Nonyerem (Nony)'s parents were born in Nigeria. After moving to the United States, her father became a cardiovascular surgeon and her mother, a pharmacist. Together, they raised 7 children.
Nony attended a predominately African American and Latino high school in Maryland. "The whole issue of diversity never occurred to me in high school," Nony says. "When I got to Johns Hopkins University as an undergraduate pursuing a degree in economics, I was one of the few minorities. The make-up of the university was Caucasian and Asian students. Initially, it felt isolating, but as I began to break out of my comfort zone I started to embrace the diverse student body. I joined the Black Student Union, InterAsian Council, Organizaçion Latina Estudiantil, Southeast Asian Student Association, and various other organizations. I was interested in other people's cultures."
As a student pharmacist at UCSF's School of Pharmacy, Nony served as a student representative of the Diversity Task Force Committee, vice president of the Black Student Health Alliance, president of the Student National Pharmaceutical Association (SNPhA), and is an active member of other organizations. She also encourages high school students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to explore college and career possibilities, including pharmacy.
"In high school I discovered I liked science and research," Nony says. But at Johns Hopkins she became captivated by economics. After earning a bachelor of arts in economics, she enrolled in a course focused on economics in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, "and bingo --" she explains, "I started thinking about pharmacy. The pharmacy profession combined my varied interests in basic science research, economics, direct-patient contact, the healthcare industry, and business. It ultimately led to a decision to pursue a Doctor of Pharmacy degree (PharmD)."
Helping Underserved Communities
A summer internship at a Walgreens Pharmacy in San Francisco's Bayview Hunter's Point neighborhood confirmed her desire to apply her love of economics and her professional skills as a pharmacist to serve diverse, underserved communities. "I saw a diverse group of patients at Walgreens. Some had government-assisted insurance, and some people did not have enough money to cover their co-pay. Helping these patients resolve their problems was rewarding," she says.
As a student pharmacist, Nony has worked with patients from many backgrounds who have many kinds of diseases and health care needs. "Patients are often afraid of taking medications," she says. "One of the jobs of a pharmacist is to take away the fear and explain how drugs work, how they need to be taken to be safe and effective.
"You also have to bring a cheerful attitude to patients because that eases their anxieties even more."