Featured Students: Pharmacy

Michael Gonzalez 

How is it that 21 years ago a newborn child was brought into this world without any knowledge but so eager to experience the walk of life, which can be heard through the cries he bellows out as the lights hit his eyes for the first time? As he grows, an innocent young boy with unforeseen challenges along his journey of life is raised by a single mother and grandparents that are his support. Experiencing the death of his grandfather due to outstanding health problems who he held dear to him because of his father figure role was lost in what felt like an unknown world. This young boy grows to display a reserved and quiet personality who keeps to himself holding back his true self not knowing what is to come ahead. As he matures into a young man who is diligent with his studies, he has gotten himself to be the first in his family to attend college and now have the opportunity to pursue a dream of a professional degree in pharmacy that is within reach of achieving.”

First off, let me say that the paragraph above is the introduction from my personal statement that I wrote when applying to pharmacy schools that I feel sums up my journey thus far. I believe that everyone has a unique story to tell that solely belongs to them. My story has been a fun ride and is about to get even more exciting. However; keep in mind it wasn’t an easy one but doable as long as one keeps there mind to it.

Growing up, my true interest into the health professions started during my teen years reassuring me that becoming a health professional was something I could see myself being one day. However, I just didn’t know what I wanted to be exactly. In high school I was part of a program called Advancement Via Individual Determination “AVID,” which I believe really helped me and guided me at an early age. The program was all about preparing students early on for college and informing us about what steps we needed to take to get there. Once I knew that I wanted to go into the health professions I initially wanted to be a doctor. As time went on and I did some research I wasn’t too sure if being a doctor was something that I really wanted to do. I will admit, the number of years needed for school did discourage me a bit. Then I was introduced into pharmacy which caught my attention and started to slowly intrigue me.

During my senior year of high school was when I knew pharmacy was the path that I wanted to take. I was introduced to it by a friend who was taking a pharmacy technician class through the North Orange County Regional Occupational Program “NOCROP.”. It sounded interesting to me at the time so I gave it a try and decided to take the class during senior year as an elective. As I took the class it exposed me to the pharmacy world getting an insight of what it was all about with a hands on approach since I had to complete 160 hours of externship at Walgreens Pharmacy. From that point on I knew that this was the career that I wanted for myself later on in the future. With this in mind, I chose a degree to pursue at CSUF that I knew would give me most of my prerequisites for pharmacy school which was Biochemistry.

Attending CSUF was a new experience for me and one that I will never forget. While at CSUF I met so many new people and made friends that I can say really inspired me. Meeting new people is not always easy, but as time goes on you will learn that you can take away so much from them. The people I met shared their stories with me and how they got where they are. After a while some of these people seem to be more like family since they are in most of your classes year after year. Together we went through the stress, panic, and accomplishments. Undergrad was not easy, there were times that I felt like giving up because a class was too hard or because I didn’t get the grade that I wanted. However, I always had to remind myself why I was there to take those classes and that was to accomplish my goal of becoming a pharmacist one day. There will be times when it may get overwhelming but just remember the opportunity you have been given to pursue your education.  

Now is the time that I can say that what I been through so far has paid off. I have been accepted to Chapman’s brand new School of Pharmacy which I will start fall 2015. I will be a part of their inaugural class to pursue a doctor of pharmacy. The process to get here hasn’t been easy but well worth it. I have gotten a lot of help and advice from friends, family, and the Health Professions Office that we have on campus. My suggestion to any of you applying is to get a committed letter packet like I did to help support your application when applying to professional schools. Also, I worked as a pharmacy technician to give me that experience which I think will help to have on anyone’s application. Remember to always be involved and try to be a part of something more. I know that there’s a lot in store for me ahead and it hasn’t even begun yet, but one thing that I can say is that I am very grateful for the opportunities that I have been given so far. I am eager for what the future has in store for me as I move onto the next step in my life and continue my journey that I know will allow me to take care of other people’s lives and mine.

