Black Excellence: Miriam Mobley Smith

28 Days of Black Excellence
28 Days of Black Excellence
Black Excellence: Miriam Mobley Smith

“If your dreams and your career goals don’t scare you, they’re not big enough. If it’s too easy to get, you don’t appreciate it and it means you have a whole lot higher to go.”

Miriam Mobley Smith


Dr Miriam Mobley Smith, 28 Days of Black Excellence
Miriam Mobley Smith

Miriam Mobley Smith is interim dean at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy. Previously she served as an evaluation consultant for the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education and held multiple teaching and administrative roles at Northeastern University, Chicago State University and the University of Illinois Chicago College of Pharmacy.  

Mobley Smith has delivered over 300 invited presentations and has received numerous local and national awards, including the Illinois Council of Health-System Pharmacists’ Pharmacist of the Year award in 2005 and the National Pharmaceutical Association’s 2012 Chauncey I. Cooper and 2004 James N. Tyson Awards. In 2022, Mobley Smith received the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists Board of Directors Distinguished Leadership Award 

She received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and a PharmD from the University of Illinois Chicago. She completed a pharmacy practice residency at Sinai Hospital of Detroit, a fellowship in primary health care policy from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and a research certificate from Harvard University in measurement, design and analysis methods for health outcomes research. 

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Recording of Dr. Martin Luther King  00:09

[Applause] Believe in yourself and believe that you’re somebody.

Clips from 1995 movie “Panther”  00:17
That we study and master a bunch of different things.
Why are you here? 
Study and master a bunch of different things.
I’m proud to introduce our new Minister of Information

Aisha El-Amin 00:26

I’m Dr. Aisha El-Amin.

Tariq El-Amin 00:29

Welcome to Black Excellence.

Aisha El-Amin 0:33 

Okay, welcome, welcome, welcome to University of Illinois Chicago’s “Black Excellence” podcast. This podcast is sponsored by the Office of Student Success and Belonging, in partnership with the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Strategic Marketing and Communications. I’m your host, Dr. Aisha El-Amin, and I serve as UIC’s executive associate vice provost for student success and belonging.  

So UIC’s “Black Excellence” podcast initiated in Black History Month 2022. We started off with 28 days of black excellence and this highlighted the history and legacy of exceptional Black faculty, students and staff that call UIC home. So during this month we talked to graduates in all walks of life from entrepreneurs to politicians, and they offered inspiration and sage advice while connecting their historic paths to our contemporary times. However, UIC’s cup of black excellence runneth over, so we continue this podcast with the understanding that you cannot know where you’re going until you understand and appreciate and connect into where you have come from.  

I’m really excited to have a conversation with Dr. Miriam Mobley Smith today. She is the interim dean at the University of Hawaii College of Pharmacy. She’s been invited and delivered over 300 presentations. Yes, I did say three-zero-zero. Her recognitions include the 2022 ASHP Board of Directors Distinguished Leadership Award, the 2018 University of Michigan Alumni Service Award in pharmacy, the 2013 Illinois Pharmacists Association, and 2005 Illinois Council of Health System Pharmacists’ pharmacist of the Year award. Dr. Mobley Smith received her BS in pharmacy from the University of Michigan and her PharmD from our very own beloved University of Illinois Chicago.  

So I’m going to hand the mic over to her just to kind of tell us a bit about herself, and kind of get us up to speed on what she’s been doing besides winning awards and lecturing and leading and all of the other great things. 

Miriam Mobley Smith 2:59 

Well, thank you so much for the opportunity to talk with you and your listeners. This is such a kick for me. I love sharing stories, but the other part is that sharing whatever wisdom, pearls of wisdom, that I can from experiences that I’ve had along the way.  

