Some nights, Jessi Cahoon would fall asleep with a study guide on her chest.

In the mornings, the Pharm.D. student would open up the pages again and quiz herself on the material she'd reviewed the night before.

"What did you forget? What did you remember?"

Cahoon, who graduates from the University of Montana on Saturday, doubtless remembers the important lessons. In her four years at UM, the Charlo native received a $10,000 Skaggs Scholarship, launched a mentoring program for minority students, and impressed her professors and doctors at the Curry Health Center along the way.

She did it while being parent to 9-year-old Evyn, and yes, the young soccer player still recognizes his mom.

"He recognizes me as the person that studies all the time, which is great. I'm happy to be that kind of person for him," Cahoon said.

She wasn't always academically inclined, though. As a high school student, Cahoon moved from Charlo to Missoula, and she dropped out of Sentinel High School as a sophomore.

"I always felt that high school may not have been for me," Cahoon said.

She had a baby, and roughly four years ago, she decided to apply to the pharmacy program at UM. Her mom is a clinical pharmacist at St. Patrick Hospital, and her late father had called out her career path since she was a child.

"You're going to be a pharmacist like your mom," he'd tell her.


Turns out, she's an excellent one.

Donna Beall, a professor in pharmacy, spent eight weeks working with Cahoon in ambulatory care at Curry Health, and she said Cahoon has a way of working with both patients and physicians.

Some students have a difficult time tailoring their counseling to the needs of patients, but Cahoon has a knack for it.

"She goes out of her way to make them feel at ease," Beall said.

She also said physicians sought out advice from Cahoon.

"One of her many attributes is her professional demeanor. She built professional relationships with all the physicians at Curry Health Center," Beall said.

It was the first time in 17 years that she saw a physician write an unsolicited letter about a student, said Beall. She shared part of the letter Dr. Jeff Adams wrote.

"Ms. Cahoon is one of those students that comes along fairly rarely. She has a blend of clinical competence, confidence in patient interactions, and (she) gathers information at a high level."

The pharmacy program is demanding, but Cahoon didn't limit her experience to academics. She started a mentoring program for minority students who want to be admitted into the program, and she was involved in tutoring and community service, too.

"She's just wonderful. There's no other word to describe her," Beall said.


The coursework is stressful, but Cahoon, 25, said the camaraderie among her classmates eases the burden.

The second year is one of the hardest, with a major test nearly every week. Cahoon remembers waking up early to get an hour of studying in before taking Evyn to school, and using her couch and bed as study areas.

"That was probably the worst time," Cahoon said.

She faced another difficult period of the program last December. Cahoon had planned to work hard to get a residency, and she learned the positions are not only highly competitive, they pit her against the classmates she'd grown fond of.

"It was just tough all around," Cahoon said.

Her mom, Carla Federici, helped her through. Once, Cahoon was in a study group with fellow students who didn't understand a particular concept, and Cahoon called her pharmacist mom for assistance.

Her mother explained the material so well, Cahoon called her back, put her on speaker phone, and made her explain it again to the entire group.

"This week, she's going crazy for my graduation," she said.


Last week, Cahoon's life started looking different, and it will continue to change.

In the past, she would have spent Mother's Day studying for tests, but this year, she watched her son make his first soccer goal of the season. Then, she and longtime boyfriend Brendan Work joined Evyn and Evyn's father for a backyard barbecue.

They grilled salmon, her favorite.

She's started coaching her son's Missoula Strikers soccer team with Work. He runs up and down the field, and she's moral support, patching up scrapes when the little players take a tumble.

In June, she'll study for her boards, and in July, she'll start her residency at Community Medical Center. She'll do rounds with physicians and act as a consultant, advising other clinicians about pain medications.

Eventually, she will be a clinical pharmacist on staff at a hospital, monitoring patients' vitals, answering doctors' questions, and getting infections under control.

"I'll make sure you have the right antibiotics on board," Cahoon said.

She's a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and her five- to 10-year plan involves returning to the reservation in a job that allows her to be a role model for young Native Americans. She did an internship based in St. Ignatius that involved much community outreach, and she is drawn to that side of the work.

"These kids absolutely want someone to look up to," Cahoon said.


In the meantime, she'll continue to be involved in the mentoring program she set up. This year, four mentors are helping 12 students, and five or six of them have been accepted into Pharmacy School.

"Which is great. I'm so excited for them," Cahoon said.

Her short-term plan involves a trip into a bouncy house, a present she wants for graduation. She describes her request as juvenile, but it just may be the perfect way to unleash four years' worth of tightly wound nerves.

Regardless, she's optimistic some exuberant jumping is in her future.

"I think Brendan is getting me a bouncy house. ... That's the only thing I asked for," Cahoon said.