Haley Barnes (second from left) and fellow student pharmacists provided more than 100 free influenza vaccines in partnership with Tarrant County Public Health and Mercy Clinic of Fort Worth.
My excitement never waned as I looked forward to the fall of 2020, but as COVID-19 entered Tarrant County in early March of 2020, it became clear that my first year of pharmacy school would not be as originally expected. As we neared orientation, my cohort received weekly communications detailing how first-year activities would be modified for hybrid lessons in socially distanced compounding laboratories and Zoom lecture halls.
Acknowledging the new ‘normal’
Just like any other first-year student pharmacist, I was nervous about how to fit in academically, professionally, and socially. Would I discover how I was meant to contribute to this profession? And with the pandemic, new questions arose: How will my first-year experience be changed? How can I be a good student pharmacist while being everything else I need to be for my family and community?
These elevated fears, I soon discovered, were not mine alone. As I met my classmates through virtual socials and mandatory orientation Zooms, I realized how resilient and phenomenal my cohort is. As some moved across the state or country, others prepared to simultaneously complete their online schooling while assisting in their children’s online schooling.
Each of us was uniquely impacted by COVID-19, yet we all stood in our homes during our White Coat Ceremony, solemnly making the promise to devote ourselves to a lifetime of service through the profession of pharmacy.
Stepping up as student pharmacists
My cohort learned how to embody multiple aspects of the pharmacist’s oath in our remote environment. To help relieve the suffering of our Fort Worth community, we partnered with Tarrant County Homeless Coalition and Presbyterian Night Shelter to donate 120 meals for those staying in the temporary COVID-19 shelter built in the Fort Worth Convention Center. We applied our foundational knowledge and skills to ensure optimal outcomes for those whose care may be impacted by the pandemic.
In collaboration with the rest of the class leadership, Philanthropy Chair Lauren Cagle organized a Charity Run that raised more than $1,300 for the Cancer Support Community of North Texas and donated 325 service hours of our cohort’s time.
“We decided to include physical activity with fundraising ... to promote the health of our student body,” Lauren reflected. “Many students let me know how dramatically this challenge impacted their mental well-being, as well. As a cohort that is largely isolated … [we found that the Charity Run] laid a foundation for our class to be active, advocate for our community, and support one another in these challenging times.”
Last, we embraced the ability to improve patient care by earning our APhA Immunization Delivery certification. Many first-years had opportunities to volunteer at community pharmacy–led flu shot clinics and at the Mercy Clinic of Fort Worth, vaccinating low-income, uninsured citizens of Tarrant County.
Recognizing the pharmacy support system
None of these opportunities would have been possible without the kindness and leadership of our upper-level students, administrators, and faculty.
To welcome us into the college of pharmacy—our “pharmily”—upper-level students went above and beyond to ensure each of us had a support system. “Many reached out before school started to offer themselves as a helpful lifeline within a sea of new, often overwhelming, experiences,” said Andrea Lenear. “The support system lifted my spirits during the semester, and I couldn’t be more thankful for the relationships we have built.”
It made a huge difference in our well-being knowing that we had three generations of student pharmacists looking out for our first-year experience.
In addition, more than 18 pharmacy organizations partnered to host career development webinars led by national leaders in managed care, pharmacy management, and other nontraditional paths. They welcomed us with open Zoom meetings and creative ways to make the remote environment work to our benefit. Instead of pizza or boxed sandwiches, they raffled off DoorDash coupons and electronic gift cards. Zoom-based social events by our pharmacy fraternities included craft hours, pharmacy meme competitions, and an ambitious Halloween murder mystery party.
One of my favorite stories of kindness is about how we took our exams remotely. Sammy Daas shared, “I discovered that learning in a virtual setting comes with its own unique challenges, but my classmates, staff, and professors have helped make the adjustment easy.” Staff from multiple institutions on campus, including our Testing Services Center and Student Experience and Academic Services, reassured our cohort multiple times as we downloaded exam files and completed environmental checks.
Last, our success as virtual student pharmacists was most influenced by our professors. Despite the impact of COVID-19 on their own personal and professional lives, our professors did everything possible to be present for us. From sending reminder e-mails to negotiating deadline extensions, they demonstrated immense grace while also holding us to the high standards expected of the student pharmacist.
“Our faculty were extremely flexible in working with the students and our schedule,” said Alexis Zamora. Because of the mutual respect and grace given during extraordinary times, our cohort trusted that we were a part of a safe environment that prioritized our learning.
Part of the ‘pharmily’
As our first semester closed, our cohort came to embody the immense respect that our college shares for the profession, our patients, and our fellow students and colleagues. I no longer feared being the pre–student pharmacist on the outside looking in. Instead, I was part of a pharmacy family that would take care of us first-years through thick and thin, through the pandemic and after. All the Zoom waiting rooms, muted mics, and temperature checks are part of the rhythm that is now our home.
I would like to thank Lauren, Sammy, Andrea, Alexis, and the entire Class of 2024 for sharing their experiences and giving me a reason to smile and laugh each day.