I was really fortunate recently to be able to deliver the commencement address at the 2023 commencement ceremony for the College of Pharmacy, back at the UIC College of Pharmacy in May. Was so really honored to be able to do that and folks tell me that some of the words I brought forth really, really resonated. One of those I’m going to talk about before we’re done talking today. In fact, it resonated to a point where a colleague of mine told me that the person put it on their personal page, and in whatever social media that they were doing, and this was a graduate and you know how the graduates are. They sit there in the audience and they can’t wait for the speaker to be done because it’s like, okay, hurry this up, I want my… [laughter]… And just that, something like that, whatever words would actually resonate to that point, where not only they soaked in, or the person really listened to what was being said, that was pretty evident. But to disseminate that information too, almost like make it a mantra of sorts. Then it makes you feel, as a speaker, and someone who you know tries to provide some level of impact… in other words, paying it forward, you know that you’ve done the job that you have set out to do. 

This comes from, what I call a little girl who grew up in Ecorse, Michigan, which is right outside of Detroit. My siblings, three others, my brother, two sisters and myself were first-generation college students. And that was for both sides of the family. And so, you know, that saying about ‘to whom much is given much is expected,’ when you have those opportunities, and our parents were very, very much supportive, pushing, I mean not just supportive, push, push, push. You gotta get your education, because that is the ticket to success.  

Being African American, well you know we used to call it Black all the time — I’m old, you see, so we go through these various iterations. But nevertheless, you know, social factors certainly played a big role and still do now. Because, I’m not going to sit here and say that it’s changed. I think it’s how it’s disguised. And that has looked a little, that looks a little bit different, or at least it did until a few years ago, where the layers got peeled off, and then all of a sudden, poof! Folks don’t even care anymore.  


But anyway, they were very, very strong supporters. And actually, I would say, my earliest mentors in terms of what needs to happen, and what the ticket to success looks like. My entire family is from Valdosta, Georgia from the south. And I grew up at a time —  I don’t like to like to date myself, but Jim Crow era was around so the whites only signs and those types of things. And certainly that makes quite an indelible mark on a child. And then it continues on, you know, and you know that you’re going to have a lot of work to do. And I’ll elaborate a little further with that in just a moment.  

But my dad, he dropped out of high school to take care of the family. There were nine of them, his dad got ill. And at that time, there weren’t very many varied type of jobs that folks in his position could take. His dad worked in a grocery store and he actually went and worked in the grocery store. And to help support a family of nine that had to be done. And so, you know, there was no option for failure then. You did it because you needed to. And so phase forward, ultimately he met my mom, they married, he went to the War, World War II. And remember again though, he had never finished high school by that time. And so once he came out of the war, he was employed after that great migration of folks that came from the south and came up to the north, Chicago, Detroit, other places, he was employed by Ford Motor Company and ultimately, was selected after a whole lot of things, including union intervention, for an apprenticeship to learn how to be an electrician. And so one thing led to the next and he actually did, not only become an electrician, but before his ultimate retirement, an electrical contractor. And this is where, again, that role modeling comes in. You know, think about how often a Black person and a Black male in particular, would end up being elected to an office to run an organization. Well he actually got to that point. And he was the president of the local chapter of the Electrical Inspectors of America Association. I’m probably leaving something out. American Association of Electrical Inspectors, I did put the acronym down here front of me, so I wouldn’t forget.  

That was my first exposure, real exposure to someone like him being actually elected to the helm of a, well, white organization. And so they thought a lot of what he could do. And I said well, you know, if he could do that I could do that too. And so that, you know, were other things that really propelled me. And then my older sister, who also went further in life, in terms of all of us, achieved graduate degrees. And my older sister was actually the first dean in the family. She was Dean of Libraries for the Purdue University system. And so we would chuckle back and forth, she couldn’t believe that I was kind of like following in her footsteps. But then as time went on, and she says, you know, I taught you things and you went pass me.  


So there’s nothing wrong with that. She’s retired now, and I just keep on going like the Energizer Bunny. But my brother, unfortunately, he’s deceased now. He went to school with the Coast Guard Academy, and worked his way all the way up through becoming coastguard liaison to the House and the Senate at one point. And then overseeing the communication network for the eastern seaboard for Homeland Security. And so, and my youngest sister is an advanced practice nurse, before she stepped out of practice. And, so all of us, you know, said that there is no word failure in our lives.  

