Searching for Answers and Finding a Calling

What began as a journey of self-discovery for Katelyn Byrd, PharmD candidate ’26, has become her career path

Story and photo by Ryan McDaniel | Published February 28, 2023

Headshot of Katelyn Byrd taken outside on a sunny day

Katelyn Byrd, PharmD candidate ’26, is still searching for answers, having lived with an undiagnosed autoimmune disease for as long as she can remember. When she was just eight years old, Katelyn was rushed to the hospital, barely able to see through her swollen eyelids, barely able to breathe through her swollen trachea. She was in anaphylactic shock from a dose of Tamiflu.

“This was not my first – nor would it be my last – occurrence with rare, adverse side effects from medications,” she says. “As a toddler, I broke out in hives from amoxicillin. I would later discover that I am not only allergic to many other medications, but also the majority of the outdoors.”

As a child growing up in Salisbury, NC, Katelyn became accustomed to carrying her EpiPen and listing all medications she was allergic to before attending camp or going on a field trip. It was essentially her first introduction to pharmacy. She took more control over her health as a teenager, researching her medications, and writing out her questions for doctors ahead of medical visits. She explains, “I have always wondered what made me have these reactions, sparking my interest in pursuing a degree in the medical field.”

Katelyn looked at pursuing anesthesiology, veterinary medicine, and nutrition, but none of these seemed to satisfy all her requirements. In her second year of undergraduate studies at UNC, Katelyn was asked by a pharmacist acquaintance to shadow her at the hospital. “I reluctantly obliged, thinking that I had no interest in counting pills all day,” Katelyn recalls. “But from that experience, not only did I learn that pharmacy is such an innovative and influential field, but also that it is the perfect combination of all of my passions.”

So in fall of 2022, Katelyn’s search for answers brought her to the Eshelman School of Pharmacy. As a first year student, she received the inaugural Mansfield Family Pharmacy Scholarship, given by Susan and John Mansfield – both Carolina grads themselves, as well as parents of Tar Heels.

“We greatly value our university system and the opportunities it has to offer students to help make our state an even better place to live,” says Susan. “It was also very important to us that the scholarship be awarded to a resident of North Carolina. We are proud to give this scholarship to Katelyn.”

With the boost from this scholarship, Katelyn has hit the ground running at the School. On top of her classes and experiential learning, she is involved with the Carolina Association of Pharmacy Students (CAPS), the Student Health Action Coalition (SHAC), and the Student College of Clinical Pharmacy (SCCP) where she is the editor for the rheumatoid arthritis chapter of the pocket guide. Through this work, she’s connecting with experts in the field, such as Duke Rheumatology Pharmacist, Colin Sheffield. “Working on this project and meeting with [Dr. Sheffield] to discuss the newest guidelines for treatment have been the greatest opportunities of my PY1 year so far,” she says.

After graduation, Katelyn plans to go on to residency. She would like to specialize in immunology and is particularly interested in rheumatology. She notes, “Pharmacy has so much room to grow in treating patients with autoimmune disease long-term, and I cannot wait to see what new therapies and treatments come out within the next few years and on into my career.”

Katelyn’s search for answers continues to fuel her passion for this work. She has come so far already and has her sights set on doing great things in the future. Reflecting on it all, she states, “I know my path will make that little girl with the EpiPen and allergy list very proud.”