The time that seemed so far away and unachievable for me is finally here. As I continue to take on my journey to achieve my dreams and goals, I leave you with this…

As an individual, remember to always stay true to yourself and never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. I know you probably heard this plenty of times but believe me on this one. If you put your mind, effort, and hard work into anything you will accomplish your goal; it’s just a matter of time. Trust me, I never thought that I would be where I am today, I never thought it would be “me.” I must say going through it all has not been easy but well worth it. There will be times where you may want to give up and try something different because it’s too “hard,” or it take too “long.” Yes, this was me once. The classes you take to get there may be interesting at times as well as a nightmare at other times. However, don’t let grades, a GPA, or test score stop or discourage you. I was not a straight “A” student nor the best student but what I did do was try, always try your best. The best thing you can do is leave what you did knowing that you tried the best you can. Always try to stay organized and manage your time, start early and don’t procrastinate. Be your own person, stay positive, and follow your dreams. It may or may not be easy for you, but one day it will all fall into place. Put the time in now to be able to enjoy all the time later on with an education you worked so hard for.

Well my friends, it’s time for me to continue my journey but remember you decide the life you want to live. Have fun and I wish you all success with your future endeavors. If there is any way I can help you feel free to email me at michaelg62@yahoo.com

"It's not time itself that matters. It's what you do with that time that counts. The time will pass no matter what you do, so you might as well do something Great!"

Peter Nguyen

Peter NguyenHello there! If you are reading this, you are probably a student interested in the health professions, a lost student meandering through the school website, or a member of the Health Professions office. If you happen to be one of the two former choices, this information is for YOU! Do you feel unsure, scared, or just overall lost about what you want to do with your future? Fear not, for majority of the students you have read about on this page were in your position not too long ago. As can be seen above, my name is Peter and my journey to Pharmacy School was not exactly the most conventional one, but it worked, and that is the important part. The following are some of the stepping stones I have crossed that ultimately led me to UCSF's School of Pharmacy.

  1. I NEVER got my Pharm Tech License. I know, you probably heard from some students that you MUST have this in order to even apply to a pharmacy program, but I am living proof that this is a myth. Now do not get the wrong idea, if pharmacy is what you are interested in, it is extremely important to familiarize yourself with what you are planning to commit the rest of your life to. I got to know what pharmacy was like through doing various things, like calling inspirational pharmacists to discuss unique ways they are using their license and going down to Mexico with the members of Flying Samaritans to see how pharmacists and other health professionals help in different cultural settings. Bottom line is, do not apply to something without knowing it is 100% what you want to do.
  2. Get involved in SOMETHING and if you are passionate about it, stick with it! While at CSUF, I joined the Supplemental Instruction (SI) Program and it changed my life (don't know what SI is? Here is a link http://news.fullerton.edu/news/2014sp/SI-funding.asp). In short, the SI program taught me to understand how to interact with students of differing backgrounds, showed me the importance of collaboration across disciplines, and reduced my fear of public speaking. Do all of these skills sound familiar? It should, because EVERY program out there claims their ideal student will possess these skills. Now what is the best way to demonstrate to the programs you are applying to that you have these skills? Should you join every club on campus? No! The point is not to stuff your resume with random experiences, but to grow and develop with certain few.
  3. Now onto the application process. You know that fear you get when you write an essay and you refuse to show it to other people because you are afraid they will judge you? Take that fear, put it in a box, lock it up, and throw away that key because that is a fear you MUST get over to be successful in your life. Believe me, I understand the fear. When it came to my pharmacy school essays, I did not want anybody to read them, but I bit the bullet and allowed anyone and everyone to read them, and I am very glad I did. My research advisor, my English professor, and several of my friends all gave me the necessary push to write that behemoth of an essay. You really get to find out who you are through the eyes of your family and friends during this process.
  4. Once the essays are all done, we have the beloved interviews. For those of you who have never interviewed for anything before, try not to panic. The purpose of the interview is not only to find out if you are a right fit for the school's program, but to find out if they are the right fit for you! If you act like anybody other than yourself, and they accept you, did they really accept you? Although I hate clichés, not being yourself in an interview will really hurt you in the future. 