But the biggest part is, what I said earlier: To much whom is given much is expected. So it’s not enough to gain it for yourself, but you have to pay it forward. And so I look at having these opportunities to provide advice or words at commencement, to do this podcast, and a number of other things that I I’m very active in the community —  I’ve worked with clinics and federally qualified health care centers in terms of being on the board and chair the board and so on — to give back to communities of need. If you’re going to be in health care, you want to help elevate the health and well-being and the outcomes, health outcomes for people of the communities we live in and the communities we serve. And so it becomes really important. So that’s been a component of the work that I’ve done over the years.  

And teaching, when I was there at UIC, we would make sure that the students were connected with the communities. And UIC is one of those places that – with Great Cities and other things, if they still call it great cities now? 

Aisha El-Amin 11:33 

Yep, they do! 

Miriam Mobley Smith 11:36 

So we were a part of all of that, and doing a lot of groundwork education, with not only communities of color, but international communities. We would provide health and wellness education to a number of different older adult populations. So that was the area that I worked in. And those desires started a long time ago and I say that that exposure really helped our students be able to provide humanistic care, and respectful care, to the various communities and not just students who were from those communities. But we wanted to help them understand better what those needs were. 

Aisha El-Amin 12:24 

Dr. Mobley Smith, did you always know you wanted to be in pharmacy or work in health care? Like, how did you get to that space? I mean, your whole family sounds like just dynamic folks. So, you’ve done quite a bit like even as a family, but like when did that come to be your passion?  

Miriam Mobley Smith 12:44 

Through what I’ll call a medication misadventure.  

So, my great aunt had some significant problems with arthritis and at that time, she was in Baltimore, and she was going to a lot of doctors, as older adults tend to do sometimes. That means that different doctors are giving you different medicine and you don’t necessarily know that the medicine you’re taking is duplicates of other kinds of medicine. You’re going from different pharmacies and at that time, there was really no good connectivity between computers. I mean, the Walgreens computer doesn’t talk to the CVS computer doesn’t talk to whichever pharmacy you want to insert there. And so she actually ended up taking two medications that were exactly the same that had different names and high doses. And she ended up having a stomach bleed, that ended her up in the intensive care unit. She had a heart attack and died.  

I had the opportunity to do a video with Blue Cross Blue Shield, “Be smart be well,” and my component focused on this particular medication misadventure. I sort of vowed that, if there was ever anything that I could do to prevent those kinds of things from happening, not only to my relatives, but to anybody else’s relatives, families or so on… That one was an easy preventer, but that everything fell through the cracks. And you find out more times than not that the falling through the cracks is easier than anybody ever wants to believe. What could I do as a healthcare professional, but as a pharmacist specifically, to help prevent those kinds of things. If one really follows a thread of the work that I’ve done over the years, it leads back to that back in 2000.  

Oh, what year was it now six, I think ’05 or ’06. I was selected by Aetna for their calendar of African American history to be one of the months and they focused on pharmacists that year. Pharmacists making a difference. And I told that story as well. And I mean, it resonates with a lot of people, you know, what is it that really got you involved in that line of work? Or you were interested but what solidified it. Even moving forward, how so much of the work I have done has been in older adult populations. I was selected to do work with the Institute of Medicine, I was one of the people who was involved with the future health care workforce for older adults research report. And, all of that ties into the work — I’ve told the students, you don’t do things like this, to get recognition, the work you do should not be around trying to be recognized. You do the work, because it needs to be done. If recognition is going to find you, it will. But through that recognition, let that be a conduit and a vessel towards improving overall the mission, you know, the personal mission that you have undertaken to be able to accomplish it all. It’s not about people giving you accolades. It’s through those accolades that other people can be bettered. 

