An Interview with Neveen Abdelghani, Pharm. D Student

by Cathy Sivak
An Interview with Neveen Abdelghani, Pharm. D Student

Volunteer work leads to pursuit of Pharm. D

Neveen "Nev" Abdelghani is in her final year at the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy, and is slated to graduate in May 2006 with not only her Pharm. D but also a master's in regulatory science.

Her interest in the pharmacy profession began as a volunteer at a South Central Los Angeles health clinic while she was a student at the University of California, Los Angeles (she graduated in 2001 with a dual bachelor's of science degree in chemistry and political science).

She is an active member of the American Pharmacists Association-Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP), acting in several leadership roles and participating in numerous projects. Nev describes her involvement with APhA-ASP as "life-altering," and credits the organization with her internship in the Department of Essential Drugs and Medicines at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, as well as being the official delegate of the APhA-ASP and the United States at the 51st IPSF World Congress in Bonn, Germany.

In addition, Nev has completed internships in both in community and hospital settings, where contact with patients stands out as the most positive experience. "There is no better feeling than having counseled a patient and knowing that you made a difference in their life," she says.

Education Information & Advice

Tell us about your PharmD education and your educational background leading up to the PharmD program.

I am currently in my fourth and final year at the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy. I began my medicine rotation just this past month at the USC University Hospital and at the close of this first six-week rotation will go on to complete rotations in outpatient psychiatry, independent community pharmacy, pharmacy management and hospital administration, as well as an international rotation to Australia and an industry rotation at Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. I will graduate in May 2006 with dual degrees, Pharm. D and my master's in Regulatory Science.

How did you decide to study pharmacy? And how did you find a school?

My interest in pharmacy began as an undergraduate while attending the University of California, Los Angeles. During my junior year, I began volunteering at the UMMA Free Clinic, a clinic in South Central Los Angeles fully run and staffed by volunteers that provides valuable medical and health services for the surrounding underserved community. While there, I worked as a pharmacy assistant and got my first inside look into the amazing work that pharmacists were doing in the community. I experienced the essence of true interdisciplinary education and saw firsthand pharmaceutical care working at its best: nurses, doctors, pharmacists and students working together to successfully manage the health of their patients. From that point on, until I graduated in 2001 with a dual bachelor's of science degree in chemistry and political science, I was sold on the idea of becoming a pharmacist.

During my senior year, I applied to the USC and UCSF Schools of Pharmacy; my search for a school was limited to those schools in California, as I wanted to remain close to my family. Although I was accepted to both, to the surprise of many of my friends, I decided to attend the USC School of Pharmacy. I selected USC for its solid reputation, up-to-date pharmacy curriculum with a variety of dual degree programs, community-centered pharmacy focus, and for the excellence of its leadership and strong push for student activism within the profession. Additionally, going to USC allowed me to remain in Los Angeles with my family and keep close ties with the UMMA Free Clinic, where I continue to volunteer.

What factors should prospective students consider when choosing a school? Are there any different considerations for those who know that they want to specialize in the field of pharmacy?

When the time comes to select a school to attend, students considering pharmacy school may want to look deeper than a school's academic ranking. You may find it helpful to speak with students currently attending the school to get a feel for the academic rigor of the program, as well as to get a better look into student life. It is also a good idea to visit the school and talk with faculty members and academic advisors about the curriculum and to find out what opportunities exist to take electives in specialized pharmacy areas and/or pursue a dual degree in some other field.

If you already know that you would like to specialize in a particular area of pharmacy or would like to pursue a dual degree, then you will want to narrow down your search to those colleges or universities that offer those opportunities. Like me, some students may find their school search narrowed if they desire to remain in their home state, while others may find it helpful to consider the cost of tuition and living expenses as a means of narrowing down the search. Although tuition and living expenses are important, students should also be aware that a variety of financial aid packages and loans do exist to assist in covering the costs of their pharmacy education. Use web sites as an introduction to pharmacy programs, but certainly take the time to visit and speak with current attendees and faculty to get a better feel for the programs as a whole.

