Realizing the Opportunity of the Pharmacy Profession
Alumna helps future generations unlock the vast potential of a pharmacy education
Story by Hope Baptist | Photo by Jeyhoun Allebaugh | Published September 10, 2022
When Donna Gutterman was growing up in the Triad area of North Carolina, she didn’t have all the answers about her future. She did know one thing: Carolina was her school. Period. She worked hard, got good grades and applied for early action. It didn’t hurt that she was also a stellar athlete and earned the University’s first women’s volleyball scholarship under then Coach Beth Miller.
“I always knew I wanted to go to Carolina, even when I was pretty young,” she said. “I didn’t even apply anywhere else – Carolina was where I was supposed to be.” She was accepted and enrolled in the University’s five-year program to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in pharmacy, graduating in 1979.
Why pharmacy? As a teen, Donna worked summers in her hometown community drugstore as a pharmacy assistant, learning the basics of community pharmacy and discovered that the science behind the prescriptions fascinated her. “I really enjoyed working with people and helping them manage their health and well-being,” she said. “But I found that I also loved the science and wanted to explore other avenues that pharmacy offered – such as research, hospital or commercial pharmacy and the pharmaceutical industry.”
After earning her BS, Donna went straight to Duke University Medical Center as a hospital pharmacist preparing crucial medications for in-patients and those being discharged home. And she kept learning. “I became really interested in the clinical pharmacists’ work, and I rearranged my schedule so I could attend rounds with the cardiac care team,” she said. “I applied for a clinical pharmacy residency at Duke, but I knew I needed to get my PharmD and my license to do what I really wanted to do.”
She set off to the University of Kentucky to earn her PharmD, where she met and worked with Bob Blouin, Carolina’s former executive vice chancellor and provost and former dean of the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. After a second residency at UNC, Donna was recruited to Utah where she helped run a Phase I unit for clinical trials in humans. Then it was off to Austin, Texas, where she helped set up a contract research organization, which would eventually merge with the future PPD.
Then it was back to North Carolina thanks to an invitation from GlaxoSmithKline to run a cardiovascular research group for Phase I, II and III clinical trials. She spent more than 18 years there, working her way from associate director of clinical research to vice president of marketing. Along the way she earned her MBA (’98) from UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.
“My years at GSK were some of the best of my career,” Donna said. “I was so lucky…on my very first day I was fortunate enough to work on the migraine medication Imitrex®. It’s so rare to work on a project that goes all the way to FDA approval and then to market right out of the gate. It was such an amazing experience and I feel extremely lucky to have been a part of it.”
After that, Donna took her pharmaceutical development experience and business acumen around the world as a global commercial strategist in research and development, followed by stints in U.S. commercial business and lifecycle development as well as in-line product and digital marketing before finally retiring in 2010. She began consulting and founded Onesta Inc., a consulting firm for the pharmaceutical and medical industries that assists with medical marketing, product strategy, digital marketing strategies and electronic health records. She joined Zynerba Pharmaceuticals in 2014 and serves as vice president, medical, overseeing clinical trials for synthetic CBD applications.
Even with all her endeavors, Donna finds time for her greatest passion – classic muscle cars! Her 2013 Dodge Viper is her pride and joy, and “just fell into her lap” thanks to her walking buddy. “I wasn’t really looking to buy, but my friend was selling his and I had had my eye on it for a while,” Donna said. Though it had already gone to a dealer, she snagged it before it went to auction, and she works on it herself! “That’s the beauty of these cars — they’re much less complicated than most and they’re easy to work on. It’s really fun to drive and I can do the maintenance myself!”
Now that her journey has come full circle, Donna attributes her opportunities and success to her pharmacy education at UNC. “It all started with UNC and my family’s commitment to education,” she said. “My dad was a chemist and my mother was a travel agent; both instilled in me, my twin sister Debbie and my brother David the importance of education and making the most of it.”
The family is equally committed to giving back, generously supporting the pharmacy school, medical school, and volleyball program at UNC. Donna has also served on the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy Board of Visitors and the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy Foundation. For her achievements, dedication and support, Donna was honored with the 2015 Pharmacy Alumni Association Distinguished Service Award.
For Donna, it’s all about paying it forward. “I have been so lucky in my life and career, and I want to help make sure the next generation of pharmacy professionals have incredible opportunities and realize all the different options pharmacy offers,” she said. “Community, clinical, research, hospital, commercial/global avenues are all open to pharmacy graduates. I’m living proof and I’m so lucky!”