By Peggy Reisser Winburne
When Rosie Ann Riley received a doctor of pharmacy degree from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Pharmacy in May 2015, she’d already had two careers.
Riley had served as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps and built a lucrative business as a professional wallpaper hanger, but she decided that being a pharmacist was a higher calling.
“I have always felt we were put on this earth to serve others, and there is nothing better than teaching others how to take better care of themselves,” Riley says.
Riley’s parents didn’t graduate from high school, and their experiences taught her that higher education would be a ticket to a better life.
“My dad had been a roofer ever since age 17, and my mom started cleaning private homes when I was 6 years old and she was 24,” Riley said. “They were difficult jobs, and I often overheard my mother discussing how her employers humiliated her at times. So, by age 14, I decided I would attend college in order to avoid this treatment. Obtaining a bachelor’s degree would be a great accomplishment, and I would have done much better than may parents in the education arena.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1995, Riley decided she would eventually seek a graduate degree. Reaching that goal—in 2015—took a back seat to years of working to provide for and raise her daughter.
“First and foremost, I want to say that obtaining my doctor of pharmacy degree was one of the proudest moments of my life and just as difficult, mentally, as the physical training required to become a Marine,” Riley says. “My degree has given me the freedom to take time to consider my next steps in life, as the most difficult obstacle has been accomplished. It has also shown me how important it is to take care of myself, both mentally and physically.”
She says she’s proud to be considered an inspiration to her extended paternal family, neighbors, friends and even strangers who hear her story. “I have shown that, if we set our minds to it, we can accomplish any goal, regardless of how or where the journey began.”
After graduation, Riley, who lives in Madison, Mississippi, worked in an internship and is now taking time off to plan her future before taking her board examination.
“I value my degree because of the impact it has had on others, the flexibility to retire early, the ability to one day afford to travel the world, the fact that I am able to assist family members and friends financially, if necessary, and most importantly, the knowledge to help with medications and advise them to see a physician,” she says.
Riley says she hopes to use her degree to make an impact in her community.
“My community is small and has many issues,” she said. “I’m hoping to bring about change, since I have acquired an important element—higher education, which comes along with vast knowledge and the ability to understand others much better.
“Now I am equipped to live the life that God has planned for me, thanks to all the support and encouragement that I received from the UTHSC College of Pharmacy.”