Maha, Class of 2009

  • Hometown: Khartoum, Sudan
  • Previous institution: Salem College


I was very fortunate to experience life outside the United States, which made me aware of people who are struggling … and do not have the most basic things we take for granted here.

UCSF PharmD student Maha, the youngest of 5 children, was born in Khartoum, Sudan. She lived there for a year before her family moved to Yemen, then to Pakistan. She can speak 3 languages—English, Arabic and French—but what helps her most in the world of pharmacy is the ability to communicate with people when there is no common language.

How to tell time

When she was working at a San Francisco Walgreens pharmacy, neither she nor her coworkers, who spoke Russian and Chinese, could talk with a Spanish-speaking patient. "So I drew a clock. I said 'take it at this time and at this time,''" she said, and pointed to her drawing. "I had to look at her nodding and make sure she got it, and that she wasn't just nodding to get out of there."

Understanding diversity

While she was growing up in Pakistan, Maha attended school with 500 students from 40 different countries. "All I knew were different people from different places. I'd be sitting next to an Afghan student, a Dutch student, a Kenyan student." When Maha graduated from high school in Pakistan, she attended Salem College in North Carolina, where she majored in chemistry and earned a bachelor of science.


Maha, whose is Sudanese with Egyptian and Turkish heritage, says she was not especially aware of the magnitude of racism until she took a class at Salem College that focused on prejudices faced by 19th-century African American women writers. "Growing up, it must have been there, but I wasn't aware of it," she says, and adds with a smile, "Ignorance is bliss."

Practicing pharmacy in developing countries

"I was very fortunate to have the experience of living outside the United States, being aware of people who are struggling . . . people who do not know where the next meal is going to come from, people who are exposed to infectious diseases that are no longer a problem in the developed world, and those who do not have the most basic things we take for granted here. Clean water is very important."

Maha is not certain where she will be when she is practicing pharmacy, but, she says, "I would like to work in developing countries. There is a great need for preventative care and health education and pharmacists play a tremendous role when it comes to these key elements. Plus, that's where I grew up."

Next perspective: Manuel

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