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Suzy Cohen

"If you 'get' Sedona then you’ll understand me," says Ocalan Suzy Cohen, author of the nationally syndicated "Dear Pharmacist" column and spokesperson for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS). For anyone who has never visited...

Ocala’s own syndicated columnist talks naturally about health issues every week to an audience of millions. -
photos by John Jernigan

photos by John Jernigan





By Jean Crossman Gilman

If you ‘get’ Sedona then you’ll understand me,” says Ocalan Suzy Cohen, author of the nationally syndicated “Dear Pharmacist” column and spokesperson for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS). For anyone who has never visited that Arizona “red rock” town, this statement may leave you with more questions than answers. But those who have been dazzled by Sedona’s rock-solid, earthly beauty and have tapped into its ethereal energy may be saying “a-ha!”

Cohen’s own dichotomous personality disputes the myth that people who are scientific cannot be artistic. Cohen’s natural aptitude in science, coupled with her creative spirit, has given her a balance and an open-mindedness that are two of the reasons for her success. And her success is no understatement.

Her “Dear Pharmacist” column is syndicated by Tribune Media Services in Chicago, the largest multimedia company in the world. Eve Becker, Managing Editor for the company says of Cohen: “Not only is her column technically astute, but it is warm, personal and full of humor. Readers feel they have a friend who can help them navigate the complexities of healthcare.”

“DEAR PHARMACIST” APPEARS COAST TO COAST, reaching more than 20 million readers weekly in such prestigious publications as The Denver Post, Chicago Tribune, and The Sacramento Bee among many others. Since some of these newspapers are sold at airports and also because of her website (www.dearpharmacist.com), Cohen receives e-mail from around the world.

As spokesperson for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS), the country’s largest pharmacy organization representing the concerns of 34,000 community pharmacies nationwide, Cohen appears on a variety of media on a regularly basis. She’s been on NBC, CBS, Fox and CNN; nationally syndicated radio programs; and at personal appearances, all to educate consumers on how to become more prescription savvy.

Craig Fuller, former White House Chief of Staff to President Bush and now CEO of NACDS, says of Cohen: “She’s as close as anyone to being America’s pharmacist. We are proud to be working closely with her in programs to encourage the safe and effective use of medication.”

At a press conference in Washington, DC, Cohen joined FDA Deputy Commissioner Lester Crawford to launch the “Get Rx Healthy” campaign. She also helps needy seniors get medicine more affordably with the “Together Rx” program.

Recently, Cohen was invited to New York as a guest for the NACDS’ charitable foundation dinner. There she met former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani who expressed interest in acquiring her column for the Big Apple.

To understand Cohen, however, is to know that success per se is not what motivates her. She measures her accomplishments by the number of people she is able to help with critical health information.

COHEN’S CAREER BEGAN in an ordinary fashion, but her desire to improve people’s lives blossomed early. Cohen (then Gurvich) attended Ft. King Middle and Vanguard High. As a teenager, she worked on her parents’ ice cream truck around Ocala. “My parents taught me to work hard and persevere,” she says.

While in school, Cohen won many science fairs and the Ocala Star Banner’s first annual Silver Garland Award. She attended CFCC and received her B.S. in Pharmacy from the University of Florida in 1989. Cohen has been a practicing pharmacist for 14 years in various settings including hospitals, chain pharmacies, and nursing homes. It was during her tenure as a statewide consulting pharmacist in long-term care facilities that Cohen noticed too many people were suffering needlessly, many overmedicated. She realized that it would be far better to reach these patients earlier in life with information that would help them prolong wellness and prevent needless suffering.

When Cohen fell in love with her second husband, Dr. Samuel Cohen, a chiropractor at Pitts Chiropractic Clinic, she started undergoing a professional metamorphosis. Sam’s non-drug approach to healing was intriguing to the clinically trained pharmacist. Slowly, Cohen became cognizant that healing “begins with the mind and spirit, not the physical body.”

