Women in Pharmacy: Dell Barker Walker ('85)

Dell Walker with her husband Jim and students Miyoung Kim and Lauren Wright Dr. Dell Barker Walker and her husband Jim with students Miyoung Kim and Lauren Wright

October 13, 2017

AUBURN, Alabama – Women first walked into a classroom at Auburn in 1892 and less than 20 years later, Auburn native Lucy Richards became the university’s first female pharmacy graduate in 1911. By the time Dell Barker entered the Walker Building for the first time in the early 1980s, women were on the verge of becoming the majority in the pharmacy profession.

Now Dr. Dell Barker Walker, the 1985 Harrison School of Pharmacy graduate is the Executive Director and Medical Lead for the East Region with Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company.

A native of Mobile, Alabama, Walker graduated from Warner Robins High School in Warner Robins, Georgia in 1979. The Auburn legacy, her father is a graduate of the Alabama Polytechnic Institute, came to Auburn that fall set on a pre-med course of study.

Beginning her junior year, she woke up one morning with some anxiety on her future as a physician. As fate would have it, she ended up at the Walker Building and the next spring was enrolled in pharmacy school. What started out as something interesting to look in to became her passion.

“To me, pharmacy was like putting a puzzle together. I like having all of the pieces of the puzzle, and the role of being a pharmacist was to learn how to listen to a patient’s problems and put together the right pieces and tools from what we have in our toolbox,” said Walker. “It was fun thinking about all the possibilities of helping people understand, not strictly about their illness, but how we were going to get them better and I could be a piece of that process.”

Upon graduation, she ended up practicing pharmacy in Columbus, Georgia, and eventually ended up as a civilian pharmacist with the Department of Defense. It was during that time, as the assistant director of pharmacy at the Naval Hospital Great Lakes in Chicago that she saw the possibilities of what pharmacists could do from a clinical perspective.

“In the early 90s, I was given prescribing rights and helped set up and organize coagulation clinics and lipid clinics. This was in 1991-92 and that was unheard of outside of the military market,” said Walker. “I had some really influential bosses who were on the cutting edge of what a pharmacist can bring to the healthcare system. They were amazing individuals who allowed us to be creative and work within our capabilities and skill set and work within the auspice of provider status and guidelines.”

During her time with the Department of Defense, Walker was able to develop strong relationships with Pfizer through its field medical organization. Pfizer was able to supply her information she needed and she apparently made an impression on them as well as she was selected to be a speaker for Pfizer. Walker looked to expand that relationship when she saw a job opening with the field medical group, but was turned down for lacking an advanced degree.

“It was such an interesting situation. I suddenly found myself with experience, but without the advanced degree. There were interesting jobs I really wanted that I wasn’t given the opportunity,” said Walker. “I quit my job and I moved to North Carolina where they have a full-time post-bac Pharm.D. program at Campbell University. Fortunately, I graduated in 2001 with my doctorate.”

Now armed with the degree, she went back to the person who had turned her down, and found out the job was hers all along.

“Right before I graduated, I called him and said, ‘Bob, I’m about to graduate.’ He said, ‘Send me your resume.’ Nervously, I went in for my final interview, and Bob said, ‘Don’t worry, you got the job.’ I said, ‘But, you know, you made me go back and get that doctorate.’ He said, ‘If you had pushed me harder, I’d have let you have the job to begin with, but this is something no one will ever take away from you.’”

She stared out as a clinical education consultant with Pfizer in 2001 and moved her way up through the Field Based Medical Organization. In 2009, she took the position of Executive Director and Medical Lead of the South Regional Business Unit (now considered ‘Team East’) where she is responsible for managing the medical resources and establishing medical strategy support for the East Region.

“Our job is to talk about the efficacy and safety of our products. As the clinician component of the team, we provide clinical information and perform pharmacoeconomic analyses either at the MSA level, the state level, or the national level,” said Walker. “Our second job is to work within the largest delivery systems in the U.S. at the quality level. We help those customers look at their own data in disease states that are of interest to us both, find those quality gaps, and provide information or solutions on how to improve the quality of care for patients to include education, understanding, and adherence.”

For Walker, a realization she had as a college junior that led her to the Walker Building has turned into a fulfilling and trend-setting career as the role of the pharmacist has changed over time. She is thankful for the experience Auburn gave her, and has even funded the Dell Barker Walker Endowed Scholarship at HSOP, but working with women and serving as a resource for them is high on her priority list.

“I think women have so much to give in this particular career path. Part of my working with the School of Pharmacy is specific to how I can work with the young women and help them through those moments when they think they can’t do it,” said Walker. “I want to encourage them and help them think bigger than where they are thinking for themselves, but still within their passion. I want to make sure they know that somebody else has gone before them and that there is a really big world of opportunity for them to experience and enjoy. They can bite off a little bit of that world, or a really big chuck; either way, they will be just fine.”

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About the Harrison School of Pharmacy
Auburn University’s Harrison School of Pharmacy is ranked among the top 20 percent of all pharmacy schools in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report. Fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), the School offers doctoral degrees in pharmacy (Pharm.D.) and pharmaceutical sciences (Ph.D.) while also offering a master’s in pharmaceutical sciences. For more information about the School, please call 334.844.8348 or visit http://pharmacy.auburn.edu.

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Last Updated: October 13, 2017