Thomas is a rare breed of San Franciscan: he was born and raised right here in the city. After attending Lowell High School, a well-known public school, he enrolled as a biology and economics major at the University of California, Berkeley. Now he finds himself back in the city's borders, proudly working toward his Doctor of Pharmacy degree at UCSF.
A long journey
Thomas recalls that it wasn't a particularly easy road to get to UCSF. His parents emigrated from Korea to the United States during the 1970s and did their best, despite struggles, to create opportunities for their two daughters and one son. When his parents fell ill and struggled to support his education, Thomas sought grants, scholarships, and loans to reach his goals. He became the first member of his family to attend college, and eventually, the only person in his family to pursue graduate school.
During his junior year at UC Berkeley, a life-changing illness caused Thomas to reevaluate his path. After experiencing health disparities himself and living through the struggles of being a patient, he set his goals in stone: he would become an advocate for patient rights. He fought an uphill battle to earn his seat among 121 other students in the UCSF School of Pharmacy Class of 2010. He easily remembers the determination and resilience it took and is confident that the adversity he faced will make him a better healthcare professional.
Blazing a trail
In 2009, Thomas established the first graduate health forum at UCSF on LGBT health issues. The forum, designed to introduce healthcare students to the specific health challenges faced by the LGBT population, drew an overwhelming 150 people from all over the country. He is committed to giving back because of the overwhelming support he's received at UCSF. "It is such a supportive community—helping students achieve what they want and become active in what they want to become involved with. If there was an area that I thought needed to be fixed or improved, the faculty and staff would ask for suggestions and even invite me to become a part of the solution. Furthermore, my classmates supported me through all of my efforts and helped me along the way. I couldn't have done these things anywhere else," he reflects.
Advice for prospective students
"Use your experiences, motivations, and passions to drive yourself; try to learn as much as you can from patients, friends … to gain empathy, to become a more effective healthcare professional."
"UCSF is an environment that supports its students no matter who you are and what struggles you face—they will help you achieve what you want to achieve."
Photo: Joel W. Gonzales