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Class of 2024 proudly enters the pharmacy profession amid pandemic
Newest class of pharmacy students receives their White Coats
The Class of 2024 arrived on campus this summer with the gravity of their newfound responsibilities in health care cast in sharp relief against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
At the time, the UCSF School of Pharmacy was cautiously optimistic that its newest class of doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) students would be able to gather in person for many of the traditional welcoming events, thanks in part to successful immunization campaigns carried out by pharmacists at UCSF and across the country.
“What’s really making me fall in love with UCSF so far is the people,” said Trevor Joseph Orot, Class of 2024, of his early experiences as a PharmD student. “My class is extremely supportive, and I’ve also noticed how much the students here take initiative and stand for social justice. I feel welcome and excited to learn here.”
Orot and his fellow first-year pharmacy students were slated to don their traditional white coats, symbolizing entry into the pharmacy profession at an in-person ceremony in August, weeks after beginning their coursework.
But the Delta variant soon unearthed now-familiar concerns about large gatherings, and the White Coat Ceremony was postponed and then made virtual.
Like their more senior peers, who a year earlier faced a rapidly changing learning environment that upended pharmacy education, the new students adapted. Over the last 18 months, everything from student orientation to experiential learning—which introduces students to patient care—had to be adjusted to account for pandemic risks.
“Please don your fresh, white, wrinkle-free coats today,” said School of Pharmacy Dean B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD, at the remote ceremony. “The school’s goal is to mark this accomplishment in person in a second ceremony, as you embark on your advanced pharmacy practice experiences (APPEs) in your third year, when your coat may not be as fresh but will have even more meaning.”
Embarking on pharmacy careers in a changed world
For Daisha Matthews, Class of 2024, the UCSF experience began on her laptop in Gardena, California, 300 miles from the Bay Area. She and her new classmates completed daily online modules for the first half of orientation, familiarizing themselves with UCSF while current pharmacy students reached out to welcome them from afar.
“Even though [parts of the orientation] were virtual, there was a lot of communication and outreach online, so I felt fully immersed even before I moved up here,” she said.
The 127 new students come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Seventy-four percent identify as female, and nine percent identify as part of the LGBT community. Twenty-four percent come from underrepresented backgrounds (Black, Filipino, or Hispanic), 67% of students come from a University of California campus, and 12% come from a California State University campus.
In mid-July, the Class of 2024 finally convened in person. As the students got to know one another, sharing everything from their cultural backgrounds to their life aspirations, they quickly developed a collective sense of purpose that left a lasting impression.
“One moment that I’ll always remember is Dr. Youmans’s presentation on diversity and equity,” said Orot, who hails from Guam. “Learning about what UCSF stands for and realizing that we’re now all on the same path together is something that I’ve really enjoyed.”
The students’ solidarity stretched into the classroom, where they encountered an immediate emphasis on collaboration, both with one another and with faculty members. For example, in one exercise, they tackled patient cases in small groups. This format served as an early test of their teamwork but also enabled them to meet all their classmates as groups were shuffled.
“The curriculum moves quickly, but it creates a structure where you’re very intentional about your learning,” said Matthews. “I like how all the different topics we’re learning build on one another and call upon us to think critically.”
The summer quickly gave way to fall, and orientation gave way to a busy schedule of classes and introductory pharmacy practice experiences. While the Delta variant forced the logistics surrounding the White Coat ceremony to change, the virus would not get in the way of the students formally assuming their new responsibilities in health care.
Donning white coats no matter the circumstances
The virtual White Coat Ceremony was broadcast on October 15 to an audience of nearly 1,500. All members of the Class of 2024 tuned in from their homes, with select family members and friends in attendance to witness the ceremonial robing.
“Each of your stories is unique, demonstrating hard work and sacrifice, however always with a good dose of that scientific way of thinking as well as activism,” said School of Pharmacy Dean B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD, in opening remarks.
Guglielmo noted that nearly a year prior, a UCSF pharmacy student, Matthew Aludino, Class of 2021, had administered the university’s first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to a UCSF Health employee—a testament to the present nature of the new class’s service to patients.
Guglielmo lauded the class for their varied academic interests, from the life sciences to gender studies and business administration. He reminded students that no matter where their careers took them, patients would remain at the center of their work.
“Any critical thinking you might develop in your time at UCSF is worthless if you do not truly feel the responsibility for the patient, the need to advocate on behalf of that patient,” said Guglielmo. “Will you be passive in your advocacy, or will you be active?”
Mahtab Jafari, PharmD ’94, president of the Pharmacy Alumni Association Board of Governors, also welcomed the students.
“You are now officially part of a large family, the UCSF family,” said Jafari, who is now a faculty member at UC Irvine. “You have chosen the best school to launch your career as a future pharmacist.”
Guglielmo then introduced keynote speaker Lisa Kroon, PharmD, chair of the School’s Department of Clinical Pharmacy and assistant chief pharmacy officer for UCSF Health.
Kroon said she had once thought that degrees and licenses were required to “be” a pharmacist, but her career had taught her that the profession begins in pharmacy school.
She also highlighted what the students would need to do to maximize their positive impact on the field of pharmacy—and ultimately, on their patients.
“Stretch, live out of your comfort zone, always think about what’s possible, not just what’s not possible or what’s wrong,” she said. “Be bold, take risks, and embrace change. I hope you all see this moment as one of endless possibilities.”
Vice Dean Sharon Youmans, PharmD, MPH, read the names of students aloud as they donned their white coats, one at a time, from their remote locations. The audience of loved ones and family members sent their congratulations via a live-chat window displayed next to the video feed, creating a celebratory and communal atmosphere in spite of the distance.
Student speaker Temi Sofeso, Class of 2022, then provided a clarion call for students to challenge injustice wherever they encountered it.
“UCSF is a home of changemakers, and each of you has the extraordinary potential to impact meaningful systemic change,” said Sofeso. “Asking ‘what do I want to be when I grow up?’ is not enough,” she added. “I implore you to shift gears and focus on answering the question, ‘who do I want to be?’”
Kroon led the newly-coated students in their first official recitation of the Oath of the Pharmacist. Kroon read each line aloud, with a single student echoing each line in response.
The ceremony concluded with congratulatory messages from distinguished alumni and faculty.
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.