Office for the Promotion of Women in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics
Girl Geeks/My Story
Tomasello, Sarah R.
Sarah's Profile
Sarah's Story
Tomasello, Sarah R.
Clinical Assistant Professor

Phone: 732-828-3000, ext. 2967

PharmD, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, 2001

Department of Pharmacy Practice and Administration, Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy, New Brunswick; Rutgers

Areas of Interest: Anemia of CKD, CKD-Mineral and bone disorders, hepatitis B vaccination regimens.

I grew up in Northwestern Connecticut on a family farm and spent much of my childhood outdoors; since I didnít have any siblings, I spent most of my time with my aunt and cousins taking care of animals, gardening, and canning fruits and vegetables. In school, I loved science. I got a microscope and a chemistry set; I excelled in math and science, competing with classmates to get the perfect scores on projects and tests. I finished the sixth grade math books by the end of my fourth grade year. I never thought about the futureóI had no idea what I would do when I grew up.

In the sixth grade, however, my life changed dramatically when I began playing the trumpet. This soon became my passion and my identity. Throughout junior high school and high school I played in the school band and took private lessons. I lived in a rural area and my school was very small, so one was quickly identified by things like music or sports. I played three varsity sports and took a heavy course load, but music was extremely important to me, and by the time I went to college, music was the only thing I could imagine studying, and I defined myself around it. I attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to study with Walter Chestnut, a well-known classical trumpet player. For my first two years I spent at least six hours a day either practicing trumpet or playing trumpet in a variety of ensembles, or practicing other instruments. I excelled in music and only took elective courses to fulfill the graduation requirements. In fact, I was not terribly serious about my other schoolwork.

In the beginning of my junior year, however, I discovered that I had a medical condition and needed to have head surgery. My life changed drastically. I was told that I could not play the trumpet until the surgery and then for three months afterward while I healed. At the time, I had been playing in three ensembles: the wind ensemble, orchestra, and a brass quintet that I had founded. Since I was stubborn, I refused to take a semester off, but without the music, I lost my sense of direction. I focused on passing my classes and getting through t
Tomasello, Sarah R.
Sarah before a race during college, circa 1992.
he surgery.

The surgery was successful but I found it very difficult to re-enter the music world at UMass after being removed for what seemed like eternity. Three months may not seem long to an adult, but perhaps to a college student, it felt like forever, and I began to feel completely disconnected and distanced from the trumpet. In addition, the head injury had been the result of childhood trauma, and consequently around the time of the surgery I fell into a heavy depression. I questioned my identity and my purpose in life. Once I recovered from surgery, I could have returned to music and started again, but I felt utterly defeated. I would have had to re-audition for my chairs in the ensembles, including my beloved brass quintet. As a response to everything that was going on in my life at the time and all the issues raised by the surgery, I lost my passion for the trumpet and music altogether.

I finished college with a degree in music education. However, I never took a fulltime position as a teacher. I substitute taught in several school districts in rural Massachusetts where I was living, and I taught private lessons; but for the most part I supported myself by working in a factory and restaurants. Although I loved the children that I worked with, after five years I realized how completely unsatisfied I was. Music would never be the same, and I needed to find another passion. I went for career counseling, but since I was nervous about talking to people, I used the career centerís computerized career software programs, and by luck or chance, found that the profession of pharmacy might suit me. I was attracted to many aspects of pharmacy (attention to detail and organization) and I felt that I had many of the qualities that a pharmacist should have (desire to help others, good communication skills). I was not certain that I could be a pharmacist, however, since I had not taken any science courses since high school. I decided to obtain a job in a pharmacy as a technician to see if I liked it. It was a perfect fit from the start, and I applied to pharmacy school the following fall.

During college, I had been so focused on music, that I had been afraid to study math and science, and was generally convinced that I had no aptitude. As an older student in pharmacy school, I had a distinct advantage over my younger colleagues. Life experiences had helped me understand that there was more to school than just grades. At the same time, the pharmacy coursework revived my childhood interest in math and science.

During my first years of pharmacy school, my aunt, who had kidney disease, started on dialysis. In the hospital she received hemodialysis and then she started peritoneal dialysis at her home. I learned as much about the kidneys as I could to help answer various questions from my family.

Still, until my last year of pharmacy school my only image of a pharmacist had been that of a retail pharmacist in the community setting. My entire perspective changed when I started my first clinical rotation in the medical intensive care unit during my sixth year, doing clinical rotations, and through training experiences at UMASS Memorial in Worcester. This experience helped my to realize that I was interested in clinical research and direct patient care. I had never understood that pharmacists could do more than stand behind a counter and dispense medications. I became more passionate about clinical pharmacy--going on rounds with the physicians, recommending drug therapy for specific patients to attain optimal outcomes, and researching questions about drug therapy.

The same year that I started my rotations, my aunt, who had refused the idea of accepting a kidney from a family member, finally relented. Ironically, it was during my experiential rotation in a dialysis facility at New England Medical Center that I was evaluated as a kidney donor. Although in the end I was not selected as a donor, my aunt did successfully receive a kidney transplant. Working with patients with End-Stage Renal Disease was very fulfilling experience. I realized that I wanted to pursue a career as a pharmacy specialist in nephrology; kidneys have excretory, endocrine, and metabolic functions, and are essential for homeostasis. Dialysis is a life-sustaining treatment and transplant can be a long-term option.

My mentor at NEMC, Michelle Chapman Richardson, was very supportive of my learning, and fostered the part of me that was inquisitive and eager to help others. She provided the perfect combination of supervision and guidance, while still allowing me the autonomy to work directly with patients and form solid relationships with physicians, nurses, and patients. Her influence has followed me throughout my career, and I still regard her as a mentor in my present position. She has also introduced me to the world of clinical pharmacists through national organizations, and she has connected with practitioners throughout the United States, professionals with whom Iíve begun collaborative initiatives in both practice and research.

I started my teaching in 2002 at Rutgers and at the same time, began my clinical practice in nephrology at Robert Wood Johnson. I started doing research in transplantation during my residency at RWJ with Dr. Julie Roskopf; each project I worked on was more exciting and led to other questions and more research. The connections I made with UMDNJ in transplantation led to further research in nephrology. I became particularly interested in anemia, as well as bone metabolism and bone disease related to chronic kidney disease. My collaborative efforts have given me connections to Dialysis Clinic Incorporated in North Brunswick, NJ, a much bigger outpatient dialysis facility. Our common perception of scientific research may invoke images of the scientist alone in the lab (the lonely mad scientist!), but many scientists, like myself, do clinical research working directly with patients and other practitioners. I am very attracted to the collaborative aspects of research, sharing knowledge and ideas and combining patient populations to achieve results that are more generally useful.

When I was a child, I never really imagined my future. I feel so grateful now that I was able to discover two passions in my lifetime, and that I found so many people who were willing to help me cultivate these interests.