Dubbed “the mom of the siblings” by her family due to her caring nature, Marissa Stewart is excited to apply her University of Iowa pharmacy training to better help those in need.
Sara Epstein Moninger
Justin Torner
Marissa Stewart

Degree: PharmD

Hometown: Blue Grass, Iowa

Future plans: Will start a postgraduate residency in acute care at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, with the ultimate goal of working with pediatric patients at a hospital in the Midwest

The pharmacy profession intrigued Marissa Stewart when she worked as a medical assistant while studying biology at Augustana College. But it was at the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy where she realized just how much of a difference a pharmacist could make in patients’ lives.

Stewart, who graduates with a PharmD in May 2022, was tapped by college leadership at the end of 2020 to help organize COVID-19 vaccine clinics across the state and then enlist her peers to help with the administration of injections. The UI students ultimately vaccinated more than 6,000 individuals across 10 counties, from Sioux City and Cedar Rapids to Davenport and Maquoketa, including 2,000 people during a weekend clinic in Solon, Iowa.

“Our initial focus was on the elderly, and the number of stories we heard was overwhelming. People were so grateful that they would finally be able to meet their grandson or spend time with family or get out of their house and go grocery shopping,” says Stewart, who was honored with a college leadership award for those efforts. “I didn’t realize how significant a role this vaccine was playing in these patients’ lives, that it would allow them to finally get back to some normalcy. It was such a huge factor in their overall health and in their overall life experience. I was so grateful to be a part of that and bring this public health initiative to them.”

Taking care of patients and being part of their health care team is what Stewart enjoys most about pharmacy. She has always been a caregiver. In fact, she says her family—she is the second of five children—calls her “the mom of the siblings” because of her caring nature.

“I’m always the one asking, ‘Hey, what can I do for you?’ or ‘What can I help you with?’ Just caring for them in general,” she says. “I can see that I’m pushing toward that with my pharmacy education and figuring out what I can do to provide the best care for a patient.”

The native of Blue Grass, Iowa, says experiences she had as an undergraduate student showed her how pharmacists could apply their skills to care for patients.

a woman standing inside the College of Pharmacy Building, her hand on a chair, with a sign that says "our world begins in Iowa" in the background

“At Iowa, I felt like I would be an individual and that everyone wanted to know me and learn more about me. To me, Iowa just felt like home.”

Marissa Stewart
doctoral candidate in the UI College of Pharmacy

“I started working as a scribe at UnityPoint in the Quad Cities, basically doing medical charting for emergency room physicians, and I really enjoyed seeing how doctors took care of patients. But I was more interested in why they prescribed certain medications than in doing the hands-on work,” says Stewart, who then pursued an internship as a pharmacy technician. “Pharmacists provide advocacy and care for their patients, but they don’t have to cut open abscesses or suture wounds.”

When Stewart decided to pursue a PharmD program, she looked at several schools, including the University of Iowa. She knew the proximity of UI Hospitals & Clinics would be an advantage at Iowa, but something else stood out when she visited the campus.

“In my pharmacy school interviews, I always asked what kind of support the schools would provide to a student who is struggling,” says Stewart, a first-generation college student. “Iowa responded that they would do anything a student needs, that any professor—even the college’s leadership—would be more than happy to help. I didn’t get that indication from any of the other programs. I just felt like another fish within a big sea. At Iowa, I felt like I would be an individual and that everyone wanted to know me and learn more about me. To me, Iowa just felt like home.”

Something else Iowa offers is leadership development. Stewart says being asked by Susan Vos, the college’s associate dean of student affairs, to spearhead the vaccine clinics boosted her confidence and prompted her to get involved in other student groups.

“I had never been the president or leader of anything before. I didn’t know if I could organize the clinics, but Dean Vos was there to support me along the way, and I’m really glad I did it,” she says. “Learning how to communicate with other pharmacists, working with students, and adapting to a constantly changing pandemic made me step outside my comfort zone.”

Did you know?

Doctoral students at the UI College of Pharmacy:

• Take classes in a state-of-the-art facility built in 2020

• Collaborate with expert health care providers at UI Hospitals & Clinics, the state’s largest academic medical center

• Are part of a program that is ranked No. 18 by U.S. News & World Report among 143 programs nationwide

Stewart says she looks forward to beginning a postgraduate residency in acute care at UI Hospitals & Clinics after graduation and hopes to pursue a second-year residency there in pediatrics. After that, the goal is to care for pediatric patients in a hospital setting, a role inspired by her pediatrics rotation preceptor Andrew Smelser.

“Dr. Smelser took me under his wing and showed me not only the steps that I need to take in order to become a great pharmacist, he also taught me different skills that I could utilize outside of pharmacy—how to take care of my financials after I graduate, how to best put myself out there and be the best person that I can be,” she says. “I came into rotations thinking I wanted to do emergency medicine because I enjoy acute care in that kind of fast-paced environment, and now I want to do pediatrics because of him. I loved emergency medicine because you never know what your day is going to look like. But that’s also true in pediatrics. You see so many disease states and so many different medication options available. These kiddos don’t really have a say in what’s going on, and I have a passion for caring for them.”

Smelser, a pediatric clinical pharmacist at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital, says Stewart will be an asset to the profession—and to her patients.

“Marissa is the epitome of my ideal learner. Every piece of feedback she received prompted her to critically reevaluate her work and take it to the next level,” Smelser says. “She thrives in an environment where she can make a difference to patients, and she has a tremendous amount of passion for helping others. I have no doubt this will translate into a successful residency here at UIHC and hopefully a future career in pediatrics here at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital. I look forward to seeing all the great things Marissa will be able to accomplish in her career.”