Kanizeh, Class of 2014

  • Hometown: Mombasa, Kenya
  • Previous institution: Moravian College, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania


From the moment I walked into the pharmacy school on the day of my interview I knew this was the place where I could become the best possible pharmacist for my patients.

Kanizeh spent the first 17 years of her life growing up in her hometown of Mombasa, Kenya. After completing high school, she traveled thousands of miles to attend college and then pharmacy school in the United States. Kanizeh moved to Pennsylvania and attended Moravian College, a small liberal arts college that offered students great opportunities to connect with faculty mentors and participate in scientific research projects. Her strength and interest in the sciences led her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry.

Why a pharmacist?

Kanizeh had an opportunity to see firsthand the vital need for pharmacists providing clinical care while volunteering for the Red Cross in Kenya. “In developing countries where doctors are unaffordable and scarce to the majority of citizens, pharmacists were the best resource for questions about medications, drug errors, and side effects,” she says. “I witnessed the clinical pharmacist making an immense difference for patients with diverse illnesses.” She later volunteered at an independent Kenyan pharmacy developed from the ground up by a female pharmacist in her community and began to visualize pursuing a career in pharmacy in which she would work every day to improve the lives of others. “I always felt I was good at the sciences, and I knew I wanted to provide patient care in a role that emphasized my social skills,” Kanizeh explains. When a college mentor also suggested pharmacy to her, she realized she’d found a path forward.

Why University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)?

Kanizeh wanted to make sure she found the right pharmacy school environment. “This has to be your passion,” she says. “Not just a job you think you want to do.” When it came to deciding whether she should apply to University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), there was no question. “From the moment I walked into the pharmacy school on the day of my interview I knew this was the place where I could become the best possible pharmacist for my patients,” she says. “It is my passion and drive to be the best that brought me here.” Kanizeh remembers enjoying her interview experience and feeling drawn to the people-centered focus of the school. “People are committed to success here,” she says, and that left her no other choice. When she received her acceptance letter, she looked at it in proud disbelief. “An international student from Kenya attending UCSF, the nation’s most renowned pharmacy program … I never imagined it would turn out to be my reality. It’s a dream to be here!” she shares.

Support all around

Kanizeh credits her family and mentors for supporting her journey and making it possible for her dreams to become reality. Her family especially encouraged her to follow her ambition and pursue higher education in the sciences. When she faced the question of financing her doctoral education, her brothers offered to put everything on the line to make her dream possible. “So many people opened doors for me,” Kanizeh shares, “I’m amazed how things fell into place.”

That first year of pharmacy school…

Kanizeh remembers her first year of pharmacy school with a knowing smile. “It was so much content,” she recalls, “but that’s exactly what prepares you for the next few years and rotations. It is what it is. I learned to make the best out of all my challenges.” She explains wanting to volunteer for every activity and join every student group, and eventually realizing her time was precious and that she would need to establish priorities to succeed. “Your first year sets you up to learn how to balance it all,” she says. “That’s what’s great about it: you’re in a place where it’s okay to make mistakes, because you’re a student you’re supposed to be learning.” Even now, she looks forward to her classes each day and strives to make up any session she has to miss. As a third-year student, her advanced pharmacy practice experiences are only months away, which means she’ll soon trade the classroom for practice settings. “I think I’ll miss the stress of being a student, actually!” she laughs.

Believe in yourself

When it came time to apply, Kanizeh told herself she had nothing to lose. “Fear of failure prevents us from even trying,” Kanizeh says. “You have to give it 100%. Don’t be discouraged. Believe in yourself. Be the best version of yourself you can be and apply!” She remembers exploring the School of Pharmacy website and reading student profiles just like this one. “Those profiles helped me so much when I was an applicant…I can’t believe my story is one of them now.”

The future

When asked about the future, Kanizeh laughs again. “Ideally,” she says, “I would love to do a residency in pediatrics.” She felt a strong sense of fit with pediatric oncology after completing a pharmacy internship at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Her future interests span from working in a hospital, to leading clinical outcomes research, to teaching pharmacology at medical schools. “I want to expand the world’s view of pharmacy,” she says. Kanizeh also hopes to give back to the community of African women in her hometown of Kenya someday. “There are so many young women like myself who are either afraid to follow their educational dreams or don’t have the support many of us are blessed with. I want to be an example to them and if even one girl is inspired by my story and pursues a higher education, I know I’ll have achieved my purpose.”

Photo: Joel W. Gonzales

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