UNC pharmacy professor writes what she knows


Professor Betsy Sleath, the chair of the Division of Pharmaceutical Outcomes and Policy in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, has always known she wanted to write fiction as a hobby. After taking three creative writing courses at UNC, she wrote her book, Pelican Island Pharmacy, over the course of a year.

“I always wanted to write fiction, and I finally decided a couple years ago that I was going to do it,” she said.

A professor in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, Sleath took creative writing classes on nights and weekends, fueling her love of fiction writing.

“Pelican Island Pharmacy” is a novel centered on a single mom working at a pharmacy in Pelican Island, N.C. Jessie, the protagonist, relocates to North Carolina after being attacked by her ex-husband on the campus where she was a pharmacy professor.

“My mom worked as a clerk at an independent pharmacy when I was growing up in New England, and it had a soda fountain, and so I created this pharmacy in this book called Pelican Island Pharmacy that had this soda fountain because, to me, pharmacies always kind of have a sense of community,” Sleath said.

She drew on her own life experiences to create this fictional story; Sleath owns a condo at Carolina Beach and was a single mom for a time.

“They say you should write what you know, and so I decided to kind of create this suspense-type novel that centers around this small beach town, and the characters were a lot of fun to develop,” she said.

The novel was well received by her friends and colleagues who were with her throughout the whole writing process.

“It was a very easy read,” said Becky Eatmon, retired executive assistant to the dean of the school of pharmacy. “I picked it up one day, and I didn’t put it down until I finished it. I’m waiting on the sequel. I told Betsy the other day, ‘OK, when’s the sequel coming out? I’ve got to find out what happened.’”

Hijrah El-sabae, a student in the school of pharmacy, was partially responsible for helping Sleath choose the cover of the book.

The two met at a meeting about an honors project, where Sleath immediately asked her opinion on which cover she liked the best.

“If I remember correctly, this was my first time actually meeting Dr. Sleath,” El-sabae said. “Actually, that’s why we ended up choosing her as our honors mentor because she’s so open and friendly and so casual about things and not intimidating at all like other professors.”

Sleath had to make the switch from writing scientific articles to fiction writing. She has published more than 120 scientific articles, but “Pelican Island Pharmacy” is her first work of fiction.

“My hardest time in fiction writing was learning how to write description because it’s the opposite of what I have to do in my scientific writing,” she said. “The books I like to read are fun and pretty easy to read and straightforward, so I tried to make the book like that.”

Sleath said she wrote five pages a week, the pace recommended in her class, which helped her finish the book within a year.

And after a year, she said that she is very proud of her accomplishment.



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