Alumni Spotlight: Tami Rodriguez, Pharmacy Leadership

Commissioned Officer Earns Master of Science in Pharmacy Leadership, Lands Top Job

Pharmacy Leadership
Tami Rodriguez earned her Master of Science in Pharmacy Leadership degree from the University of Cincinnati (UC) Online.

Tami Rodriguez, Chief Pharmacist for the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), is an impressive leader. Her status as an officer in the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (USPHS), coupled with her completion of the University of Cincinnati (UC) Online master’s program for pharmacy leaders, makes her one to watch.

The USPHS is one of eight uniformed services in our nation. USPHS service members can be deployed for public health emergencies in cases of hurricanes, natural disasters, and, most recently, COVID-19. Additionally, officers are stationed in agencies attending the underserved, such as federal prisons.

Tami’s service is under the Department of Health and Human Services, making the Surgeon General her chief officer. “I am the director of pharmacy programs for the BOP,” Tami says. “It’s the type of job where I never do the same thing twice on a given day. I work with 180 pharmacists over 121 locations that serve about 145,000 patients within our custody. Another 10,000 to 15,000 patients are based in facilities, such as halfway houses or residential re-entry centers.”

The Road to Distinguished Service

Before starting her public health career, Tami graduated from West Virginia University with a Doctor of Pharmacy. In 2009, she joined a local Bureau of Prisons office as a chief pharmacist. In 2013, Tami moved to a larger institution. Five years later, Tami became a regional chief pharmacist overseeing pharmacies from South Carolina to Puerto Rico. Soon, Tami decided to obtain a pharmacy-focused master’s degree and began investigating graduate programs. “The USPHS values advanced and continuous education, which I appreciate,” she says. “I wanted to find a program that applied to what I did daily and aligned with my future goals.”

Tami initially considered a master’s in public health as she researched universities. While she thought epidemiology and a focus on global health could be interesting, her true interests pointed elsewhere.

Finding the right program proved difficult until a colleague forwarded an email they received from UC Online about the Master of Science in Pharmacy Leadership degree. This program proved to be the perfect match Tami was searching for. “I was attracted to the program’s overarching leadership focus,” she says. “The variety in the curriculum would build upon what I knew and would take me outside my government work bubble.”

Tami remembers the UC Online admissions team being highly responsive, helping her easily navigate the registration process. She recalls an introductory phone call with Dr. Jenelle Sobotka, Professor and Director of Pharmacy Leadership. “I scheduled time to speak with Dr. Sobotka, where we talked through course options and how to plan my schedule. I appreciated her feedback on what would work best for me,” Tami says.

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Watch Dr. Sobotka talk about the MS in Pharmacy Leadership program in this short video.

Communication is Key to Pharmacy Leaders’ Success

Knowing Tami’s veteran status, Dr. Sobotka placed her in touch with our university’s Veterans Programs and Services office. When Tami learned she could take full advantage of GI Bill benefits, she says it was the deciding factor in choosing UC Online’s pharmacy leadership master’s program, which she started in 2019.

One of the master’s program courses Tami enjoyed was comparing global health policies and programs and the contrast between the US health system and other countries’. The course helped her think outside the box and evaluate creative and potential solutions for the future.

Tami also recalls the topic of communication being a focus in much of the coursework. “From day one, Dr. Sobotka expressed the importance of communication, calling it an undervalued leadership principle,” Tami says. “She taught us that written communication should be concise, direct, and clear, which stuck with me. As I’ve moved up at work, I’ve incorporated Dr. Sobotka’s teachings many times.”

Tami started the master’s program with one class per semester and found it very manageable, successfully juggling work, family, and school. But when COVID-19 hit, it brought new pressure to the U.S. prison system and needed her undivided attention. She decided to take a sabbatical from the program and communicated this to Dr. Sobotka. “I appreciated her understanding of my unique situation. She was patient, kind, and reasonable to work with,” Tami says.

When Tami restarted the program in the fall of 2021, she began connecting with like-minded classmates. She was pleased to meet several fellow USPHS officers in the program. “I keep in touch with my connections, including people who work outside of the government,” she says.

Online Program Inspires New Dreams

By spring 2022, Tami graduated with an MS in pharmacy leadership. Reflecting on her journey and her dreams when she first started the program, Tami says:

When I enrolled, I only managed a small aspect of the Bureau’s healthcare program. I knew, one day, I could be the one making decisions and implementing widespread procedures to positively affect health care for all our patients. And now, I’m in that position.

When asked about the pharmacy leadership degree’s relevancy to others who work in the pharmacy field, Tami praises UC Online’s program and recommends it to others, including a pharmacist colleague who recently enrolled.

Citing a key program benefit comes easily for Tami: “It challenges you to think beyond your current position. Part of leadership is that you’re consistently learning from other people. That was my biggest takeaway from the program.”

Follow Tami’s Lead and Take the First Step to Learn More

Tami’s MS Pharmacy Leadership program experience helped strengthen her natural leadership skills and bolstered her desire to do even more for the BOP. Today, she is involved in several projects, including heading up a telehealth initiative, establishing opioid treatment programs, and attending labor negotiations.

Describing her overarching philosophy about the work she cares so intensely about, Tami says:

I appreciate that pharmacists have a seat at the table. We are part of a larger team of physicians, therapists, and nurses doing our best for the patients. We are hired to serve.

We hope you found Tami’s story inspiring. If you’re ready to take your next step to become a more influential and confident pharmacy leader or manager, get in touch with us. When you complete this form, you’ll soon be connected to a UC Online Enrollment Services Advisor. And if you’d like to speak with someone in the Veterans Programs and Services office, call (513) 556-6811 or email [email protected].

Dr. Sobotka and other faculty members from UC’s James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy look forward to meeting you.

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