How has your previous education contributed to your success in the Pharm. D. program?

I graduated from UCLA in 2001 with a dual bachelor's of science in chemistry and political science. Although this may seem an unlikely combination, both areas have been invaluable to me during the pursuit of my Pharm. D. I was able to complete a number of pharmacy pre-requisite courses as a chemistry major that were also requirements for the Pharm. D major; in essence, I was able to hit two birds with one stone. In this way, being a science major is a definite plus as an undergraduate, for it can reduce the time you spend outside of school attempting to fulfill pharmacy requirements. My political science degree provided me with the opportunity to fine tune my analytical reasoning skills, as well as further develop my written and oral communication skills - all traits vital for becoming a successful pharmacist. Additionally, getting a degree in political science broadened my world view and actually laid down the foundations for my interests in international drug regulation and global health issues.

You are active in several pharmacy-related organizations. Tell us about your experiences with these groups.

Being active with APhA-ASP has been one of the most fulfilling and life-altering experiences of my life. My membership with APhA-ASP is one of the main reasons why I am so active in the pharmacy profession and remain as passionate about pharmacy today as I was when I first entered. APhA-ASP encourages students to take an active role in shaping the future of their profession. As members, students are on the frontlines of pharmacy trends and current health legislation, participating in the APhA-ASP House of Delegates both regionally and nationally to bring important pharmacy issues to the attention of lawmakers.

Students may also get more active in their communities by helping to screen patients for high blood sugar (Operation Diabetes), giving vaccinations (Operation Immunization), and educating patients on the importance of healthy lifestyles to prevent the onset of heartburn (Heartburn Awareness Challenge). In addition to serving as a delegate to the APhA-ASP House of Delegates and participating in these far-reaching community health campaigns, APhA-ASP provided me with the unique opportunity to take my activism to the national and even international level as an appointed APhA-ASP National Officer to the International Pharmaceutical Students Federation (IPSF), of which APhA-ASP is the official USA Full Member Organization. It was through my involvement with APhA-ASP that I was able to secure an amazing internship in the Department of Essential Drugs and Medicines at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, as well as, attend the 51st IPSF World Congress in Bonn, Germany as an official delegate on behalf of APhA-ASP and the USA.

What can Pharm. D students expect as part of student membership experiences?

For those students who join APhA-ASP and realize the full potential of their membership by actively participating in activities and taking on leadership roles; the rewards are not limited to the bevy of free publications and discounts to conferences that other organizations offer. APhA-ASP gave me the chance to fulfill my dreams. I wanted to become a leader and educate my fellow student pharmacists on the importance of international health issues; APhA gave me that chance by granting me a two-year appointment as an APhA-ASP/IPSF National Officer. I wanted to specialize in international drug regulation and add real-time experience to my repertoire of combined Pharm. D/MS education; APhA gave me the chance to do this by opening up the doors to an internship at the WHO. I wanted to further educate myself to the cultural diversity surrounding me and become more sensitive to the health issues facing the developing countries and global community as a whole; APhA gave me the chance to do this by sending me as a delegate to the IPSF World Congress, where I met student pharmacists from around the world and made friendships that will last a lifetime. What can students expect from their membership experience with APhA-ASP? Just about anything is possible!

How can prospective Pharm. D students assess their skill and aptitude?

Prospective students can assess their skills and aptitude by volunteering or working at a pharmacy before applying to pharmacy school. In this way, students will have a firsthand look at the work of pharmacists and be in a better position to decide whether becoming a pharmacist is the best career option for them. Although working in a pharmacy is not absolutely necessary for application to pharmacy school, it is highly recommended as a way to assess communication skills and overall aptitude. Moreover, I have found that my colleagues who came into pharmacy school with prior experience are some of the most passionate and driven of individuals, excelling not just in communication skills, but in overall leadership and activism.

What can students applying to Pharm. D programs do to increase their chances of being accepted?

