunn
After a long path to medical school, Kanika Dunn sports a coat that identifies her as a medical student while studying in South Carolina.

Kanika Dunn credits MCPHS for giving her the ‘tools to manage life’ as she makes a mid-career pivot from pharmacist to pursuing a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree.

Kanika Dunn, PharmD ‘12, is rewriting the script of her career as she pursues her calling in a field she never imagined she’d explore during her pharmacy studies: osteopathic medicine.

For Dunn, the journey has been anything but conventional. After graduating Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS), she worked as a pharmacist, both in retail and hospital settings. But she said she couldn’t shake the urge to go back to school and learn even more about the medical field. She also earned a master’s in biomedical sciences and will finish her DO work in 2026, marking her third graduate-level degree.

“I'm very driven. Some days, I wonder why I can’t just relax and not do so much, but that’s just not me. People joke and say, ‘OK, what's the next degree you're going to get?’” Dunn said.

At MCPHS, Dunn was a member of Lambda Kappa Sigma, an international pharmacy fraternity founded at the University. Though adjusting to a new environment after moving from her native New York was difficult at first, she said participating in Greek life bolstered her confidence, and she eventually became a peer mentor and orientation leader.

“MCPHS made me into an adult and gave me the tools to manage life. It gave me a great education, and even now, in med school, I can attribute everything that brought me success to MCPHS,” Dunn said.

Finding Her Path

After graduating, Dunn moved to Florida and worked as a pharmacist at CVS. “I was there for almost four years, but I wanted to be more and do more. I also wanted to be a pediatric pharmacist — that was always something I was interested in,” she said.

She applied for residency and ended up back in New York, working at NYU Langone Hospital (formerly Winthrop University Hospital) in Long Island. Her second year of residency was in pediatrics at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Tampa. After completing it, she was offered a position at Tampa General Hospital as a pediatric clinical pharmacist. She loved working in a hospital and often listened in when the medical students did their rounds, which made her realize she wanted to learn more.

She applied to medical school several times, but was unsuccessful. After her last attempt, she learned about an opportunity to earn a master’s in biomedical science at Bluefield University in Virginia. The university had a partnership program with the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM), enabling graduates of the master’s program to apply to VCOM with an advantage, and Dunn was interested.

“I felt that, OK, I've done so much, and now I'm asked to do a master's. But at the same time, I thought, well, I do want to be a physician, so if this is the way to do it, I'm not getting any younger, and I'll go ahead,” Dunn said.

Hitting the Books

The accelerated nine-month master’s program involved a heavy workload, but Dunn said she never tired of studying the material. Finding fulfillment in returning to academia, she delved into the details of the immunological processes underpinning her pharmaceutical work.

As she neared the end of the program, it was time to think about the next step – applying to VCOM and looking into osteopathic medicine, a field of healthcare that emphasizes a holistic, preventative approach. A DO, a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, is a fully trained and licensed doctor who must go through the same rigorous protocols and testing as MDs.

The more she looked into it, the more Dunn found that it appealed to her. She said she realized osteopathic practices can help treat patients with conditions that don’t respond to traditional treatment, like her own mother, who struggles with sciatic nerve pain and found little relief in medication. And she said that understanding the connection between anatomical structure and bodily functions and mastering the art of hands-on treatment is another part of DO education that she found fulfilling.

“It's another tool that I'll have in my pocket — why wouldn't I want to have all the tools I can to treat patients?” Dunn said.

Never Looking Back

While working towards her degree at VCOM in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Dunn is as busy as ever, connecting closely with peers and professors on a professional and personal level. She even met her fiancé while in the program, who is a constant source of support.

“I'm one of those people who doesn’t get an A and goes, ‘Oh my God,’” she said. “And he says, ‘Listen, you did your best. You need to close your laptop, eat, and take a break.’”

Dunn is also a member of Sigma Sigma Phi, the national medicine honors fraternity for aspiring osteopathic physicians, and a leader in other organizations.

“I'm the vice president of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA) chapter on our campus, which helps underrepresented minorities get into med school through community outreach. I love that because I want to raise the number of us in med school,” Dunn said. “If you don't see someone doing something, then you don't know you can become that person. Even though my family is very educated, I didn't see a lot of Black physicians growing up, so for a long time, I never thought it was possible.”

Dunn said she often draws on her PharmD education in her current course of study, also relying on her wealth of experience as a working pharmacist. She even serves as a pharmacology tutor to her peers. She said she wants to return to working in pediatrics in Tampa, her home, and teach and mentor students.

Dunn advises perseverance to those who are considering pursuing further education or a mid-career change.

“It won’t be easy. It’s tough to have a career with a full salary and give it up. But if there’s something you want to do, if you're doing it for the right reasons, pursue it as much as you can and don’t regret your choice,” she said. “Every day, remind yourself of why you're here.”