Tar Heel Bus Tour Showcases Generational Community Pharmacy

UNC leaders from across campus get firsthand look at the impact McDowell’s Pharmacy has made in its community for more than 120 years.

Story by Kelly Collins & Ryan McDaniel | Photo Credit Stefanie Ferreri | Published October 25, 2022

“To serve our state well, we need to know it well,” said Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz as he kicked off the 2022 Tar Heel Bus Tour, which took dozens of UNC leaders to nearly 30 stops across North Carolina this week. “At every stop this week, we saw the extraordinary work our faculty, staff, and students are doing in partnership with people across North Carolina. That partnership has served the state and shaped the University for more than two centuries, and it remains as vital as ever.”

McDowell’s Pharmacy in Scotland Neck, NC, hosted the East Bus as part of the tour. A group of faculty leaders from across campus had the opportunity to see firsthand the important role of pharmacy in providing better, more accessible care for the people of our state.

“We had such a wonderful time visiting with the Tar Heel Tour Bus,” reflected Thomas McDowell, PharmD ’16, co-owner of McDowell’s Pharmacy. “We were able to inform this diverse group of professionals from different backgrounds about the many ways that community pharmacy impacts patient care beyond dispensing prescriptions. We are the most accessible health care provider in most communities, and our accessibility allows us to play a key role in coordinating care for patients, reducing healthcare spend, and most importantly, improving outcomes.”

The pharmacy now known as McDowell’s Pharmacy first opened in 1901 and has been operated by the McDowell family since 1922 through four generations of Tar Heel pharmacists, with graduates spanning nearly a century: N.O. “Spec” McDowell Sr. in 1922, N.O. “Little Spec” McDowell Jr. in 1944, Joe McDowell in 1981, and Thomas McDowell in 2016. For Thomas, the decision to return to Scotland Neck and join the family business following graduation was an easy one.

Thomas and Joe McDowell with Dean Angela Kashuba

“I was blessed to be born and raised in Scotland Neck, which allowed me to witness firsthand the impact that my father and grandfather had in the community as local pharmacists,” said Thomas. “They were respected and relied upon for trusted advice on all things health and wellness. I realized early on that there is nothing more rewarding than being able to help your family and friends on a daily basis, and that’s what I have the privilege of doing at McDowell’s Pharmacy.”

“Each generation of our family has treated several generations in this community,” added Joe, who still works every day in the pharmacy. “Thomas brought in new services and ideas. He has opened us up to avenues we’ve never had before.”

While McDowell’s Pharmacy is a modern pharmacy leveraging the latest advances in technology and medication services, it maintains a lot of the charm of its founding, such as the original tile floors and cabinetry. Most importantly, McDowell’s maintains a focus on delivering health care services to the community. “I love being an accessible resource for my patients, and the beauty of independent pharmacy is that we can quickly implement a new service if we see a need in our community,” said Thomas. “Our ability to adapt and be nimble with a local touch throughout a changing health care landscape is what sets us apart.”

Over the years, the McDowell family has partnered closely with the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, providing experiential education to PharmD students, serving as a community pharmacy residency site, and giving back to support scholarships for students interested in pursuing a career in community pharmacy. Thomas also serves on the School’s Eastern NC Advisory Board, whose mission is to advance recruitment, training, practice, research and service in Eastern North Carolina.  

Betsy Sleath, PhD, Regional Associate Dean of Eastern NC, joined the McDowells as a co-host for the Tar Heel Bus Tour. “I was on the 1998 Tar Heel Bus Tour and at the time was pregnant with my daughter who is now a Carolina alumna,” said Betsy. “It was incredibly fulfilling for me to come full circle and meet the bus as they stopped to visit with the McDowells. I get to see daily the incredible impact our alumni like Joe and Thomas have on their communities. It was exciting to hear colleagues from across campus speak about the importance of pharmacists, sharing their own stories of the ways pharmacies went above and beyond to serve patients in their hometowns.”

Representing the School on the Tar Heel Bus Tour was Stefanie Ferreri, PharmD, Chair of the Division of Practice Advancement and Clinical Education. “The bus tour was a great first-hand experience to remind us that we are a university of and for the people of North Carolina,” Dr. Ferreri explained, “We stopped at many historical and rural sites where our students are from. The McDowell pharmacy was one example of the phenomenal impact our students and alumni have on the communities they live in.”