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VCU pharmacy student reflects on term as Miss America 2020

Role gave Camille Schrier the opportunity to speak out on medication safety and the opioid epidemic.



Camille Schrier completes in the Miss America pageant by conducting an "explosive" experiment. Camille Schrier competes in the Miss America pageant by conducting an "explosive" experiment. Photo: Camille Schrier/Miss America Organization

By Greg Weatherford

Today is Women in Pharmacy Day, part of American Pharmacists Month. In honor of this special day, we profile VCU School of Pharmacy student Camille Schrier, who reflects on her journey as Miss America 2020 and how it feels to be the world’s most famous pharmacy student.

In 2019, Camille Schrier, a rising second-year Pharm.D. student at VCU School of Pharmacy, entered the Miss Virginia competition on a whim — and won. In December of that year, she was crowned Miss America, thanks in part to her science and health platform capped with her dramatic presentation of the catalytic conversion of hydrogen peroxide.

The 2018 Virginia Tech alum (cum laude, with degrees in biochemistry and systems biology) paused her P2 year to fulfill her duties to the organization, with appearances on national news programs and hundreds of speaking engagements across the country.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, canceling the 2020 competition, Schrier’s tenure as Miss America was extended through 2021 as “Miss America 2020.” We spoke with her a few months ahead of her return to pharmacy school. 

You have been such an incredible ambassador for pharmacy and science.

Thank you. It's broken stereotypes on both sides. The science world is like, "Wait, this girl is going to go and do what? She's going to do a pageant?" It's a little bit nontraditional for a woman of science to go out and do this traditionally feminine beauty pageant.

And in the Miss America world, it's very untraditional to have someone come in with science being the thing that they're presenting as their talent. So I kind of broke two stereotypes at the same time, which was wonderful. What I started to realize was how refreshing that was to people and to schools, to parents, to people looking for an adult female role model for their young girls and boys.

When I put that crown on my head and I go out, I expect people to be like, "Are you Miss America? Are you Miss Universe?" That happens. But I often get asked, "Are you the science girl?" When those moments happen, I feel like I've done my job.

The pharmacy community has been so thrilled by this because many people don't understand what pharmacists do. I frankly didn't understand what pharmacists did until I really applied to pharmacy school.

Has this experience changed the way you view your role in health care and pharmacy in particular?

I joke that this job has been a paid internship. The social issue I focused on [medication safety and the opioid epidemic] is pharmacy-related, so the work I got to do was pharmacy-related. I got paid in scholarship money to literally advance what I was already doing in the classroom. I feel very lucky to be able to do that.

 

The work that I've done on misuse of prescription medications and the opioid epidemic, wanting to ensure that pharmaceutical companies are acting with the deepest integrity and ethics that they could, that's just given me a very different look at the industry as a whole. I think it's affected the way I'm going to function in my pharmacy career. I feel really lucky that I got the chance to have this experiential learning while I'm in school.

I have always wanted to be in a pharmaceutical industry. When I think about potentially what my role in a pharmaceutical company might be, understanding the issues that people have in access to medications, prices of medications, I do think that it's changed my perspective.

What lessons will you take with you?

I've realized through this that it's impossible to please everyone. And if you try, you're going to set yourself up for failure. I think that is applicable not only when you're serving in a public role but in the workplace. You're not going to be able to make everybody happy at all times.

Another lesson has been, I grew up and got my education in a kind of a rural/suburban, generally affluent community. I had not really had the experience to be in communities that were different from mine when I grew up. I grew up in suburban Philadelphia. I went to a private school. I went directly to college and then went directly to grad school.

As Miss America, I was in communities that didn't have certain resources, people who didn't have the same kind of medical care, areas that didn't have internet access — things that I just didn't fully grasp were part of our communities, in Virginia and across the country.

I already knew about this; I’d heard about those things. But it’s a very different thing to walk into that school and meet those kids. As someone going into a health care profession, it has given me a very different perspective than I ever had prior to being Miss Virginia or Miss America.

How have your goals and your dreams shifted or evolved through this experience?

I still have the same professional goals. I still want to get my pharmacy degree and work in the pharmaceutical industry. I hope to do some more stuff on the side than I would have to begin with and, namely, in terms of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education.

I think it would be kind of cool to be a medical correspondent for a large news organization. I can do a lot of the broadcasting-type things just because of the experiences that I've had. I think it would be really cool to do something in communications. Being able to be a spokesperson or to be a public-facing person for a large organization. Who knows?

I'm not really a risk taker at all. For me, to just be like, "I'm going to go compete in this little competition that goes to Miss Virginia" was very weird for me. After everything that’s happened after I entered Miss Virginia, I look at seizing opportunities differently.

What do you love about pharmacy?

Two things. I love pharmaceuticals. I'm always fascinated by the fact that we have the knowledge to be able to create these products that can literally change someone's life, save someone's life, or completely modify their quality of life. That boggles my mind. You think about 100 or 200 years ago when people would die of simple infections. Now I call my doctor and I get a prescription and I feel better the next day. It's incredible. It's something we take for granted. There's countries around this world that don't have that kind of access.

In terms of pharmacy and what pharmacists do, I think pharmacists are vastly undervalued in the knowledge they have and the way that they can help patients — to improve the quality of life of those patients by helping them take the medications correctly, understanding why they're taking that medication, and empowering them with information. I think pharmacists are really, really undervalued in what they can offer communities.

Those are the reasons I love pharmacy. I could talk about it all day long.

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