It was Sam who urged Cohen to write a newspaper column, knowing, he says, “that she would succeed because she’s beautiful, smart and articulate.” He has since lovingly supported her every step of the way.

Cohen’s column premiered in The Lake City Reporter in June 1999. David Brown was the first editor to recognize her compassion for others and publish her columns.

As they say, the rest is history. Cohen now receives thousands of letters weekly. In fact, one editor said, “Suzy gets more letters than Ann Landers!”

COHEN’S CROSS TRAINING IN PHARMACY and natural medicine offers a unique perspective in healthcare, and one that is appreciated by her readers. One reader said of Cohen, “I never believed in angels, but I do now.” Another reader credited Cohen for helping him get his pilot’s license back after she helped him regulate his heart rhythm with a simple over-the-counter vitamin.

In order to effectively answer the questions in her column, Cohen spends hours researching cutting-edge therapies, upcoming drugs and natural supplements. She is a member of both the Institute of Functional Medicine and the Association of National Medicine Pharmacists. She also works with a network of consultants, including award-winning doctors, with whom she can bounce around ideas on a reciprocal basis.

Famed neurologist and the 2002 Linus Pauling Laureate, David Perlmutter, MD, says: “Suzy Cohen is a beacon of light and clarity in the often confusing and misleading world of health related information. We now live in a world where information is the currency of success and Suzy’s work provides all of her readers the advantage needed to more fully understand the vast array of complex health issues with which we are confronted on a daily basis. We should all put her column on the top of our ‘Things To Do Today’ list.”

Because of her exhaustive research, Cohen’s advice is often ahead of other media reports. For example, she warned consumers about inflammation and its relationship to heart disease, informed women how to take estrogen safely, and advised the use of Coenzyme Q-10 for Parkinson’s disease and heart problems. Her advice was published years before these breakthroughs were widely reported.

“What Suzy Cohen does so well is work both sides of the aisle,” says Ross Werland, assistant Q editor for the Tribune, “with current information on mainstream medicine and cautious, yet encouraging morsels from the alternative side.”

While Cohen accepts the responsibility of her position as America’s most trusted pharmacist, she keeps her columns fun and never talks above anyone’s head with boring, scientific jargon. “My column is definitely not vanilla, it’s Rocky Road,” Cohen quips.

She discusses everything from Vitamin A to horny goat weed and chili pepper sauce. No subject is taboo, and controversial columns have become her trademark.

“Dear Pharmacist” reflects the popularity of supplements (a $20 billion-a-year business), as more than half of the questions submitted are about natural medicines. Do doctors accept supplements, however? Cohen says that many physicians are open-minded, and because patients are searching for answers on their own, more and more doctors are coming around.

“There are many ways to accomplish healing,” she explains. “The important thing is to get the patient in the driver’s seat.”

Cohen reports that 100,000 people die yearly at their own hands because they take their medicine improperly. She urges people to take advantage of their local pharmacist since “they are trained and licensed drug information specialists.” The nation’s most popular pharmacist herself remains on staff with Eckerd pharmacy.

Cohen is amazingly calm and poised for someone who receives such professional scrutiny and constant appeals for advice. Perhaps it is because she maintains balance in her life with her family and her hobbies. When asked what makes her happy, she quickly replies, “my family — Sam and our children: Samara Chak, Michael Chak and Rachel Cohen.”

This 38 year-old, self-described cyber junkie and sushi lover somehow finds time to volunteer at Brother’s Keeper soup kitchen. She also satisfies her creative side by dancing jazz, painting, creating stained glass and savoring the great outdoors. She finds peace and harmony while hiking, especially in Colorado and the California Redwoods. Of course, her favorite place, Sedona, is proof that the rock solid, intangible atmosphere is not a contradiction. Just like Suzy Cohen.

Jean Crossman Gilman is a freelance writer, photographer, and artist from northwest Marion County. She received her BA in English Literature from UNC-Chapel Hill where she also completed the school’s prestigious creative writing program. Her other interests include cats, horses, wildlife, gardening, and golf.

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