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Kira Adkins, 16, will be MUSC's youngest doctorate of pharmacy student ever

This year, Kira Adkins submitted just one application to just one school, early decision. Her mind had been made up since her sophomore year of high school.

Kira, now 16, worked for years to qualify for the doctorate of pharmacy program at the Medical University of South Carolina. Their acceptance letter came in November. 

At the rate she's going, Kira could have a "Dr." in front of her name by the time she is 21. 

Many Academic Magnet students are high-achieving. Kira stands apart because she completed a dozen college courses by the time she was a senior, something her adviser said is unusual for her peer group. Most students who enter the College of Pharmacy program at MUSC went to an undergraduate school and have earned a four-year degree.

She said she was probably 14 when she first approached MUSC advisers about attending the pharmacy school. Dr. Philip Hall, dean of the College of Pharmacy, said advisers laid out for her then what she would have to do to make it into the college. It would entail taking 66 hours of college courses and taking the Pharmacy College Admission Test.

Whether or not she would be able to do it, Hall said there was no way to know. They were "cautiously optimistic"; Academic Magnet students are sharp kids, he said. Kira had to interview, too, alongside a handful of other applicants, most of whom were in their early 20s. 

MUSC's answer to Kira was the "yes" she wanted.

"We’re 100 percent sure she’s the youngest we’ve ever admitted," Hall said.

About half of College of Pharmacy students will become pharmacists after graduating, he said, while a minority will go on to do residencies and pursue more advanced degrees.

Kira said she resolved to pursue a career in medicine when she was in middle school. At first, she thought she wanted to be a pediatric surgeon. Then she realized she feels queasy when she sees blood. She was first exposed to the idea of pharmacy by a program for youths at Roper St. Francis.

She said she likes the idea that she could pursue a number of different career paths with a doctor of pharmacy. She shadowed local pharmacists, and said she asked a lot of questions.

Jennifer Grayson, an English teacher at Academic Magnet and one of Kira's advisers, said pursuing the amount of college credit Kira achieved is highly unusual, even among their students. 

"Nobody has done this like she has," Grayson said. "For her to do as much as she did, it speaks volumes to her capabilities."

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She started taking 7-week courses at Trident Technical College. Part of the courses were online, and part required her to be in a classroom. 

Kira said she found Anatomy and Physiology II particularly difficult. Two or three days a week, Kira would come home, eat a quick snack, do homework for high school and go to lab from 6 to 9 p.m.

On top of the roughly dozen college classes she took during high school, Kira said the Academic Magnet classwork was challenging, too. 

Her parents said they have a work hard, play hard philosophy. Kira's 14-year-old brother attends Phillips Academy, a prestigious boarding school in Andover, Massachusetts. Her younger sister is 11. 

Randy and Sherlonda Adkins, Kira's parents, said they wanted to give her as many opportunities as possible. Gymnastics, softball, dancing, theater. She tried them all. 

"We wanted to expose her so she could make her own choices," Randy said. 

She was in seventh grade when she told her parents she wanted to attend Academic Magnet. So, her parents sold their house in Goose Creek and moved close to Park Circle. 

Sherlonda said she knew Kira could complete the work, but she and Randy didn't want to pressure her. Sherlonda said she would check in with Kira to see if she wanted to slow down. 

"She'd take a deep breath and say, 'Nope. No, I can do it.' "

The last thing for her to secure are scholarships. Her mother said it has been difficult, because most scholarships are for students in undergraduate programs. The system is not set up for 17-year-olds pursuing a pharmacy degree. She's taking donations at kiraadkins.com.

The plan is to live with her parents for the first three years until she starts rotations during her last year. But Kira said she isn't worried about missing out on the undergraduate experience. 

After all, the first year of pharmacy school will almost certainly be a lighter workload than she's used to.

Reach Mary Katherine Wildeman at 843-937-5594. Follow her on Twitter @mkwildeman.

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