P.S. avoid trying to find interview questions through websites like Student Doctor Network. If your answers are prepared and not organic, you may come off as fake, and the last thing a school wants is a fake version of yourself! 

Trust me guys, CSUF really prepares you and there are tons of people who you can get advice from, but in the end, your application story will be different from everyone else's. Definitely seek out help from people when you need it, but I believe that these professional schools want to see you carve out a unique identity for yourself. The health professions are undergoing drastic changes, and who knows, maybe it will be the applicants with the unusual experiences will be the one that is most desirable.

Leaving my mark,


Christine L. Nguyen

Christine NguyenI'm a third-year student at USC School of Pharmacy (Go Trojans!).  I graduated from CSUF (Go Titans!) in 2006 with a degree in Molecular Biology & Biotechnology.  I was a transfer student from community college and it took me 5 and a half years to get my degree.  It took me awhile to figure out what to major in, what career to pursue, and how to get myself into pharmacy school, so don't be discouraged if you feel the same way!  

My advice to you is to be well-rounded!  Yes, get good grades, but also gain experience in the field by working or volunteering, get involved in the community, and get involved in school activities!  You have more time than you think!  My activities consisted of working as a pharmacy technician at Walgreens, engaging in biochemistry research in Dr. Christopher Meyer's lab, being SHPA pharmacy chairman for a year, and volunteering in at St. Jude Medical Center.  Also, don't base your career choice on how easy/hard it is to get into the program.  If you pursue something you don't truly want to do, you will most definitely be unhappy through the program and in your professional life.  Lastly, keep yourself on track!  You can do it!  Be proactive by creating a good strategy and employ it!

Good luck!
Christine L. Nguyen

Dickie Nguyen

Dickie NguyenI was never a great student in high school. I was an average student, living an average life, with average grades. It wasn’t until I attended Cal State Fullerton when my life drastically took a change. I entered CSUF with an undeclared major and not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. After taking my first biology course however, I was hooked with the science and quickly declared it as my major. Shortly afterwards, I found myself deeply interested in the health professions field.

The Student Heath Professions Association and the Health Professions Advising center has gave me direction to the career I wanted to pursue in. After seeing all the different types of speakers SHPA had provided, I became extremely interested in pharmacy. The interactions with drugs and the human body captivated me and I find it amazing to learn that a simple pill, syrup, or cough drop is powerful enough to heal an individual. After volunteering at a local pharmacy and becoming a certified pharmacy technician, I was sure that pharmacy was the right profession for me. 

My advice to current students is to be sure of the profession you are interested in. Do what you truly want to do and always ask yourself how much you want it. There will always be times where things will get difficult and you will feel like you will fail. But if you do, and this is what you really want, try again. Don’t be afraid to get involved or ask for help when you need it. Trust me, there are many faculty members and other students here at CSUF that are willing to help you! Have positive people around you and study with friends that have similar goals as you. Work hard, but also make some time to hang out with your love ones. When it comes to applying, remember to apply extremely early! This is seriously the best advice during the application process! Keep your grades up but remember, grades isn’t everything. Professional schools want well-rounded individuals who have a deep passion to the career they are interested in. 

Getting into a professional school is a journey and to complete it, you will need all the support you can get from friends and family. Remember to dream big, love life, and live like everyday is your birthday!! DON’T LET ANYONE SAY YOU CAN’T DO SOMETHING!!!!!! Have hope and believe— because you can seriously accomplish anything.

