by Michele Keller and Andrea Diaz
The white tent was raised, the seats in place, the music began and the Class of 2026, 179 strong, marched into the annual School of Pharmacy White Coat Ceremony on the Health Sciences Campus on Friday, August 19, to begin their journey to become Doctors of Pharmacy.
The first-year pharmacy students—born in 18 different countries, with 37% first in their family to attend college—were welcomed to the Trojan Family by Dean Vassilios Papadopoulos.
“This is a special day of celebration and joy,” Papadopoulos said. “We come together with different stories and backgrounds. We have all been changed by the events of the past two and a half years. Are we done with COVID-19? Not yet, but we have made strides both in protecting against it and in treating it, and it seems that COVID-19 is becoming another virus that we will have to deal with, as humanity has done for millennia.
“The white coat you wear today for the first time symbolizes the important role you will play in this endeavor, and others,” he added.
He pointedly encouraged students to not lose sight of their own well-being, and to lean on their classmates, faculty members and staff for support in their journey through school. “The road will not be easy. It will require focus and persistence,” he said. “At the same time, you will have to take care of yourself. There are always going to be bumps in the road. There will always be adversity. And you will overcome it, with focus and determination. It is our mission, as faculty staff and senior students, to work with you, and ensure that you achieve your goals.”
Endless pathways and opportunities
Jean Pallares, PharmD ’84, chief pharmacy officer for Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, served as keynote speaker. She noted that never before in history has the profession of pharmacy been more relevant.
“The pathways and opportunities are endless and new options and roles for pharmacists emerge constantly,” Pallares said. “Future pharmacists may practice in a community pharmacy setting, in academia, in acute care hospital, as a board-certified specialty pharmacist in infectious disease or emergency medicine, or it may be in industry and research or managed care or with the FDA or a government agency. You may find that at the end of this journey in four years, the role you have chosen may be one that you didn’t even know existed when you began.”
She noted there have been few events as impactful to the profession as the COVID-19 pandemic, the most significant healthcare emergency in more than a century. “Our efforts managing COVID vaccine supplies and the mass vaccination efforts often led by our community pharmacist colleagues were recognized and highlighted especially in the media,” she said. USC School of Pharmacy efforts led by faculty and students were in the news and on television for months. They were recognized for their contributions to the vaccine efforts in a vital service that they performed in local and underserved communities.
Kari Franson, associate dean for academic and student affairs, and Irving Steinberg, associate dean for faculty affairs, called each student to the stage to be officially coated by a member of the faculty.
The ceremony culminated with the administration of the Oath of a Pharmacist, led by Melissa Durham, assistant dean for diversity, equity and inclusion, who noted that the oath was revised this past year to incorporate values of diversity, equity, inclusion and access. “You are the first class who gets to read our new Oath of a Pharmacist, and I’m very honored to be able to do it with you.”
Serving the community
Incoming student Shaun Brim, who majored in biology at Morehouse College in Atlanta, said he decided to come to USC to pursue his goal of becoming an HIV pharmacist. One reason? USC reminded him of his undergraduate alma mater. “When I came here and learned about the Trojan Family, that reminded me of Morehouse,” he said. “Once you get that degree, you’re part of a family. So I’m really excited to become part of another family. [USC] is just a great school. It’s really diverse and I’m looking forward to making a lot of good connections here.”
Darlyng Amor Blanco, a graduate of UC Irvine who majored in pharmaceutical sciences, said she decided to pursue pharmacy after many years of helping her father, a non-native English speaker who has Type 2 diabetes. “He was always struggling with his regimen of how to properly take his medications,” she said, adding that she wanted to continue to help others, while finding ways to get outside of her comfort zone in the field. “Something I always like saying is, ‘Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.’”
Akeicia Nedd, a graduate of UC Davis who is originally from Guyana, said she decided to come to USC for pharmacy school after working as a pharmacy technician and discovering a love for helping patients. “Now I’m about to start this awesome journey to help other people in the community,” she said.
Mark Hanin, who moved to Rancho Cucamonga from Egypt when he was 11, attended UC Riverside for his undergraduate degree in biology and decided to pursue pharmacy because it combined his interests in healthcare and community outreach.
“I want to become a healthcare provider,” he said. “I want to help others. I want to serve the community.”