Her professional title may be a bit long.
In fact, Misha Thomason Watts actually prefers to be known simply as “teacher” and “mentor” to her third- and fourth-year Pharm.D. students who are journeying through their practice experiences. Watts says that students give her energy, motivation and pure excitement for her role as the regional coordinator for pharmacy practice experiences in Southeast Georgia in the division of Experience Programs at the UGA College of Pharmacy’s extended campus in Savannah.
“The greatest part of my job is helping students get to where they want to be in life,” said the Spartanburg, South Carolina, native. “I am passionate about being a mentor, being able to provide resources and connections for our students, giving them advice to achieve their goals, and quite often, just being a listening ear. All of the faculty and staff in Savannah enjoy engaging with our students and discussing their future dreams and aspirations. Being on an extended campus naturally fosters a family environment, which allows our students to be nurtured and thrive.”
Her mentorship skills have been recognized and noticed. Watts recently received the Outstanding Pharmacy Mentor Award from the Georgia Society of Health-System Pharmacists.
Watts’ ability to successfully mentor her students is due, in large part, to her varied experiences in the field of clinical pharmacy. After earning B.S. (’98) and Pharm.D. (’99) degrees from the University of South Carolina School of Pharmacy, Watts immediately entered a new residency program that had just been established at Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah at a time when residencies weren’t that popular.
As one of the first to complete the program, Watts said, “That year of residency was life-altering. I discovered that not only did I love clinical pharmacy, but I also thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with members of health care teams, and I was passionate about working with students. I realized that I was making an impact on patient care, due to my relationship with other health care professionals. It was a defining, fulfilling, ‘ah ha’ experience.”
Her performance caught the eye of her residency preceptors, and she was immediately hired as a clinical pharmacist at Memorial when she completed her residency in 2000 specializing in internal medicine, nephrology, geriatrics and post-op care. Watts not only worked with patients, but she also precepted many pharmacy and nursing students as well. A few years later, she began serving as an adjunct professor at UGA’s College of Pharmacy. Her leadership traits paved the way for her to be named a lead pharmacist and later the interim co-director of pharmacy at Memorial.
Her calling, however, was always to engage and assimilate with students. In 2017, she answered that call, pivoting her career and joining the UGA College of Pharmacy full time in the division of Experience Programs.
In her role, Watts is responsible for overseeing the practical experiences that third- and fourth-year students receive in their training. In the third-year Introductory Pharmacy Experience, students rotate through various clinical settings and prepare a case study. Later, in the Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience, fourth-year students immerse themselves in the field of geriatrics, working in a rehabilitation unit and a skilled nursing area.
Each year, students learn to work closely with other members of the health care team, including physicians and nurses; physical, occupational and speech therapists; social work; and others to understand how medications may affect therapy and recovery.
Perhaps one of the greatest life lessons that Watts provides her students, however, is the value of enjoying work and life to the fullest. “I am a big proponent of work-life balance,” she said. “I encourage my students to study hard, but to try and juggle some time for fun and relaxation, not just by themselves but with their classmates.”
And Watts provides quite the juggling act for the Savannah campus. Since her arrival more than five years ago, she’s introduced various student bonding and networking activities, including a scavenger hunt, in which students work on teams to solve clues involving a historic tour of old Savannah; a pub-style pharmacy trivia game; and ventures to sporting events for semi-pro teams, including Savannah Bananas baseball and Ghost Pirates hockey.
“The activities encourage teamwork and camaraderie,” she said. “I have very high expectations of our students; one of the most important ones is to collaborate and create an atmosphere of trust with fellow colleagues for the betterment of patients.”
So how does this energized, larger-than-life, creative teacher balance her work-life schedule? “I have so many outside interests,” said Watts. “I sing in our church praise band and choir. My faith is very important to me, and I am grateful to be able to use my voice so that others may be encouraged. I also love to create culinary concoctions and entertain. I’m the social chair for all of our friend groups, planning outings and events. My family keeps me grounded; I married my husband, Russell, six months after I took this job, and he came with a ready-made family; I have four stepchildren with a grandbaby on the way. Our two fur babies, Molly and Cooper, round out our crew.”
Her imparting life lesson came when asked her New Year’s resolution. “I don’t make resolutions. I believe that when you need to make a change, you need to embrace it in the moment and not wait for a special day to do so.”
Spoken like a true mentor.