Students applying to Pharm. D programs need to bear in mind that the profession as a whole is undergoing a number of significant changes. Within the current healthcare system, pharmacists are increasingly finding themselves interacting with a variety of other professionals, including but not limited to, physicians, nurses, politicians, entrepreneurs and lawyers. This interdisciplinary push has not only opened up more potential career paths for pharmacists, but has also meant that pharmacists are expected to have some practical knowledge of management, economics and legalese outside of their traditional drug information expertise. The movement has trickled down not just to pharmacy education (as evidenced by the expanding number of specialty pharmacy electives, residencies, fellowships, and dual degree programs), but has also manifested in the pharmacy school admissions process. Pharmacy schools today are looking in large part to accept more well-rounded individuals to their programs. The most successful pharmacists are not only those with the best academic records, but also those who have demonstrated leadership experience in student clubs and organizations, have a wide repertoire of analytical and problem solving skills, and can successfully interact with a variety of personality types.

What have been the most positive educational experiences in your education thus far?

By far, the most positive educational experiences I have had thus far have been my advocacy work with APhA-ASP, my internship at the World Health Organization, and my recent trip to the IPSF World Congress in Bonn, Germany as both a delegate and official congress speaker.

You & Your Career

What steps have you taken as a student to launch your career?

I have made it a priority not just to do well academically, but also to get involved with my professional pharmacy associations. My involvement with APhA-ASP has been the foundation for many of the amazing experiences I have had to date while attending pharmacy school. I have also made a point of going to local association meetings as a way to network with pharmacists in my area, as well as holding a variety of pharmacy internships to help assess which areas of pharmacy I am the most interested in.

How available are internships and other hands-on training experiences? Any tips for landing?

Internships are readily available for student pharmacists. The profession as a whole has been experiencing a shortage in the supply of pharmacists, and although this shortage is expected to even out in the coming years, pharmacies will still be in need of intern pharmacists eager to learn and advance the profession. When students begin to apply for internships, I suggest having a Curriculum Vita (CV) or resume readily available to give to employers. Do not wait until you begin to apply for jobs to get your CV up-to-date. Continually update your CV and have a copy ready to give your employers during interviews. Additionally, it is advisable for students to review proper interview dress and etiquette before going in for job interviews.

What do you enjoy most about your hands-on experience so far?

In all of my hands-on experiences thus far, both in the community and hospital settings, the one thing that stands out the most has been the contact that I have had with patients. There is no better feeling than having counseled a patient and knowing that you made a difference in their life!

What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?

At this point in my pharmacy education, I am very much inclined toward a career within the pharmaceutical industry. My hope is to use a position in industry to springboard to the international level, where I can use my drug regulation knowledge to develop medication relief programs and assist with ongoing relief efforts to get medications to countries in need. Ultimately, I see myself working for an international organization such as the World Health Organization or the Federation of International Pharmacists.

Do you feel that is important for someone to be passionate about the field of pharmacy in order to be successful?

I think that being passionate about the field of pharmacy really separates the mediocre pharmacists from the movers and shakers within the profession. Anyone can go through pharmacy school, graduate and get a job. But not anyone can become an effective leader, an advocate for professionalism, or someone dedicated to improving the image of pharmacists to the public. You need to be passionate about the profession to be able to affect these kinds of changes.

What other advice can you give to prospective students thinking about an education and career in the field of pharmacy?

Pursuing a Pharm. D is a commitment! Do not expect to enter pharmacy school, breeze right through, and get a job. Pharmacy school is very rigorous and academics are not something to be taken lightly, especially as the information you will receive in classes will form the foundation of your pharmacy knowledge in the future. That said, I would also like to mention that becoming a pharmacist is not like being an undergraduate, where grades and GPA matter the most. Becoming a pharmacist means learning how to be a professional and fine tuning those skills that will make you a successful health care practitioner. While your grades need to be maintained, I hope that prospective students take the time to get involved in their professional associations and get active within the profession. Only by doing this can students reap the full benefits of their pharmacy educations.

Editor's Note: : If you would like more information from Nev about her pharmacy student experience, feel free to contact her.

Related Articles