Puerto Rican Pharmacy Students Discuss Path to Georgia
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Puerto Rican Pharmacy Students Discuss Path to Georgia

February 3, 2023

What brings a college student from a Caribbean island to the suburbs of Atlanta? In the case of four Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) students from Puerto Rico, facilities, faculty, diversity and student support initiatives were cited as top reasons for choosing PCOM School of Pharmacy in Suwanee, Georgia.

A desire to impact patients’ quality of life

Tania Gonzalez (PharmD '23)Tania Gonzalez (PharmD '23) became interested in pharmacy as a high school student.

“I always knew that I liked medicine and sciences but I decided to become a pharmacist because it is a broad profession in which I will be able to have an impact on patients’ quality of life,” she said.

Gonzalez, who holds a B.S. in Biomedical Science with a minor concentration in biology from Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, Arecibo Campus, first learned about PCOM School of Pharmacy at a recruitment session in Dorado, Puerto Rico.

“I instantly knew I wanted to study at PCOM because the college has great professors, tutoring programs to help students in different topics, and they have students from different ethnicities,” Gonzalez explained. Knowing that PCOM School of Pharmacy would allow her to do her rotations back home in Puerto Rico was another major factor in her decision to enroll.

While she enjoyed the laboratories and meeting people of diverse ethnicities, Gonzalez had the highest praise for faculty.

“My interactions with professors have been a good experience,” she said. “They were always available in office hours and they were always willing to help. I felt comfortable the whole time when speaking with them and they treat every student with respect.”

According to Gonzalez, all of her professors were excellent, but several were particularly important to her during her time at PCOM School of Pharmacy.

Dr. [Avadhesh] Sharma helped me through a hard personal family situation I had,” she said. “He lent me his support and kindness. Dr. [Julie] Wickman gave me the opportunity to work at her pharmacy. Since I didn't have any pharmacy experience, this opportunity helped me to prepare for my first rotation. Dr. [John] Tovar has helped me a lot and he was always available to help me with any difficulty in class. This means a lot to me and I appreciate it since he speaks my native language and he helped me in both English and Spanish.”

Now in her fourth year, Gonzalez is preparing to begin her pharmacy career. Her goal is to work in an ambulatory clinic and industry for a couple of years and eventually have her own pharmacy.

Her advice to aspiring pharmacists? Consider shadowing a pharmacist before becoming a student.

“If you are considering pharmacy school, be sure to love what you will do as a pharmacist,” she said. “You must have patience and empathy towards the patients and the pharmacist has a lot of responsibilities.”

Being part of a healthcare team

While finishing her undergraduate degree at Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico Recinto de Aguadilla, Nefmarie Pacheco-Segarra (PharmD '23) was also working as a pharmacy technician.

Nefmarie Pacheco-Segarra (PharmD '23)“Watching the pharmacist do counseling and go above and beyond for the patients, guided me to do my [doctoral] degree in pharmacy,” she explained.

Ultimately, Pacheco-Segarra chose to attend PCOM School of Pharmacy based on the diversity of the campus faculty and students, the customizable curriculum and the ability to do rotations out-of-state.

One of her favorite aspects of the PharmD program, however, was the opportunity to interact and work with other healthcare students and experience being part of a healthcare team. Another positive aspect of her education was the program faculty.

“The faculty is very accessible and very pro-student,” Pacheco-Segarra said. “Dr. Tovar, Dr. Wickman, Dr. [Eric] Wang and Dr. [Mandy] Reese are faculty members that are particularly important to me because they understood my struggles, took their time to explain anything I had problems or questions with. But most importantly, they always motivated me to continue and not give up.”

As a short term career goal, Pacheco-Segarra would like to work at an ambulatory care clinic in Puerto Rico.

“In the long term, I would like to open my own specialty pharmacy on the west side of the island,” she added.

As she completes her doctoral degree, her advice to others considering pharmacy school is to educate themselves about the different areas in which pharmacists work and specialize.

