By Arial Starks
Zahirah Ahmed earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, Biology, and Global Studies from Middle Tennessee State University in 2009. She then went on to earn a Doctorate in Pharmacy at The University of Tennessee Health Science Center. After successfully completing her clinical rotations at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in February 2013, she was hired at the hospital full-time as a Hospital Pharmacist following graduation.
Ahmed worked for Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital for more than 4 years before she was hired at Tristar Centennial Medical Center as a Clinical Staff Pharmacist. While working in that role, Ahmed decided she wanted more out of her career, so she started researching healthcare management programs.
“I always feel like I want to learn more,” Ahmed explained. “When you feel like you’re at a standstill in your career, you always debate getting another job or furthering your education.”
Already located in Nashville, Ahmed began looking at schools in the area. She came across Vanderbilt Business during her search and found the MBA program with a concentration in healthcare and the Master of Management in Health Care (MMHC) program.
“I met with Burch Wood (Director of Vanderbilt Health Care Programs) before I applied to either program to really see which was the right choice for me,” said Ahmed. “Speaking with him, I learned everyone in the MMHC program is a healthcare professional. I was coming in with 7 years of work experience, so I felt like it would be a great opportunity for me to gain a different perspective.”
Ahmed joined the program in August 2020. One of the most memorable experiences from her time in the program included working on a capstone project with her peers about improving breast cancer screenings in Black women. She says she didn’t realize how all of the group work she did during her time at Owen would later help prepare her for the Director of Pharmacy role with Ascension Saint Thomas Rehabilitation Hospital.
“Having the experience of working in groups with people from different areas of expertise was helpful to me when we started the implementation process at Ascension Saint Thomas,” Ahmed shared. “Me and my colleagues all had very different viewpoints of how a hospital should be run, so having that experience in the MMHC program taught me we all have a place and we all have to work to understand everyone’s perspective.”
Ahmed also points to the MMHC curriculum, which prepared her to move up in her career, “One of our classes was Leading Teams and Healthcare Organizations, and that really helped me learn about my own leadership type and how to approach different styles of leadership. That class definitely prepared me for this position.”
Ahmed graduated from the MMHC program in September 2021 and applied to Ascension Saint Thomas in October. She went through several rounds of interviews in November and received an offer. She started with the hospital in March 2022 as the Director of Pharmacy.
“One thing I really enjoy about this job is working with other teams and implementing change,” said Ahmed. “Being a part of a small hospital you get to actively be a part of the conversations and have a seat at the table. In my previous pharmacy roles, it could sometimes feel like you weren’t being heard or you were just there as a support role, but being able to be the voice for your team is great.”
Click through the timeline below to see a visual of Zahirah Ahmed’s path to the promotion.