Brian F. Shea
Northeastern University College of Pharmacy, BS 1985, PharmD 1988
Where did you grow up?
I live on the North Shore but refuse to grow up.
How did you decide to come into the Pharmacy program at Northeastern?
My path was not a normal one. I started out at BU with a goal of becoming a clarinetist with a symphony orchestra, but with such a dismal job market for musicians I transferred out and planned for a career in electrical engineering –but then engineering also began to have its challenges.
Pharmacy had always been a strong interest of mine. When I came to Northeastern, Professor Palumbo looked at my transcript and handed me an outline of my path to graduation that included summer work at Salem State (which is where I met my best friend and future wife, Maureen). So it was meant to be!
What is your full educational background?
I graduated from Peabody High School. While attending Boston University, I also completed an EMT program at a local community college and worked for local ambulance services. While at NU I enrolled in private clarinet and conducting lessons at Boston Conservatory of Music. After graduation, I was one of four students accepted into the post-baccalaureate Pharm.D. program. After that, I completed fellowship in Clinical Pharmacy/Drug Information at Brigham and Women’s Hospital with Paul Souney (a fellow NU grad and one of the smartest and wisest people I know). Since then, I’ve taken various courses across many subject areas, most recently some theology courses through an extension program from the University of Notre Dame.
What have you done since your time at the College of Pharmacy? Where did you work and what did you do? Please describe your professional career.
I worked part time as a staff pharmacist at a small community hospital (Hunt Memorial) and doing retail pharmacy (South Peabody), while still working as an EMT and briefly ran a regional emergency medical communication center.
While I was an Assistant Director at Brigham and Women’s, I joined the Harvard Adverse Drug Event Prevention Study group and became co-author on some of the works that were published in JAMA and other journals. Also during this time, I became a per diem consultant for Concepts in Healthcare, a firm co-founded by an NU grad (Marv Feldman) where I fell in love with consulting. In 1995 I accepted a commission as a Navy Reserve pharmacy officer where I served for over 9 years.
I left the Brigham for a pharmaceutical company where I learned a lot about medical information, drug development, drug safety, marketing, FDA regulations, and ethics. After watching the cardiovascular market collapse almost overnight, the day I decided to leave the company I received an email from a colleague to consult at Ernst & Young. I thought I’d give it 6 months… that was 13 years and a few million miles ago.
At E&Y, my first project became the largest patient safety project in the U.S., spanning 200 hospitals – combining both my passion for patient safety with my desire to use consulting as a platform for creating far more change than I could staying at any one facility. Within a couple of years, I became responsible for how we approached systems design for anything related to pharmacy, patient safety, or the medication use process, and was part of the group acquired by Accenture to form their provider health practice.
What are your main responsibilities at Accenture?
At Accenture I have been able to continue my focus on enhancing patient safety, particularly through the use of electronic medical records, while becoming a Principal within the company, adding responsibility for our systems design approach and ARRA/HITECH Meaningful Use.
What was your Northeastern experience like?
In a word – challenging. The coursework was far more challenging intellectually as well as in terms on memorization than engineering, and I remember how well prepared I felt when it was time to take the boards. But when I thought I had seen the most challenge of my life, the first year of our Pharm.D. program began with the second year of medical school, so we learned quickly to work collaboratively with medical students to exchange our knowledge of pharmacotherapy with theirs of histology and anatomy.
What do you like the most about Northeastern and/or the pharmacy program?
One thing stands out more than anything I can remember, and it’s something that a faculty member recently referred to as “scrappy determination.” Regardless of which era you graduated from, the culture of the university seems to nurture a spirit of focus, resilience, adaptability, team work, and a will to overcome obstacles, which is a great preparation for work and for life.
Did the opportunity to take advantage of co-op play a role in your decision to attend Northeastern?
Not as much, as I naively assumed that internship and externship rotations were evenly matched between schools because of the clinical nature of the programs. This changed with my first co-op when I learned that there was clearly much more to it than what I previously understood. Co-op was a major advantage for me.
Where did you complete your co-ops and how beneficial were they?
My co-ops were at Hunt Memorial Hospital and Harvard Community Health Plan. At Hunt Hospital I was progressively challenged to expand my knowledge and ability to learn how to function independently in a small community hospital, and at HCHP, I was able to help bring a community pharmacy site up from bare walls to its opening as well as to begin developing conflict management skills. These were both pivotal in my development as a pharmacist and as a person.
Do you feel Northeastern prepared you well for what you are doing now?
Absolutely! Consulting requires either a “Type A” personality or one that considers failure to be the worst possible outcome, and people describe the work and its associated travel and long hours as “grueling.” A major life theme for me when I left Northeastern was that “failure is not an option” and to be tireless in working out solutions to problems in both life and work (hmm.. scrappy determination?).
How have you been able to maintain a connection to the current pharmacy program at Northeastern?
I was not as involved until Dean Reynolds arrived on campus, and his focus on bringing alumni back through various programs and activities brought me back aboard. I am grateful for that, and now I’m back on campus about once a month or more and loving it.
