School welcomes incoming PharmD class with bold new curriculum

A new class of UCSF doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) students came together on July 25 at the Parnassus campus to inaugurate a new curriculum built on critical thinking, problem solving, and an inquiry habit of mind.

“You are the most distinguished incoming PharmD students at the most distinguished school of pharmacy in the world,” Dean B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD, told the class at orientation. He emphasized that while learning the details of pharmaceutical science and practice is tremendously important, the field is rapidly evolving. Students will learn all the content necessary to be pharmacists, in depth, here at UCSF, but learning how to think critically and scientifically will be key to their ongoing success into the future, he explained.

Students in this year’s class share the characteristics of the School’s previous entering PharmD students: They are competent, accomplished, and focused on the health of the patient. They are also the class that will pioneer the School’s fully revamped PharmD curriculum. “Coming to a school that emphasizes being a trailblazer in pharmacy has been a big draw,” said incoming student Mehr Virk. “We're all very excited to be a part of that.”

Guglielmo presenting

Dean B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD, welcomes the newest cohort of PharmD students to UCSF.

Diverse and ready

While the most common undergraduate majors among the 96 new students are biology and biochemistry, students also entered with degrees in cognitive studies, economics, English, kinesiology, nutrition, religious studies, and sociology. Four students entered with graduate degrees.

The majority of the new class, approximately 69 percent, entered from University of California undergraduate programs. Fourteen percent entered from a California State University undergraduate program and 18 percent from an undergraduate program outside of California.

The new students hail from cities across the United States, as well as from China, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, South Korea, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, the Philippines, Sweden, Thailand, and Vietnam. The diversity of the students’ countries of origin is complemented by the 19 percent of students who are from groups underrepresented in the PharmD program.

“We chose you because each of you brings something special to this class, and we’re thrilled that you chose us,” Cynthia Watchmaker, MEd, MBA, associate dean of student affairs, said.

Learning by doing

On Monday, during the first hour of the first day of class after orientation, students met their first patient.

Cocohoba conducts a patient check-in.

Jennifer Cocohoba, PharmD, right, conducts a patient check-in in front of students on the first day of class.

The class watched from their seats in a large lecture hall as the patient, who takes several drugs for various medical conditions, met with her pharmacist, Jennifer Cocohoba, PharmD ’01, as she has been doing for the past 14 years at Cocohoba’s clinical practice site. Cocohoba is a faculty member in the School’s Department of Clinical Pharmacy and a specialist in medication adherence, women’s health, and HIV treatment.

Cocohoba discussed with her patient her medication list and adherence, and a host of other issues—including access to a pharmacy—that might affect the success of the patient’s medication treatment plan. Students were then free to ask questions, ranging from “What can pharmacists do to serve you better?” for the patient, to “How do you advise patients who insist on taking lower dosages of their prescribed medications?” for Cocohoba.

student audience with one student standing

New PharmD student Michael Fashola poses a question during the patient check-in on the first day of the new PharmD curriculum.

“The patient case with Cocohoba was extremely motivating and eye-opening,” said student Emily Plasencia. “It gave me this feeling of ‘this is why I'm doing all this’—to someday be in her shoes and be able to counsel patients as effectively as she did.”

For the students, the experience continued as they broke into small groups to debrief and discuss how to talk to patients. Translating real experiences, like this one, into classroom learning will be a key part of the new curriculum. “You can’t learn from osmosis, you have to practice,” Vice Dean Sharon L. Youmans, PharmD ’85, MPH, told the class.

Five years in the making

Faculty members across the School’s three departments spent five years designing the new curriculum around scientific thinking, challenging students to ask “why,” “why not,” and “how.” This curriculum aims to graduate “a multifaceted and compassionate leader in pharmacy, with a scientific mindset and a limitless future,” said Youmans.

Aweeka with students

Fran Aweeka, PharmD, leads a discussion with new PharmD students. Aweeka was actively involved in creating the new curriculum.

To further ground students in the practice of pharmacy, the new curriculum organizes its content around diseases and organ systems, challenging students to regularly apply their newfound skills to a variety of clinical circumstances and problems.

The curriculum will be completed over three years, year round, instead of four years with summer breaks, a first for the School. This shift will save students a year of living expenses in San Francisco and enable them to enter practice or additional advanced training, from residencies to fellowships, one year earlier than the norm.

Getting to know each other

The first few days of orientation and class were also a chance for students to get to know each other and become acquainted with San Francisco and UCSF.

Despite the classic, foggy skies of a San Francisco summer, the students were all smiles as they solved their way out of human knots and tossed hula-hoops as part of Student Kickoff Day in Golden Gate Park, led by other PharmD student orientation counselors.

three groups of “human knots”

PharmD students untangle themselves from a “human knot” during orientation at Golden Gate Park.

“I feel like we've all clicked so quickly,” said Plasencia. “Everyone is so welcoming; all the P2's have been so excited, and the same goes for the staff and faculty. The scavenger hunt yesterday was a good way to actually figure out where things are on campus, and I would’ve been lost without it.”

“At the moment, there is a combination of a lot of feelings—exciting, overwhelming, nerve-wracking,” said Virk, “but at the end of the day I feel very lucky to be here and to get to do this.”

More moments from orientation and the first day of the new PharmD program


Sharon L. Youmans, PharmD, MPH, vice dean of the School of Pharmacy, leads a discussion with new PharmD students.

student with poster

A student hangs up a poster of ideas about what makes a good pharmacist, brainstormed in small groups after observing the patient check-in led by Cocohoba.

Berkley seated among other students

New PharmD student Ellen Berkley, on the first day of the new PharmD curriculum.



School of Pharmacy, PharmD Degree Program

About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.