We asked Diana to describe a typical day in her life before she enrolled in the Doctor of Pharmacy program at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). “Imagine this,” she says. “It’s 3 AM. You’re on a ship off the coast of Somalia. You are about to take off in a helicopter under the cover of darkness. You brief with your crew, detailing a variety of scenarios you might encounter during your flight. Your mission: Intercept a pirated ship in the hopes of freeing 16 Indian hostages.” She pauses. “Perhaps this is not your ordinary workday…”
Now you can picture Diana’s prior career experience.
Diana’s path to UCSF followed a unique trajectory, starting with her undergraduate degree in chemistry from the United States Military Academy at West Point. She completed flight school in Florida, becoming a trained Navy pilot and later earning her master’s degree in national security. How did a doctor of pharmacy degree come next?
After two deployments, a few cross-country moves and a flurry of new environments, Diana decided it was time to re-evaluate her career plans. She wanted a versatile career, particularly one that would allow her to continue teaching—something she fell in love with as a Navy flight instructor. She decided to interview a handful of pharmacists about their work, and started by walking into a pharmacy and asking the pharmacist on duty to coffee. Diana’s research into the profession soon confirmed her interest in a pharmacy career. Armed with her chemistry degree, a substantial track record of leadership, and a remarkable career in the military, she set out to plot her next steps.
Diana applied to UCSF after determining it was the only school of pharmacy that suited her and her family’s needs. Her priorities as a student were different: she was a non-traditional applicant, a parent to two children, and her military background emphasized leadership experience and professionalism to the utmost degree. She recognized that UCSF’s program would offer her the opportunity she needed to earn her professional degree and still be with her family, allowing her to pursue her dream while her husband continued his service at a nearby Coast Guard base. Diana was further impressed when UCSF made a non-traditional student like herself feel welcome and empowered. “The staff is very supportive in helping us to achieve our dreams. They really work with individuals to set us up for success … [A]s a result of their flexibility, I am able to juggle kids and school without feeling like I have to shortchange either one,” she explains.
Words of wisdom
When it came time to adjust to life at UCSF, Diana recalled her experience acclimating to Navy flight school. “I really struggled for the first few months adjusting to a new and challenging environment. But it taught me a valuable lesson—that it was better to fail in school than to fail in life,” she says. Diana feels the same way about UCSF. The school provides opportunities to challenge its students and help them reach their own goals in a supportive learning environment. As a flight instructor, Diana also challenged her students each day, knowing they would soon deploy to unfamiliar environments and face unforeseen circumstances. “[That’s why] I am always striving to learn more, because I want to be able to provide the best care for my patients,” she says.
A class of 122
Many students—Diana included—marvel at the amazing student-pharmacists that fill the seats at UCSF. Some are freshly out of their undergraduate experience; others are changing careers after years spent in another field. Some are from other states, some are foreign-born citizens, and some have lived their lives just minutes away from campus. “UCSF really values diversity in its student body,” Diana confirms. “My classmates come from a variety of different backgrounds and experiences, which really enhances my learning because I get to see so many different perspectives.” Diana herself is no exception to the rule, being one of two in her class with military experience. “My classmates are some of the most talented, engaging, and diverse individuals I have ever worked with, and it is an absolute pleasure to learn from them. I am humbled that I get to be a part of this group every day.”
Ultimately, Diana aspires to serve a population that is very important to her: veterans. Her background enables her to provide uniquely informed care for the country’s servicemen and servicewomen. “I’ve been very lucky to have the opportunity to serve active duty servicemembers as well as veterans during my internships. Their commitment to service inspires me every day, and I hope to have an opportunity to give back to this community after graduation,” she shares. Seeking experiences as a pharmacy student that would expose her to this patient population was made easier through her connection to UCSF. Diana now serves as a pharmacy resident in the Veterans Affairs Learning Opportunity Residency (VALOR) program at the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Medical Center. This position offers her learning opportunities in settings she would eventually like to pursue as a professional. “I really appreciate all the connections available to UCSF students, especially through the alumni network. UCSF connects its students to pharmacists in a variety of settings. As a result of these connections, I have been able to obtain the specialized experiences I am looking for in pharmacy.”