Aisha El-Amin 16:00 

I love the way that you use that kind of life space, and in a space of, you know that shouldn’t have fallen through the cracks that did, to really propel you into the field. As you have told us, your history and the Jim Crow that you saw and all of those things. What were some of the challenges? I mean, it couldn’t have been a lot of folks that look like you, in the spaces that you were occupying. So, what are some of the challenges, and how did you get through those to be who you are now? 

Miriam Mobley Smith 16:36 

Yeah. Thank you for that question. Um, you know, you always felt like you had to prove yourself. Every single moment, like you had to have five- and six-times the credentials that a colleague would have to get something that you should have been given a long time ago. Be it an opportunity, a job position or whatever.  

I’ve worked in a pharmacy where I would ask a patient, how can I help you? And they say, they want to speak to the pharmacist. And I’ll say, well, how can I help you? I am the pharmacist. And they looked me square in the eye and told me that I was a lie, that people like me are not pharmacists and would I go get the real pharmacist and stop lying to them?  

I distinctly remember that conversation when I was completing a postgraduate residency program in Detroit. I’m like, okay, so you need a pharmacist, I’m who you have. If you don’t want to work with me, I guess you need to go. But that’s the other piece that you have to find for yourself, how to stand up for yourself because different outcomes can occur, let’s say, based on those choices. It’s exhausting. I think all of us can relate to that in many ways. But no, as a student, regardless, whether it was Michigan or UIC or other educational venues I’ve been involved with or as a faculty member – and I’ve been a faculty member at a number of places over time, but I loved UIC enough to ultimately be employed there as a faculty member for a number of years – the ability to work with students and help them be successful was tremendous. And to move on up the ranks to ultimately become a dean and now in several different colleges and schools of pharmacy.  

The opportunity to create an environment of success for the students, for the faculty for the staff is key and paramount to me in the work that I do. But the other part is that you see so much injustice and you’ve experienced it yourself.  If you ever have an opportunity to be in a position like I have been in, you make a vow that that is not the environment that you’re going to run. In other words, when you see these things go on you want to stamp them out, because you don’t want people to have to experience the same things that that you’ve experienced, because, quite frankly, I mean, the stakes are too high. You need to figure out a way through the experiences you’ve had, how to be a role model to others and how to help them navigate and circumvent those types of things.  

As I think back over the years, the part about folks wanting you to feel that you never had enough and you were never good enough. These days I guess they call it what Impostor Syndrome or Impostor Theory or something. But you know what, you won’t fall into that trap unless you allow somebody to get into your head. Here’s the key piece there. People can only have as much power over you as you allow them to. Now, I’m not saying that you can control everything, you really can’t.  Ultimately you have to control yourself, but that feeling of helplessness and worthlessness and so on, that over the years, folks try to embed in you, it can only get there if you let it get there. And I know that sounds, in some ways easier than it is, but that requires self-reflection. It requires a person being one to say that – now, how do I put it – if somebody tells you that you can’t do something you give your own self that permission slip, alright? 

Aisha El-Amin 21:01 

Yes, yes. I love that. Can I pull you back to your beginning comment around the graduation and the words that you gave? Because, as we round out our time here, I think I could talk to you for hours.  

Miriam Mobley Smith 21:18 

I know! Half an hour is not enough time! 


Aisha El-Amin 21:23 

I would love for you to share some of that advice with the students that weren’t able to make that graduation but also would benefit from hearing it. 

Miriam Mobley Smith 21:33 

Oh. Okay. Well, the thing that I mentioned earlier that really resonated with people was the statement about if your dreams and your career goals don’t scare you, they’re not big enough. If it’s too easy to get, you don’t appreciate it and it means you have a whole lot higher to go and you just don’t recognize it. So, it should scare you, it should terrify you, it should make you quaking in your boots.  


