Susan graduated from Marymount with a degree in Science and Math. While she already knew where she was headed immediately after graduation, she wasn’t able to anticipate the places her medical career and life would take her in subsequent years.
There were several reasons that Susan was attracted to Marymount as a high school senior living on the Main Line outside of Philadelphia, PA:
- Although she graduated from a public high school, she began her grade school education at a private Catholic elementary school, and knew she liked the environment at a Catholic institution.
- Susan knew she wanted to be a nurse ultimately; she specifically wanted to attend Jefferson University in Philadelphia to obtain her BSN, where her father had graduated from medical school and completed his residency in orthopedics and her mother (an operating room nurse) worked prior to having a family. However, she wanted to have a traditional college experience first, before going into an intensive nursing program.
After an overnight visit to Marymount, she was completely sold on the school. She said, “I got a taste of the Marymount community during that visit; I liked the feel of the school and campus. The girls I stayed with also took me out to Georgetown and were so great; I had a blast and knew then that I wanted to come to Marymount.”
Once admitted to Marymount, Susan immediately started forming connections with her Marymount classmates. When she found out that her assigned roommate was also from the Main Line, her mother reached out to family in the area to find out more about the girl. “It was the use of a network in the pre- Facebook era – it’s all about who knows who,” Susan said. The connections continued once she arrived on campus. While she immediately felt close to the other students from the Philadelphia area, including a girl she had been in kindergarten with, she treasured being integrated with students from all over the country, and is still friends with a group of classmates today.
Susan recalled some unique experiences she had while at Marymount. The kindergarten friend she reconnected with used her father’s travel agency to send a large group of students to the Canary Islands for Spring Break. Susan said, “It was such a different culture – not only was it located in Europe as a part of Spain, it was also heavily frequented by the German and Swiss vacationers. That was a time when we didn’t speak more than one language, so we were communicating through means other than common language; we had a blast!” Also during her time at Marymount, the movie “The Exorcist” was being filmed on Georgetown’s campus, and the producers came to Marymount looking for extras. Although Susan wasn’t in the movie, some of her classmates were, so she and her friends went down to watch the filming. There was also a "streaking" incident on campus, which was a sign of the times in the U.S. on college campuses!
In the classroom, Susan fondly remembered Dr. Hubbard, who helped her understand Chemistry when she thought she never would, and her thought-provoking Philosophy professors. In addition, she had several Sisters of The Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary as professors and found them to be extraordinary teachers and committed to helping the students. She also loved having the Sisters on campus. “The sisters were a dynamic group of women; it was great to sit and talk with them, and they were great role models,” Susan said. The priest who offered Mass on Sunday afternoons Susan described as particularly uplifting.
Following graduation from Marymount, Susan completed her BSN at Jefferson University as planned and became a licensed nurse. She spent several years working in the Intensive Care Units and Coronary Care Units at Pennsylvania and Jefferson Hospitals in Philadelphia. Recognizing that she wanted to expand her nursing career, she left the hospital setting to explore a career as a pharmaceutical representative. After spending a short time in pharmaceutical sales, she reconnected with a former coworker who was auditing clinical research studies. She soon started a new job, which turned out to be the beginning of a lengthy career in clinical research and development of new investigational drugs within the pharmaceutical industry. Her clinical nursing experience was a huge asset, as she already knew how to read charts and talk to doctors. She ultimately came to work for Ortho Pharmaceutical Company, a Johnson & Johnson company, moving up through the ranks in increasing positions of authority over the course of 20+ years, from a clinical research associate, to senior director. She gained a breadth of experience, beginning “first in man” studies, and seeing them through FDA approval and ultimate launch to the public. Susan stated, "Either directly or indirectly through functional management, I participated in the development of certain drugs which went on to be successful treatment options for patients.” Through her work, she’s had the opportunity to travel the world, working with company affiliates and health authorities throughout Europe and parts of Asia. She noted such experiences as participating in workshops for health authorities (FDA equivalent) in Beijing, China, and Thailand.
Susan has seen the work she’s done in her career come full circle through some tough family circumstances. In the midst of her career success, Susan met and married her husband, and gave birth to her son in 1991. In 1998, her son was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. “His diagnosis rocked my world; my faith was what sustained me, and having that Catholic foundation helped me get through a trying time,” Susan said. She further stated, "After successfully completing three years of chemotherapy, we traveled to Italy where our son was blessed by Pope John Paul II. It was a defining moment for us and I knew our son would be fine for the rest of his life.” Back in the mid-70s, Susan had worked summers on a floor in a hospital treating children for leukemia, and wasn’t initially optimistic about her son’s diagnosis after remembering the low survival rate at the time. However, because of the clinical research since, doctors were able to use many of the same chemotherapy drugs from the 1970’s on her son, but with different strategies that ultimately lead to his remission.
In 2011, her husband was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, which is now very treatable. As it turns out, the drug that was developed to treat this form of cancer was under development and received FDA approval while Susan was working for Johnson & Johnson 18 years earlier. “I’ve been so blessed to be able to see first-hand the impact of my industry’s work, as this work and the resulting drugs saved the lives of the two most important men in my life,” Susan said.
Susan is now looking for the next big opportunity in her industry, ideally involving her passion, which she describes as “working on drug compounds that will meet unmet medical needs, where there are few or no treatment choices.” She added, “When I was at MU, I didn’t think my career would take me to such unique work in which I would also travel the world. But having such a great experience throughout my education let me leave my mind open to new possibilities, to be willing to work outside my comfort zone, and to challenge the status quo. That has taken me to where I am today.”