How frequently do you get to speak or meet with other Northeastern alumni or students living in the area?
Most of the opportunities I get to speak or meet with Northeastern students and alumni come from functions here at the university. It has been so much fun coming back to Northeastern and talking with pharmacy students, working with the Health Science Entrepreneurs, doing CE programs, or chatting with Brother Joe and his great group of students over at the Catholic Center.
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
I hope to be still doing meaningful work. I plan to travel with my wife to some destinations that were harder to get to with a large family, and also maybe darkening the doorsteps of my kids wherever they may be (we told them that we are going to buy an RV so that they can be sure to have mom and dad embarrass them in front of their friends and neighbors – please don’t tell them that we were joking).
What would you say to a student who is considering attending the pharmacy program at the School of Pharmacy?
I would say that there is no better place to create that foundation than Northeastern. The co-op program by itself, and the many other opportunities that students have to round out their experiences and their resumes, are unique, and it’s great to be able to say you came from one of the very best pharmacy programs in the U.S. Boston is one of the most exciting cities in the world, and to complete your degree in Pharmacy at Northeastern would just be about the best you could achieve short of signing a 5-year contract with the Red Sox or maybe the Patriots.
What is your fondest memory of your time at Northeastern?
My father passed away during my senior year, and nine months after his death later I was sitting in Blackman Auditorium for the College of Pharmacy Convocation. Afterwards, when I left the hall to rub the husky’s nose, I noticed that my mother was absolutely beaming. At that very moment I believe that we both understood that I just accomplished something special, and that my father would have been proud.
What professor or class made the biggest impact on you? Why?
In my middler year, we had a course during which guest lecturers come in to talk about various opportunities within pharmacy. Dean Schumacher came into our classroom and spoke about a relatively new practice area called “clinical pharmacy,” where pharmacists with advanced training would solve complex problems using pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics, and an advanced knowledge and understanding of underlying pathophysiology. These concepts aroused the “try to make the most difference” gene in my psyche and from that point onward I decided to earn my Pharm.D., something that I likely would not have considered before that day.
How has Northeastern changed throughout the years?
Where to begin? There have been many significant changes over the years.
- First, Northeastern used to be a largely commuter school which made it very difficult for any of us to connect with the university
- We had more transfer students, where today the demand has prevented many from transferring into the program
- The quality and reputation of the pharmacy program has grown well outside of the “local gem” that we were to a nationally recognized institution that is now in the top 10 for NIH grants.
- The physical appearance of the university has drastically improved. My youngest daughter loves trips with me to the campus because she describes the campus as “exciting,” and that really sums up how it feels to be in such an outstanding place.
Lastly, I’m so impressed with the maturity of the students I meet here. In early March, Brother Joe from the NU Catholic Center invited me to breakfast to meet students who chose to give up their spring break and travel to North Carolina to fix houses. I can’t quite express how grateful I was to meet these remarkable young women and men.
Favorite Hang-Out Spot on or near Campus:
Because I commuted to school and had a crazy school/work schedule, I found little nooks to study in and occasionally “crash.” My favorite places were study carrels located in music section of the library as well as the Ell Center.
A Few Words of Advice:
- When changing careers I was afraid that I was giving up music forever for pharmacy, until a pharmacist mentor of mine, Lloyd Blute, said, “Brian, you can be both. You can be many things if you only allow yourself the permission to do so.” The excellence that you are pursuing in pharmacy extends to many other roles you will play in your life – give yourself permission to have the same focus on excellence as you do in your professional career.
- Don’t let yourself become confined by day-to-day activities such that you are no longer growing as a person or professional
- Always remember that success is a gift granted to you by others, and that you should always recognize those around you by sharing that success – with interest
- Your reputation is also a gift from others that, once lost, is difficult to regain. Sometimes the right road is sometimes the hardest or least popular, even among your co-workers and friends
- If you haven’t already, define, and then live by, your priorities. I am fortunate to work for a company where “Respect for the Individual” is a core value and where my focus on “family, faith, profession, fun” can be supported.
Is there anything we should know about you?
I was recently honored at the 50th Anniversary Continuing Education program for my contributions to the School of Pharmacy, and I was totally surprised by this award. I believe that many of those contributions were made because good people asked for help to do good things, and I just happened to be there to lend a hand, as any other person might do if similarly asked. Anita Young is one of those folks, like many others at Northeastern, who has such an inspirational passion for what she does for us, and if she asked me to do a CE program on the roof of the Prudential Building in the middle of a blizzard, I’d ask her what time she needed me.
When I’ve asked consultants who have been at it as long as I have why they put up with terrible hours, stressful deadlines, awful food, poor airline service, scary cab rides, and many other physical, mental and emotional challenges: why are you still doing this? The answer is always the same: “I love working with smart people who care about what they do and want to make a difference.” If you can find a role where you can feel passion about what you do, and if you can surround yourself with people who also bring passion to what they do, you have found the key to professional happiness and fulfillment – help others find that, too.