It resonated. Big time. Some other things that I’ve told people over time is that you know, and this kind of goes back to the: you have to lead yourself before you can lead others. Out of control emotions, lead people to make stupid decisions. You have to maintain your emotional control during all situations because if you don’t, the outcomes may not be so good. And I don’t care how mad you are about what’s happening, you can do that. But you got to channel it the right way. Because you know, stuff that comes out of people’s mouths, you can’t take it back. It can cause a whole lot of damage.  

Now, that doesn’t mean… I don’t feel you need to internalize it to a point where it could cause you to have mental health issues. You’ve got to process it, in away. But you have to be more intelligent than the circumstances going on because, you know, a lot of times we deal with – and I don’t like to use cliches per se, but we deal with pigs, and they’re all muddy, and they like nothing better than you to get in the mud with them. Because they are dirty, and you get there too. But at the end of the day, they don’t care about you. You have to care about yourself, and you be the driver of your ship. Back to the part about don’t allow someone to have the control over you, you control the entry and the exit, in terms of that whole picture.  

Another thing that I tell people is that as painful as this is, sometimes you got to let those toxic people go. That includes family members and friends and folks that are gonna drag you down. Now, I don’t mean to abandon people but  you have to think this through. You can only help so many people. After a while if you get yourself into a situation where you can’t help yourself, you can’t help anybody else. So that’s toxic relationships, there’s toxic whatever it is, and you do your best to not have yourself dwell in all of that.  

The piece about paying it forward. You know, in most cases you didn’t get where you are by yourself so you always give back. That’s really really important. I guess the other piece – honestly, I wrote some of this down so that I wouldn’t forget it. Ah. Pay attention and tend to your health. Try not to neglect yourself. There is a difference between making a living and making a life. Always try as best as you can to incorporate your passion in whatever it is that you do. And I guess lastly, I mentioned the part about giving yourself the permission to do what you need to do, that’s adopting that can do attitude, not the can’t do, or someone won’t let me do. But at the end of the day, there are no true shortcuts to success, particularly long term success.  

There’s always a price that we pay, but let you determine what that price and cost is going to be, in terms of how you tread on that pathway. These quick fixes, it may be quick, but it does not work in the long run. So ,be ready to roll your sleeves up, and do the work that’s worth doing and doing it well. That’s what’s important. Because as you think about that, we all have to check out a here one day, okay? We don’t have the ticket that says we’re gonna be here forever. And so if you’re ever asked, “What do you want your tombstone to say?” And for me, that’s, while she was here, she made a difference. What is it that happened between the date of birth, the dash dash dash, and the day of death? In the middle, what do you want to be known as? Someone that in that short span, because it’s just like a puff of smoke, made that difference that either made someone else’s life better, help them to be more successful, or really recognize what their abilities are in terms of success. It’ll really allow them to continue the pathway and continue to pay it forward.  

That’s sort of me in a nutshell.  I love life, I’ve, you know, had a lot of interesting experiences that have gone on over time, not all of them good. But you know, if you can find the learning curve in all of it and not internalize it to a point where it brings you down, a lot can come of it. You know, I’m a very spiritual person. And I do believe that all things happen for a reason. The negative things happen, not because it’s designed to hurt you or break you, but to, at some point in life, enable you to understand how to help somebody else through similar or even worse situations. And I have found that to be true. So we don’t know what it is, why something happens, but there is an overall purpose for it, and it will manifest at some point in life. And so I hold on to that. And it’s sort of a core of my being, and it thrills me to be able to share these things with you and our listening audience. 

Aisha El-Amin 28:17 

Oh no, the thrill is all ours. Wow. That’s all. That’s the word that I have. I thank you, I thank and honor your father and mother for raising you and your siblings as they have, for you sharing your knowledge with us. And it’s ringing in my head, what you just said, especially “there is a difference between making a living and making a life”. And so thank you for all of your words of wisdom. Thank you for giving back in the ways that you continue to give back. And thank you for joining us today. 

Miriam Mobley Smith 28:53 

Thank you so much. 

Tariq El-Amin 28:56 

Thanks for joining us. Find more inspiring and informative conversations with UIC alumn, faculty and staff at That’s

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