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College of Pharmacy

  • Donna J. Walker

Q & A with: Donna J. Walker

"When an exciting opportunity presents itself - Just do it!"

Posted on: March 13, 2020

University of South Carolina alumna Donna J. Walker (1979 B.S., pharmacy, 1984 MBA) created and endowed the Walker Pharmacy Leadership Scholars Endowment Fund, launching a student leadership initiative that identifies, educates, and recognizes pharmacy student leaders at the UofSC College of Pharmacy.


Tell us about what you do: 

I did not follow a linear path in my profession. When I graduated from the College of Pharmacy, I worked in my father’s pharmacy in community practice. After I passed my boards, I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to work with the American Pharmaceutical Association in Washington, D.C. It was an incredible experience.

From there, I started graduate school – I came back to the University of South Carolina and got my MBA. I combined that business knowledge with my clinical professional background and went to work for 3M, progressing through their ranks to become the Director of Marketing for 3M Pharmaceuticals in Minneapolis and then Director of Sales and Marketing for North America with the 3M Telecom Division in Austin, Texas.

In 1996, my husband and I started a family foundation, The Pulido-Walker Foundation, to help youth who may not have the support and opportunities that we had to “get to the starting line” to run life’s race. A few years later, in 2006, we bought property in Napa and now have a winery. We’ve taken a more scientific approach to wine-making. We bought 115 acres that had never been planted with vineyards and studied its potential with five years of weather station data, over 100 soil pits, and correlation studies to determine the potential for exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon grapes--so for the last 10 years that’s what we’ve been doing.

I’m always going to be a pharmacist, even if I’m not practicing pharmacy. Working with the College of Pharmacy and the Walker Leadership Scholars keeps me connected to the profession.

How did you originally get interested in your field?

My father was a pharmacist and really a “renaissance guy.” He practiced clinical pharmacy before there was such a field. He had a fountain in his pharmacy where the doctors in the area came in the afternoons and they talked about their patients and developed programs to monitor them. He really demonstrated compassion – taking your education and helping people – that inspired me.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

On a professional level, I have led many high performing teams to achieve major goals across both the pharmaceutical and telecom industries of which I am very proud — But my greatest achievement personally is in my job as mother to an incredible son.

What is the mantra that you live by?

My husband and I both over time developed the mantra we actually used for the Walker Leadership Scholars program – “Pursue the possible.” Everybody has different possibilities, but I think that if you determine that you’re going to go after whatever that is and seek excellence in that, then the possibilities of what you can achieve are endless. The other thing we taught our son always is, "Dream big, work hard, and give back.”

What do you do to relax?

I love to walk on the beach—my happy place—or in the vineyards.  Or read a great book. My family loves to travel and explore. Our adventures include outdoor, nature, and wildlife.  Most recently we went to Rwanda and went gorilla trekking — it was so amazing.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

I would like to have a diverse group of people representing many different facets of like — so my dinner party would include: Condoleezza Rice, Pope Francis, Maria Shriver, LeBron James, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Bono.

What are you currently reading, watching or listening to?

Recently I have read Brene Brown’s Dare to Live, Nikki Haley’s With All Due Respect, and Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers.

What is your advice for current students / future pharmacy professionals?

A few tips:

  • Get Involved and Expand your Experiences: I learned as much outside the classroom as I did in.
  • Just Do It:  When an exciting opportunity presents itself---JUST DO IT! You may not know where it will lead or have all the answers. Take the risk!
  • Be Curious:  With all the changes in healthcare and technology, nothing will remain static.  Be curious and explore how changes can have an important impact on our patients and how we perform clinical practice.
  • Learn from Others:  You can learn so much from other people. Pharmacy is such an incredible profession to me because you can combine it with things like research, law, business, even a clinical specialty like oncology or pediatrics – You can find a passion that can have such an amazing impact on others. If you only look at things from your own perspective, you may come up with a solution to a problem that’s acceptable – but if you incorporate people with various viewpoints, you actually strengthen your ability to problem-solve and produce a better solution that’s more robust.
What is your favorite memory from pharmacy school at UofSC?

My time at Carolina was very formative and gave me incredible leadership opportunities and experiences that grew my skills. I had just started pharmacy school when Dean Julian Fincher asked me to represent the College of Pharmacy at a regional student leadership meeting in Memphis, Tennessee. I had never been to Memphis before so I agreed.

That was a transforming experience – I met pharmacy students from all over our region that I would see again at the national meeting a few months later. Collectively, we developed policies that went to the student delegation and those that passed went on to our more senior colleagues in the “real world.” It was eye-opening for me to see what an impact we could have as student-leaders.  In addition, I met four incredible women through these meetings that are life-long friends. These friendship have been a gift in my life.

What is top of your bucket list?

I am so blessed in my life with incredible friends, family, and life experiences. My family has been fortunate to have travelled to some amazing parts of the world — But a few things on the top of my bucket list are:

  • Going to the Masters Golf Tournament
  • Diving in the Seychelles
  • Visiting Machu Picchu

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.