Amanda Cook was a science teacher at Houston High School from 2003-2007. She is now a pharmacist at Forbes' Pharmacy in downtown Houston after graduating from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Pharmacy in 2012.

Amanda Cook dreamed of being a pharmacist for years.

But there was a catch: The Houston High School science teacher didn’t want to be a pharmacist just anywhere. Cook envisioned herself helping friends, family and neighbors in rural Missouri. She didn’t want to live in a big city.

When Cook was accepted to the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Pharmacy, she was offered a seat in the Columbia location, known as the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Pharmacy at MU. She and her family packed their bags. She and her husband, Bennie, put their 150-acre farm on the market, sold their livestock and bid friends and relatives farewell “for now.” No one ever doubted they would return to their roots.

“We had every intention of moving back,” said Cook, who graduated from UMKC School of Pharmacy with a PharmD in 2012.

And she did. 

Cook works at Forbes Pharmacy in Houston and plans to move back to the same farm. Her situation is hardly unique.

Cook, who taught at HHS from 2003-2007, is joining a growing number of graduates who prefer to return to a rural community or their hometown after pharmacy school. About 75 percent of the UMKC graduates at the MU site have moved to rural or non-metropolitan locations.

It’s in part because the UMKC School of Pharmacy has strategically expanded its program to help students train closer to home at locations in Columbia at MU and Springfield, and coming soon at Missouri State University. The idea is that if students can train closer to home it might also mean that after graduation they’ll stay closer to home. It is already helping to address a shortage of pharmacists in rural Missouri, said UMKC School of Pharmacy Associate Dean for Student Affairs Trish Marken.

“These students are already from there and they have connections to the community,” Marken said. “So they may leave their community to get their education and then they go back to the community.”

The pharmacists returning to their hometown have reported a strong connection to customers, Marken said.

“They also know the medical issues of that community so they can be very engaged in community life,” she said.

Cook has found that to be true. She has a personal connection with many customers and is invested in their health. 

It’s hard to believe she almost put that dream off forever. 

Leaving Houston – even to attend college – seemed out of the question for Cook and her family. UMKC was the only public pharmacy school in Missouri. But living in Kansas City wasn’t an option at the time. Cook’s husband was a police officer and she didn’t want him patrolling urban streets. 

Cook put off her dream for years until she heard that UMKC opened a site closer to home. She could be a UMKC School of Pharmacy student but take classes in Columbia.

The same thing is happening as UMKC School of Pharmacy prepares to open its third site at MSU.

Marken said the School of Pharmacy has received applications from several students who prefer Springfield to Kansas City.

“Generally speaking they’re very committed to going back to the Springfield area or southwest part of the state,” she said. “There are a million reasons why students feel that way.”

Some want to train closer to home to be near families, she said. Others are considering buying out a local pharmacist who is looking to retire. And some students prefer to raise their families outside the city.

That was the case for Erik Martinez, who is in his third year of the four-year PharmD program offered at the Mizzou site.

“I didn’t want to go to Kansas City,” Martinez said. “It’s a nice city. It’s not bad. I just don’t like the city. I’m not a city guy.” 

Martinez, 36, grew up in DeSoto, where the population is less than 6,500 people. He didn’t want to deal with the traffic, crime and the busy pace that comes with living in a large city, he said.

He likens Columbia to a big small town. It has the major conveniences of a bigger city but students can escape to the country within minutes. He and his family often hit the winding trails that snake from the city well into the Missouri river bluffs.

Martinez and his family have gotten to know neighbors and made friends just as they did in the small community where he grew up. He wonders how easy that would have been for him in the city.

“It just seems a little more family oriented,” Martinez said.

The Columbia community has been so welcoming, that Martinez and his wife, who is also a pharmacist, want to stay in the area when he graduates in 2015. 

It doesn’t surprise Kathy Snella, the associate dean for the UMKC School of Pharmacy at MU.

“If you train them in the area, they get to know the town,” Snella said. “They get to be part of it.”

one unexpected reward for graduates working in non-metropolitan areas is the paycheck, Snella said. A rural location doesn’t necessarily mean less money. 

Cook can attest to that. Her cost of living is substantially less in Houston but the paycheck is largely the same as her counterparts in urban locations, she said.

“The pay is identical if not more if you move to the rural area,” Cook said. “It was astonishing to me. There’s no job where you can move to a rural area and get paid the same as you would in the city. But for me, the most rewarding part of being a pharmacist is helping people in my hometown.”


Amanda Cook, pharmacist at Forbes’ Pharmacy in downtown Houston, will soon have the opportunity to mentor a student from her past.

Cook taught science at Houston High School from 2003-2007. During that time, Jessica Neal had a stint as a teaching assistant in Cook’s classroom during the period when Cook was in the application process before entering pharmacy school.

“She said, ‘you know, I think I want to be a pharmacist,’” Cook said. “Of course, at the time she was a teenager and I was a high school teacher, so I was like, ‘oh, OK.’ Over time she was like, ‘no, I’m really going to do it.’ ”

Neal went on to follow in Cook’s footsteps and entered the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Pharmacy, attending classes in Columbia, just as Cook had. As part of her final stage of schooling, Neal will sometime in the next year spend a month as an intern at Forbes as part of a 10-stop rotation of internship.

Neal currently works at University Hospital in Columbia, and was recently engaged to Houston native Jeff Gettys, an aide to Gov. Jay Nixon.

“I know they’re very interested in keeping her on,” Cook said.

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