Aux Label: Advice from a classmate

Christian Ruiz
Auxiliary Label Staff Writer

From the author: Each person in my class is remarkable in his or her own way, especially to have come this far in pharmacy school. However, a dozen of them have inspired me in one way or another, and I wanted to share their secrets to success because I believe that we all can, and should, grow immensely as people and as pharmacists in this school.

I learned so much from these classmates over the years. I hope you enjoy what I learned. — Christian Ruiz

Taking care of yourself during pharmacy school is tough. But taking care of four other people along with yourself – that’s a true accomplishment. Dena Kota, Pharm.D. Class of 2020, accomplishes that every day by taking care of her three children and (and with) her husband, driving to school from Williamsburg every day, and giving 100% of her effort every day at school. 

Along with this, she has served as scholarship chair for Rho Chi, the academic honor society in pharmacy; giving helpful presentations to underclassmen to help them succeed in their classes and beyond; and helped tutor numerous students in pharmacy school. Even with her plate full of responsibilities, Kota never fails to provide her gentle voice and kind smile, which always reminds me that everything will always be all right.

If I could summarize her advice in a few words: Take the time to get to know people around you. Every day, your faculty, your classmates and members of your community can provide something for you to learn, whether it is about being an effective member of an interprofessional team, about thinking outside the box, or about making time for what is really important in life. So step outside your comfort zone, and don’t be afraid to learn something from someone around you. You have so much more to learn than what your PowerPoint slides can tell you.

Auxiliary Label: Why did you apply to pharmacy school?

Dena Kota: I first became interested in pharmacy during college but decided to pursue a research degree in pharmacology because I enjoyed learning about how and why drugs work. For seven years, I used that knowledge working for the Department of Defense. It was a rewarding career but had limited interaction with people. When my family moved due to a transition in my husband’s career, I saw it as an opportunity to pivot my own career as well. It was a chance to grow my education in an area I loved, but also work more directly with people and hopefully help them to lead healthier lives.

What is your favorite thing about pharmacy school?

My favorite thing about pharmacy school is that you have access to a multitude of amazing faculty that are leading and changing the field of pharmacy through their work. They are all knowledgeable, approachable and willing to go out of their way to help students. It is very apparent that they want to see each student succeed.

If you could be any faculty or staff member in the school, who would you be and why?

I would be Dr. [Rachel] Flurie! She is so enthusiastic in her teaching style and is able to convey difficult information in an easy to understand way. I admire her work in the VCU chronic kidney disease clinic. She is a great example of how pharmacists can play a huge role in ambulatory care and be part of an interprofessional team.

How do you think you have grown as a student and/or a pharmacist over the last three years?

Outside of the book-learning part of pharmacy school, I have learned a great deal about ways to help underserved patient populations, ways to improve access to care, and how to think outside the box to get patients back on the right track. 

VCU does a fantastic job of providing opportunities to help throughout the Richmond community and gives students the chance to challenge themselves to get out of their comfort zone.

If you could give your P1 self the most important advice or lesson you have learned so far in pharmacy school, what would it be and why?

Live a life of balance, use your time wisely, and network from the beginning. Find ways to de-stress and take time to enjoy friends, family, and activities that make you a better person (even when you feel like you don’t have the time!). 

The demands of pharmacy school are challenging but learn lessons from each bump in the road and then move on. Most importantly, get to know the people around you and take advantage of the chance to network with all of the amazing pharmacists that you will meet.