A non-traditional story of determination
According to Wikipedia, non-traditional students are defined as “adult students who are not participating in higher education immediately after high school, are 25 years old and older, and/or have major life and work roles and responsibilities.” Until a few years ago, I had never heard that term, but I suppose it applies. My decision to return to school almost 20 years after an undergraduate degree was not something I considered lightly. Major financial, social, and emotional adjustments in my life were necessary. Once I developed a solid plan to address the financial piece, I had to ensure my daughters would be okay to stand more on their own, while I remained dedicated to the time it takes to do well in pharmacy school.
I truly believe life before pharmacy school was full of experiences that have led me here and have provided skills that will help me excel as a health professional.
'Horses are good for the soul'
While completing my chemistry degree as a “traditional” student, I was somewhat non-traditional because I was born and raised in the Panama Canal Zone. Although we visited the United States for vacation, my parents were also born in Panama and had never lived here. When I was 18, I moved from Panama and all that was familiar to attend the University of South Florida. As a first-generation college student experiencing culture shock, I received financial help from my parents, but they were thousands of miles away in another country—before the days of cell phones and social media. For better or worse, this was an immediate jump into adulthood. I learned that I am capable of figuring things out when presented with unknown circumstances. I also learned that although I enjoyed learning, I felt directionless and unfulfilled in school, so the last thing I wanted to do was to pursue an advanced degree. After graduation, I promptly went to work as a groom/exercise rider for an equestrian group that imported, trained, and resold show horses.
Horses have been a passion of mine since before I could speak. My parents finally broke down the summer before I started second grade and enrolled me in horseback riding lessons. I never looked back. It is empowering for young girls to commit to the responsibility of caring for a horse along with the discipline to dedicate time learning the skills needed to compete. Try convincing an 1,100-pound prey animal (only using body cues like legs, weight, and hands) that it’s a great idea to navigate both of you over 10 to 15 large obstacles in an arena surrounded by loud noises and people, then we can talk about teamwork and communication skills! Oh yeah, and in the Hunter Divisions, you are judged on aesthetics as well, so it should look effortless and beautiful while technically sound. It’s not a sport for the faint of heart.
The continual learning and development of skills keeps me engaged even after decades of experience. Continuous learning is an aspect of pharmacy, and health care in general, that intrigues me since I will never run out of things to be curious about. Involvement with horses has been interwoven throughout my life—through school, marriage, kids, divorce, friendships, other jobs, etc. As an entrepreneur, I started an LLC where I taught riding lessons, managed the barn, went to competitions, and trained horses for clients and for sales. Horses are good for the soul and I am grateful that they kept me sane through some difficult times in my life. Winston Churchill said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” I believe that applies to women as well.
Staying motivated and positive
Returning to school for an advanced degree has been liberating and terrifying at the same time. I struggle with the knowledge of the debt I am incurring, but I have a plan for repayment. I am passionate about giving back to people in my community, especially those with substance use disorders, mental health issues, and women and children experiencing domestic violence. Empathy and showing compassion for patients is not enough for me. I am dedicated to learning skills and resources to help patients improve their conditions and support them through struggles. Those struggles may be health, financial, or family issues, among any of the other challenges we all face as humans. Being part of an interdisciplinary team is the best approach to help patients navigate various health issues while addressing barriers to care. It takes a village.
It’s been a pleasant surprise to realize that I still have the capacity to perform well academically. My academic success so far has been encouraging, but it’s not been a solo journey. Wingate University has been the perfect fit through accommodating my demanding personal schedule and providing supportive faculty and administrators, ideal class size, and great classmates. It helps to have dedicated study partners to keep me motivated and positive throughout this process. My daughters are inspirational and my parents are supportive. My younger daughter is working hard on college applications, so we encourage each other. I continue to work on my emotional and physical well-being on a daily basis. Pharmacy school has been pretty isolating as far as having a personal life outside of school, but yoga, running, and the promise of being able to ride horses regularly again keeps me going.
In addition, I have been inspired by pharmacy co-workers at The Free Clinics and my Wingate faculty members to complete a residency program after graduation. Juggling academics, rotations, work and family responsibilities with the time demands of organizational leadership roles, research projects, community service, and extracurricular activities such as the AHEC Scholar program are all preparation to become a strong candidate for residency, but I am all in! My favorite thing to do is learn, finding creative solutions is my passion, and I truly realize the importance of supporting others.
Pharmacy has already provided me with so many opportunities to meet people that share these passions, so I am excited to see where this next phase will lead.