- Published on Wednesday, 09 May 2012 13:51
By Laura L. Acosta
UTEP News Service
As a little boy, Michael Estrada remembers his parents walking up to the pharmacy counter and asking the pharmacist what medicine he would recommend for their son’s stuffy nose.
Estrada was so impressed by the pharmacist’s knowledge and the attention that he gave to his patients that he was inspired to pursue a career as a community pharmacist.
On May 12, Estrada will graduate with his Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree from the UTEP-UT Austin Cooperative Pharmacy Program, which has prepared him to offer his patients the same quality and compassionate care that he received as a child.
“This time I’ll be the one making recommendations to parents and helping their kids with their stuffy noses,” said Estrada, who will begin working at Target Pharmacy after graduation. “It’s come full circle.”
Estrada is one of 11 pharmacy students graduating this spring who have also come full circle by giving back to UTEP through a gift fund that they’ve established that will help Pharm.D. students pay for some of the program’s extra expenses.
Spearheaded by students Monique Garcia and Gilbert Rodriguez, members of the graduating Pharm.D. class of 2012 have pledged to donate $50,000 out of their own pockets to the program over the next five years.
Seventy percent of the funds will be allocated to program development, while 30 percent will go directly to students. Each October, a committee consisting of faculty, staff, and a third year and fourth year pharmacy student will assess students’ needs and determine what the money will be used for. Examples include purchasing drug information devices, scrubs, printer paper or paying for board certification exams.
“You get your loans, you get your scholarships, but there are always things popping up that you have to do as a student,” said Garcia, who will start a residency program at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York after graduation. “Some of us have to buy scrubs or we have to get our fingerprints and a drug test. Our boards are almost $1,000. There are a lot of outside expenses that we’ve incurred this last year.”
Each student is expected to donate about $1,000 each year, which is less than one percent of their expected salary, Garcia said.
Terrie Martinez, who is going through orientation at Del Sol Medical Center, thinks the fund is an opportunity for her to pay it forward.
“This program has given me so many opportunities, including attending one of the top pharmacy schools in the nation, so I really do want to give back,” Martinez said. “Whenever we start this profession we go into it with the mentality that we want to make it better. That’s the kind of students that are accepted into the program and this gift will help make it better for someone else.”
The group also is reaching out to past alumni, pharmacists and supporters of the Pharm.D. program for donations, which they hope to present to the program this October. Their goal is that future classes also will donate to the gift fund.
“The gift is being used to give the students something, and we’re hoping that will motivate continual giving,” Garcia said. “If they got an iPad when they were in their fourth year of the program, maybe they’ll remember that when they’re alumni and they’ll want to give back.”
Funds will also be used to support program growth. A long-term goal is to establish a four-year pharmacy program at UTEP, and donations will be used to support that goal.
The students also hope the gift fund will go to support residencies in local hospitals and help train future pharmacists in specialty areas.
“It’s not just advancing the students but it’s also advancing pharmacy in the community because you’ll have these clinical trained pharmacists that’ll do different aspects of pharmacy and improve patient care,” Garcia said.
The UTEP-UT Austin Cooperative Pharmacy Program is a six-year curriculum that leads to a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree from the UT Austin College of Pharmacy in cooperation with UTEP’s College of Health Sciences. Under the program, students enroll at UTEP for two years to complete their prerequisite courses. They then spend the next two years at UT Austin for the first two years of their pharmacy education, and then finish their last two years of pharmacy school at UTEP.
The program was created in 1999 to address the shortage of pharmacists in the region and increase the number of Latinos in the pharmacy field.
As of this May, the program will have graduated 95 students. Approximately 70 percent of those graduates have stayed in the El Paso region to practice in different settings.
“We continue to have a high demand for highly trained pharmacists in our region,” said José O. Rivera, Pharm.D., program director. “All of the graduates of the program have come to this region and it is great to see them giving back to the program so that we can continue providing opportunities for El Paso students to go into pharmacy as a rewarding profession.”
This is the first time Pharm.D. students have attempted to establish a gift fund at UTEP.
“We have all this fire and energy but there are so many things to jump over,” Garcia said. “This is a totally new realm for us.”
Janet Reck, director of development for the College of Health Sciences, said that the idea of students deciding to create and fund an ambitious gift, because they believe in giving back, is not common on campus.
“This group of students is setting an incredible example and really raising the bar with respect to what members of the UTEP family can do to further our programs and help students,” Reck said.
Regardless of how easy or difficult it has been to set up, Gilbert Rodriguez believes the gift fund will help future students.
“What keeps us motivated is that we know that in the end when we do establish it, it’s going to be there to help students and it’s something that’s going to continue hopefully forever,” said Rodriguez, who will also be working at Target Pharmacy. “Right now we’re students, and we know it would be nice to get a helping hand.”