Filling the Health Care Gap in Rural Communities

Inspired by her gap year experience in clinical trials, Aislyn Coyne aims to provide health-care services to rural areas

Story and photo by Ryan McDaniel | Published April 11, 2023

Aislyn Coyne sits outside at a stone wall

Aislyn Coyne, PharmD candidate ’26, has just completed her first year of classes at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. As with so many first-year students experiencing the School’s rigorous curriculum, it took Aislyn a semester to fully find her footing. “It’s been really busy. It’s been an adjustment,” she recalls. “But I’m especially looking forward to next year.” For the coming year and the rest of her time at the School, Aislyn will be studying at the Asheville campus.

Aislyn grew up in Ruston, Louisiana, a small town about the size of Mebane, NC. There, she experienced firsthand the health-care desert that some rural areas suffer from. “A lot of my family lives 40 minutes to an hour from a pharmacy – or any health-care center, for that matter,” she explains. “Coming from somewhere like that, I feel like it’s part of my job to give back to a community like that. To make sure that those people are taken care of.”

This idea crystallized in Aislyn’s mind during undergrad. She was already on a pre-med path and, taking classes that looked at underserved populations, she realized, “Wow. This is me. This is where I’m from. This is a real problem that needs to be addressed.”

Before jumping into grad school, she chose to take a gap year to get further immersive experience – a decision that changed her trajectory. During this gap year, she worked in clinical trials at the Duke Eye Center. “A lot of the studies I worked on were drug studies. That was really interesting to me,” says Aislyn. “I learned for the first time the mechanisms of how the drugs targeted the disease states and then saw the effects the drug had on the patient.”

Her time working on clinical trials exposed Aislyn to both the research side of pharmacy as well as the clinical side. She enjoys both aspects but was truly drawn to the clinic. “The clinical side has more of my heart,” Aislyn admits. “Interacting with patients and learning more about them . . . It’s very rewarding to see how much of an impact you can have on somebody’s life.”

After shadowing a pharmacist at an independent pharmacy near Ruston, Aislyn was certain of her path forward. She applied to the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, with a particular interest in the Asheville campus. Aislyn was thrilled and grateful to receive the Whaley Family Foundation Scholarship, a renewable award that will help offset the cost of tuition for all four years of her time at the School.

She is currently in the Ambulatory Care Certificate Program and looks forward to getting out to Asheville, starting in May. “One of the biggest reasons why I chose to go to the Asheville campus is how much rural care is around it and the focus on underserved populations,” she explains. “There’s a free clinic in Asheville I’m hoping to volunteer at once I get out there.”

Her plans for after graduation will take Aislyn to the other side of the state, though. “I really want to pursue a residency in a rural area in North Carolina . . . somewhere east of the RTP area, maybe toward Fayetteville,” she says. “I would like to do an ambulatory care PGY1, instead of a general PGY1 residency.”

But she is certain of where she wants to go after that: “My ultimate goal is to work in ambulatory care. I would really like to work in a free clinic,” she says confidently. “I love helping people, helping the underserved. Just to have some kind of impact on their life is not only rewarding, but also very needed.”