“If you are sure about becoming a pharmacist, go for it and always remember that the journey isn't easy, but the satisfaction that comes when you help your patients—and you are able to work with a healthcare team to save someone's life—is totally worth it,” she said.

Providing the best health care to the community

Alexis Ruiz (PharmD '25)As a young man, Alexis Ruiz (PharmD '25) found it interesting to see what people did in the pharmacy. When he became old enough, he decided to study as a pharmacy technician.

He pursued an associate’s degree as a pharmacy technician at Interamerican University of Puerto Rico and then continued his education with a bachelor’s degree in biology.

After a friend recommended PCOM School of Pharmacy, Ruiz decided the interactive Doctor of Pharmacy program would be a good fit. As a student in the PharmD program, Ruiz was positively influenced by his interactions with program faculty.

“More than faculty I saw them as friends,” he said. “If they see you in the hall, they greet you and sometimes they stop and talk with you about any topic, or if you need help with something they take their time to help you.”

One of the most important faculty members to him was Dr. Tovar.

“He has been an important tool in our learning process and is always there when you need him,” Ruiz said. “He’s passionate about teaching and wants us to be the best version of ourselves.”

Though graduation is still a couple of years away, Ruiz has plans to become certified in compounding and work in a community pharmacy where his goal is “to give the best health care to the community.”

He encourages anyone considering pharmacy school to remember that, as a pharmacist, you will be dealing with people’s lives.

“To take the profession with the seriousness it requires is the key to succeed and be a good pharmacist,” he said. “Being empathic is a value you will learn along the way and it will make you a better professional.”

A family away from home

Yayleene Lozado (PharmD '25) always knew she wanted to pursue a career in healthcare and help others. Growing up in Puerto Rico, she was intrigued by the many pharmaceutical companies and decided pharmacy was a way she could connect and give back to her community.

Yayleene Lozado (PharmD '25)While completing her bachelor’s degree with a concentration in biology at the University of Puerto Rico, Lozado attended an information session where she learned about PCOM School of Pharmacy.

“One of the factors that led me to choose PCOM was the diversity among students and faculty members,” she explained. “Besides the diversity, the school also has state-of-the-art labs such as the compounding lab and cadaver lab which was really fascinating.”

After becoming a student, Lozado discovered more appealing aspects of PCOM School of Pharmacy

“The people that meet in the program will change your life,” she said. “My study group has become my family. The bond that we have formed is something that I will treasure forever.”

The student-to-faculty ratio is also important to her.

“I liked this because it allows the professors to get to know their students and work with them to achieve success,” she said. “The relationship between faculty members and students is incredible. You can tell the faculty are trying to do what’s best for you. They make themselves very approachable.”

Lozado said she was especially influenced by two faculty members: Dr. Tovar and Dr. Wickman.

“Dr. Tovar is very dedicated to helping his students succeed,” Lozado said. “He will go above and beyond to make sure that students get where they need to be. Since he speaks Spanish as well, he is able to overcome the language barrier for many of the Spanish speaking students, which is very comforting. He is a very charismatic genius. He is also very funny and compassionate which makes it a joy when attending his lectures.”

Dr. Wickman, Lozado added, is her role model.

“She is one of the most amazing and brilliant women I have ever met,” Lozado said. “She’s a business woman, a pharmacist, and a wonderful professor. She has taught me to work harder in order to accomplish your goals. She is everything I want to be in the future.”

Those future plans include owning a pharmacy—just like Dr. Wickman.

“I am very passionate about business as well as pharmacy,” Lozado said. “I want to be a ‘Dr. Wickman’ one day and inspire other women to work hard for their dreams. Even if your goals seem impossible, with consistency and dedication, you can achieve anything in life.”

What Our Students Say

“I felt welcomed. To work with and learn from people from many different cultures motivated me to choose PCOM.”

Vivian E. Pereira Flores, PharmD ’21

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Vivian E. Pereira Flores, PharmD ’21 portrait
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