Dickie D. Nguyen, CPhT

Jared Okerson

Jared OkersonThis is my final year at CSUF after 5 years working toward my B.S. in Biochemistry and I was recently admitted to pharmacy school at Oregon State class of 2013. I have had many sources of inspiration in choosing pharmacy as a career. Some came from being brought up in a household with parents working as health professionals. But what solidified the decision for me was the key stone class for my major, Biochemistry. Dr. Goode did an excellent job at showing us how metabolic pathways interacted and how small tweaks to chemical ligands or to the protein can be used as a drug target. For me, half of the fun of the profession is being presented with the information and putting the pieces together to solve the puzzle.

For those that are considering applying to a health profession in the near future, plan as far ahead as possible. I made a few mistakes in class choices that made finishing pre-requisites difficult. Take your MCAT, DAT, OAT, PCAT, etc before the end of spring semester of your 2nd to last year. But above all else, apply early. Make sure you know the date that your application system begins accepting applicants and apply as close as possible to that date. I had my application submitted at the same time as early acceptance applicants during the Oregon State interview they mentioned they were rewarding us partially for applying early by inviting us to the first interview session. Many students work very hard to maintain astoundingly high GPA’s and often use it as an excuse to push back applications and in the end, barely make the deadline and don’t get offered interviews. Grades are important, but try to think in terms of 10 years in the future. You are rewarded by schools by giving them a temporary boost in priority over school. In the end, enjoy your time in undergrad. Grades and experience are important, but set aside leisure time. Not only will it help you keep your sanity and make connections for the future but it will make you a better rounded candidate in fields other than school and health profession experience which helps you stand out as a unique applicant.

Justin Lewis

My name is Justin Lewis, I graduated the class of 2005 with a BS in Biochemistry. I conducted organic synthesis research for three years for Dr. Gene Hiegel in SLC 180 and contributed to three publications in the scientific journal Synthetic Communications. I worked at Sav-on pharmacy in La Mirada for two and a half years as a pharmacy clerk and volunteered for one year at Queen of the Valley Hospital in West Covina in the Clinical Care Extender program. I was a member of the Student Health Professions Association and the Chemistry and Biochemistry Club. I was recently accepted into the Class of 2009 PharmD program at UCSF School of Pharmacy . UCSF was my number one choice of pharmacy schools and I would not have gotten accepted very easily without the help and guidance from the Health Professions advisors and members.

Thanks and good luck,

Justin Lewis

August 2005

Janine Dang

My college career did not start great.  I started my education at Cypress College and stayed there for three long years without much direction.  I barely passed my classes, and even failed some.  At the end of this semester, it will have taken me five years to earn my bachelors degree in health science.  My interest in pharmacy started when I took a basic Chemistry 100 class.

Pursing any health professions career will come with many trials and tribulations.  There are so many battles that you have to fight and sacrifices that have to be made. In my pursuit to pharmacy school, I took my academics very seriously.  I ensured that I did my best in all prerequisites because I knew that I had to do well to compete.  In addition, I passed the PTCB test and got licensed to be a pharmacy technician.  I called over 20 pharmacies before I found a pharmacist who was willing to let me volunteer (independent pharmacy’s will usually accept volunteers).  Experience is always an advantage because schools want to see that you have an understanding for this profession.  If you lack in academics, experience is going to be your best friend.

As far as the application process goes, apply early! Get your personal statements looked at by Dr. Goode so she can tell you what to fix to make yourself more appealing.  It’s always hard to write about yourself, but really make the statement personal and from the heart.  Prepare for the interviews and do your research on the school.  For example, see if they do individual or group interviews; is it open or closed interview; what about this school appeals to you.  Student Doctor network is great because it provides typical interview questions and feedback from other students who already interviewed.  During the interview, try not to be nervous because they just want to see what kind of student you are.

