Meet Marisa Jones, PharmD ’19. The president of the PharmD class of 2019 and a student ambassador of the Margaret and John Biles Leadership Center, she will deliver the doctor of pharmacy address at the 112th Commencement of the USC School of Pharmacy on Friday, May 10. Here, she talks about how a trip to Haiti solidified her decision to pursue pharmacy, gives a preview of her commencement address and describes what’s next for her after graduation.
What originally attracted you to the field of pharmacy?
I started to consider pharmacy when I was in high school, but the moment I knew I wanted to pursue pharmacy was during a trip to Haiti in 2011. I was doing charity work as part of a group of medical staff and students acting as “mobile clinics” in rural villages across northern Haiti. I was in charge of dispensing and counseling on medication under the supervision of a registered nurse. We saw hundreds of patients who otherwise had no access to medical care due to cost or distance. To see such a deep and sincere gratitude displayed by almost every patient receiving medication gave me new perspective on how important health care can be. If you’re sick, it can have a huge impact on your quality of life. In the United States, we can sometimes take this for granted because we can so easily access health care. Haitians knew that an antibiotic could mean a whole new life without suffering, pain, and disability. I knew from that point on that I wanted to help provide access to safe, appropriate, and effective medication for people in my community, and one day to those who need it around the world.
Why did you choose the USC School of Pharmacy for your degree?
I received my acceptance letter to USC School of Pharmacy during Christmas 2015. I declined all interviews after I was accepted to USC because it was my top choice and no other school compared for me. I chose USC because of the reputation that it carries with its name. I’ve met many people from out of state who know USC to be one of the leading schools in the nation and have a great respect for the school. Since I’ve been at USC I can now see why: our curriculum is strong, our instructors are extremely qualified, and our alumni network reaches far and wide. Whether you want to pursue pharmacy in Los Angeles or across the country, USC can provide excellent training and opportunity to thrive anywhere you choose to go.
What are the advantages of being on a health sciences campus, and studying pharmaceutical sciences in a place like Los Angeles?
When I first visited USC’s health sciences campus, the first thing I noticed was how professional and studious everyone looked. Most people were in business suits, white coats, or scrubs. It’s an environment of academic excellence and achievement. Of course, we still make time for fun, but for me being on a health sciences campus feels like a graduation into the professional world. Every time I wear my white coat to school I feel a sense of accomplishment in that I belong on this campus and in the health care field.
Los Angeles provides one of the best learning environments for pharmaceutical sciences because L.A. is a progressive, multi-ethnic, and academically-rich urban center. California is a pioneering state in implementing pharmacists as health care providers. State Bill 493 allows California pharmacists to prescribe travel medicines and hormonal contraception. Any student who graduates from an accredited school of pharmacy after 2014 in California will be able to furnish self-administered contraception in the community. In addition, Los Angeles immerses the pharmacy student in a rich and diverse learning setting. As part of the curriculum, we’ve learned that there’s a need for health care providers to be culturally competent – meaning that we must be sensitive to the beliefs and practices of other cultures. I’ve put this skill to use many times as I’ve personally worked in Latino, Chinese, and other multi-ethnic practice sites.
Lastly, Los Angeles provides a challenging and rich academic environment in which to learn. As the second largest city in the United States located in fair-weathered California, we draw many talented people here. Our faculty is well respected in academia, industry, and in the community. We’re surrounded by many successful alumni who come back to USC to share their wisdom and expertise. Overall, USC provides a unique environment to learn, grow, and thrive.
You’ll be delivering the PharmD address at commencement. What’s your message to the graduating class of 2019?
I’m extremely proud of the class of 2019. During my commencement speech, I plan to speak about the hard work we’ve accomplished as well some of the fun times we’ve had over the past four years. I want to remind my classmates that it’s too easy to start worrying about the next hurdle, whether it’s studying for the boards or looking for a job, but it’s important to take some time to be proud of what we’ve accomplished. I know for myself, some of my family and friends have been waiting for this day as much I have, so I’ll be thanking them as well for relentlessly supporting us through pharmacy school.
What will you be doing after graduation, and how do you feel the School has prepared you for this next chapter in your life?
After graduation I’m excited to be working for the pharmaceutical company MannKind in Thousand Oaks in its medical affairs department. I was a fourth year student on rotation with MannKind before being offered a position, so I’m grateful to the school for giving me that opportunity. I feel confident in my position using the medical background and presentation skills I learned at USC. I’m very fortunate to have a job I enjoy and I’m excited for the next chapter of my life!