School of Pharmacy welcomes Class of 2023 at a pivotal time

“My warmest welcome to you, the distinguished Class of 2023,” said UCSF School of Pharmacy Dean B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD, addressing the newest students in the School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program. “Whether you know it or not, your matriculation to our school, your school, has been distinguished by your already clear commitment to PRIDE values—professionalism, respect, integrity, diversity, and excellence.”

Orientation for the Class of 2023 was held remotely in late July due to the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling all 128 first-year students to begin their pharmacy education safely and without delay. The dean, along with Vice Dean Sharon L. Youmans, PharmD, MPH, and Associate Dean Cynthia Watchmaker, MBA, MEd, greeted the entering class virtually and provided words of wisdom before the students broke off into smaller groups to get to know one another.

“We welcome your input and collaboration starting right now, day one, as we address the impact of racism, the pandemic, and the economic crisis that we are in at this moment,” said Guglielmo. “We expect you to assist and create new models of care with the vision that all patients deserve the right to receive the most safe, the most effective, the least costly drug therapies.”

Training the new students in the pharmacy profession from a distance will require flexibility and commitment, but Youmans reassured them that the School of Pharmacy community was ready to guide them each step of the way.

“Teaching and learning in the current circumstance is going to look and feel very different,” she said. “But I want you to know that you will not be in this alone, that we are all in this together, and we can only be successful through true partnership and supporting one another.”

A cohort built on diversity of background and expertise

Members of the Class of 2023 all relocated to San Francisco for the shared purpose of becoming pharmacists, since the School plans to slowly resume in-person education as circumstances allow. Each of them brings unique perspectives and talents that promise to enrich their educational paths and ultimately the pharmacy community at large.

“You have sacrificed, you have worked hard, there have been challenges, and there have been good times leading you to this day and to this goal,” said Watchmaker, before informing the students of the diversity among their cohort.

Of the 128 members of the new class, 72 percent identify as female, and 12 percent identify as part of the LGBT community. Twenty-six percent of students come from underrepresented backgrounds (Black, Filipino, or Hispanic), 12 percent are white, and 59 percent are Asian.

Graduates of University of California campuses comprise 64 percent of the class, with another 15 percent coming from the California State University system. While most students hail from California, there are students representing six other states in the United States, as well as countries as near as Mexico and the Dominican Republic and as far as Palestine, Kenya, and Hong Kong.

Aside from the most popular majors of biology, biochemistry, and pharmaceutical sciences, students majoring in botany, literature, philosophy, physics, and psychology bring the strengths of a wide range of fields to the table.

“One of our goals for orientation in the next couple of days is to support and build community within the Class of 2023,” said Watchmaker. “We know that that is an incredibly important part of the UCSF experience. And while it may look different to everybody this summer, I think we can still do it.”

Pharmacy education and community-building from a distance

Over four days of remote orientation programming, the new students learned more about the three-year, year-round PharmD curriculum that awaited them and spent time familiarizing themselves with other students, the faculty and staff, and the core values of the School.

“This is a health sciences campus, steeped in science and research, and an inquiry habit of mind is an important component of our curriculum,” said Youmans during an overview of the PharmD curriculum. “We want you to never settle for the status quo, to be curious enough to take a risk, to want to generate new information, and to find ways to provide care more effectively and efficiently.”

In addition to learning how to use digital tools for attending lectures and study sessions, students recreated traditional ice-breaking games, like Jeopardy! and scavenger hunts, from the comfort of their homes and were paired with more senior student buddies to provide mentorship and friendship in a new city.

It took a few days for Agathea Bato, Class of 2023, to adapt to the different feel and pacing of a fully-remote orientation. “But when we started seeing more familiar faces and got to know our classmates a little bit better, I got that energy back up, and I was excited for the next week,” she said.

June 27, the first day of instruction, began with students observing a remote pharmacist check-in with a patient, providing them with a real-world example of the type of patient care they can expect to engage in during their careers.

“When I worked as a pharmacy technician, I’d overhear patients talk to pharmacists all the time with questions and concerns, but I've never seen a patient check-in that went into so much detail,” said Ashley Hua, also Class of 2023. “It really put into perspective what I can do here with my time at UCSF.”

Pursuing a PharmD in the present day may look a bit different for now, but the School remains committed to imbuing future pharmacists with a scientific mindset, an understanding of inequities in health care and society, and a willingness to challenge the status quo. From the challenges of the pandemic to a renewed national reckoning with systemic racism, the Class of 2023 is well positioned to soon join a long tradition of UCSF pharmacists striving to improve the lives of all patients.

“In this era of COVID-19, we look to you to be our strong partners,” said Youmans. “You are making history as we embark on this journey under these interesting and serious circumstances.”

Jeopardy! is a registered trademark of Jeopardy Productions, Inc.


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.