My biggest advice to future health professions is to always keep your eye on the prize.  It is difficult being young and taking hard science classes when all you want to do is go have some fun, but what makes it bearable is reminding yourself of why you are pursuing this career.  It is also beneficial to be extremely organized with your time and constantly stay on top of your studies so you can earn top notch grades.  Sacrifice the sleep, the dates, and outings with friends so you can earn good grades in all your science prerequisites.  You have to remember that you are competing with so many students from all over the country for limited spaces.  In the beginning it was hard to sacrifice my fun time to study, but when I saw that acceptance letter the pain was all worth it.  Remember work hard now so you can play harder later. 

Trexie Olivar

If you ask any health care provider or graduate student why they chose to do what they do, the answer will most likely be rooted in their passion towards helping others and concern for human health. Having said that, if you carry that passion, draw from that passion and find out where you can utilize it. Find out what it is that gives you most joy despite the challenges inherent within the profession. What is it that moves you? What are you called to do? As for me, I found the answers and my passion in pharmacy. The revelation came through the many years that I worked as a retail supervisor at CVS pharmacy. I found the direct interaction with customers enjoyable and rewarding, but I realized that I was very limited in helping them by working on the retail side of the pharmacy. I wanted to be in a position where I can help in a greater capacity, and I saw myself doing that as a pharmacist.

I first attended CSUF in the late 1990s, majoring in biological science, but left in 2000 without completing my degree, and instead resorted to work full-time in the IT field while keeping a part-time job at CVS pharmacy. Fast forward to 2011, I left my full-time job as IT helpdesk administrator, continued work at CVS, and returned to school at CSUF with a goal to become a pharmacist.

To broaden my understanding of the profession and prepare myself towards the path to pharmacy, I quickly got my license as a pharmacy technician and also started volunteering at a Kaiser Permanente Medical Center outpatient pharmacy. I also joined CSUF’s SHPA, which gave me many opportunities to hear directly from pharmacists and pharmacy students about the field and pharmacy student life. Through SHPA, I gained invaluable insights not only from pharmacists but also from a variety of health care professionals. I believe this to be very helpful because, as a future pharmacist, I will be interacting with various health care providers.

As far as the application and interview process, there is plenty of information already laid out on the internet. Dig in early to give yourself plenty of time because the entire process is very time consuming. Work on your personal statement ahead of time as it needs plenty of revising, and be respectful to ask for letters of recommendation with plenty of time as well. The primary application is the same for most schools via PharmCAS while the secondary application may vary for each school. So, the only trick is to learn the process for the school that you are interested in. For the interview, the setup may also differ between schools with either an individual or group interview. I can’t stress this enough but do prepare for the interview. The preparation will give you the confidence you need during the interview and it will overcome any nervousness that may come. And with confidence, you’ll be able to relax and actually enjoy the interview.

In closing, here are advices that I can share, drawn from my experiences.

  1. Don’t get discouraged with the years it will take to finish school. If you are doing something that you love, the time spent will not matter too much because it becomes enjoyable to you.
  2. Don’t be afraid to make changes in your life. Closing a door may show you the way to a new one. And as you close the door, put the past behind you, but carry the lessons with you and with every decision that you make, make it so that it takes you forward towards your goals.
  3. Be open and willing to learn from other people. Their experiences can give you some of the best insights. Surround yourself with positive people both in your personal life and career choice, and don't hesitate to seek for their help. You'd be surprised there are many people out there who are willing to help. I didn't get to where I am now by myself. And someday, I hope to give back and be able to help someone else on their way to achieving their goals.
  4. Lastly, through your experiences from your school, work, or volunteer, realize that in helping people, it is not only the knowledge and skills but also the care that you provide that adds meaningful healing. The path towards becoming a pharmacist, or any health care professional, is never an easy one. That’s a given. It can be complicated and exhausting both physically and mentally. But as difficult as the path may be, no doubt, it is truly rewarding.

Best of Luck!
Trexie M. Olivar 
Class of 2014, California State University, Fullerton – B.S. Biological Science Class of 2018, 
Touro University California – Doctor of Pharmacy