Alycia Clark: Leading the Way as Head Pharmacist at Direct Relief

By Dalina Michaels   |   October 24, 2023

In the realm of humanitarian aid and global healthcare, individuals like Alycia Clark stand as beacons of hope and progress. As the head pharmacist at Direct Relief, Clark plays a pivotal role in delivering vital medical supplies and assistance to those in need worldwide. Her dedication, expertise, and unwavering commitment to improving global healthcare have made her an inspiring figure in the field. In this article, we will delve into the remarkable journey of Alycia Clark and her significant contributions to humanitarian efforts through her role at Direct Relief.

A Passion for Pharmacy, Rooted Locally

Clark is as local as they come. A 4th-generation Santa Barbaran, she grew up in Montecito, starting in Kindergarten at Montecito Union with Dr. Pollyanna Sorensen as her teacher. She graduated from Santa Barbara High School and went on to UC San Diego for her degree in Chemistry. She then continued with her doctorate in Pharmacy from UC San Francisco and dealt with daily crises at Poison Control.

Clark’s journey into the world of pharmacy began with a deep-seated passion for helping others. And that passion for helping others came full circle when she and her family found themselves in the middle of devastation.

January 9, 2018 – a day that most of us will never forget. The Montecito Debris Flow.

Clark recalls her memory of that day, “My family was living in San Diego, but we had renters in my childhood home in the Montecito Oaks neighborhood (off Olive Mill Road). We got a call in the middle of the night and the next thing we knew we were driving up to Santa Barbara. While our renters were able to move out, the house needed a lot of work.”

Clark goes on to share: “Because my sister and I both lived in different cities, we had always stored all our childhood memorabilia, family photos, and mementos in the back room of the home. I was in an area that was considered high-fire risk (San Diego), and my sister lives on the fault line in the Bay Area (earthquakes) – so we assumed Montecito was the safest place for everything to remain. Sadly, that back room at this house was completely full of mud. Generations of personal items and photos were ruined.”

Ironically, it was this very day Clark came to meet the company that she now represents: “The first people I met when preparing to go into our mud-filled home was Thomas Tighe, president and CEO (whose home was completely destroyed by the debris flow), and former SBHS classmate Damon Taugher of Direct Relief. They were handing out the hazmat suits and other protective gear for reentry, but the kind gesture went far beyond that. It was because of this horrific disaster, that I experienced first-hand how much showing up and supporting others during a crisis meant. I also learned more about Direct Relief’s focus on providing medications to those who lack access, ranging from insulin to complex oncology therapies, and knew someday I would want to be part of their team.”

Joining Direct Relief 

Within a few months, the Clarks packed up their lives in San Diego and Alycia was hired as a pharmacist for Direct Relief – a renowned humanitarian organization committed to improving the health and lives of people affected by poverty and emergencies. It was here that she found her true calling – bridging her expertise in pharmacy with her desire to provide critical medical aid to underserved populations around the world.

Clark’s Role as Head Pharmacist

As the head pharmacist at Direct Relief, Clark assumes a pivotal role in the organization’s mission. She oversees the flow of donated lifesaving medicines, medical supplies, and equipment. Her responsibilities extend to collaborating with pharmaceutical companies, healthcare partners, and governments to ensure the timely and efficient delivery of essential resources to areas affected by disasters, crises, and poverty.

“Direct Relief has been in Santa Barbara for 75 years, but has significantly ramped up activities since the Debris Flow,” explains Clark. “From the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, to the recent fires in Lahaina, every day truly brings new opportunities for Direct Relief to support communities all over the world.” 

Indeed, it is also interesting to note that Direct Relief was started in Montecito in 1948 by William Zimdin. Zimdin was forced to flee Europe during World War II, after fiercely opposing Adolf Hitler. The organization’s first assistance packages were assembled at his estate adjacent to the Montecito Country Club, which Zimdin owned at the time. When Zimdin died in 1951, Montecito residents stepped in to maintain the organization’s humanitarian mission as a public charity, funded entirely by philanthropic support.

One of Clark’s notable achievements is her commitment to quality control and safety. Direct Relief has implemented rigorous pharmaceutical standards to guarantee the integrity and efficacy of the medical supplies they provide. This is especially challenging with temperature-sensitive medications that require cold storage and transport until it reaches the patient. Her team’s dedication to ensuring that aid reaches those in need in its best possible form has been instrumental in ensuring patients receive the full benefits of the therapy. 

Clark’s contributions extend far beyond the confines of her office. She is actively involved in the strategic planning and execution of Direct Relief’s initiatives across the globe. Whether responding to natural disasters, pandemics, or ongoing healthcare disparities, Clark’s expertise and leadership shine through in her organization’s efforts. She also works as a liaison with organizations such as California Department of Public Health, Society of Critical Care Medicine, and the World Health Organization. Her work has reached remote and vulnerable communities in some of the world’s most challenging environments. From delivering vital medications to rural clinics in Africa to supporting vaccination campaigns in underserved regions, Clark’s work has positively impacted countless individuals who would otherwise lack access to essential healthcare.

Finding a Balance

While she seems to have boundless energy, she definitely needs it to keep up with her family! Husband, Ryan, and two kids, Adelyn (9) and Nolan (8), keep her busy on the home-front when she is not at work. And, of course, being a Montecito native, we need to know what her favorite things are to do in our community: “What every parent does on the weekend? Go to kid sporting events, or a quick camping trip to refresh in nature!”

Clark’s journey as the head pharmacist at Direct Relief exemplifies the incredible impact that a dedicated and passionate individual can have on global healthcare and humanitarian aid efforts. Her unwavering commitment to ensuring that the most vulnerable populations have access to lifesaving medications and supplies has saved countless lives and offered hope to those in dire circumstances. Clark serves as an inspiration to us all, reminding us of the immense power of compassion, dedication, and expertise in making the world a better place.  


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