U.S. Pharmacist



Opening New Doors

  Lih-Wern Wang, PharmD Candidate
University of Oklahoma
College of Pharmacy
Tulsa, Oklahoma



US Pharm. 2008;33(12)(Student suppl):12-13.


"Grandpa, I don't want to eat the rice. I hate it." Then a miracle occurred: My grandfather took this ordinary bowl of rice and made it into a culinary masterpiece. He achieved this artistry by simply sprinkling a little sugar on top of the rice. Suddenly that plain, tasteless rice was transformed in my mouth like a pleasant dream. Awaking with a feeling of happiness but wondering if this happiness could be real, I savored every bite of that rice. I immediately asked, "Grandpa, can I eat this every day?" My grandfather quickly denied my request, but nonetheless he taught me something special about life that day. It is the little extra in life that turns ordinary into extraordinary. From that day on, I knew I wanted to be a chef.

So there I was, standing in front of the mirror, staring at my white chef's coat, the joy I'd felt while eating that bowl of sugared rice still lingering in my heart. That was the same joy I wanted to share with others. The magic of creating a dish with my own hands that could bring a smile to someone's face was something I looked forward to and could not wait to do. When I walked out that door and through that kitchen door, I would be making people smile. I would be creating for others the same fond memories I held in my own heart.

They have a saying in the hospitality industry: You hit the door running. You have a table of 10 ordering five steaks, one salmon, two cod, and two filets. Ten orders for one table with different cooking times, and you have to get them all ready at once because no one wants to be the last one waiting for their food while everyone else is already halfway done. And who wants to be the first one served, waiting for everyone else to get their food, only to have their own food get cold? Did I mention that this is only one of 15 other tables ordering food at the same time? Everyone wants to eat their dinner at seven o'clock. People ordered their food 25 minutes ago; if you take any longer, some customers may leave. Reputations are on the line, yours included, so you'd better hustle! The owner is yelling at you in a foreign language that sounds like a mix of Italian and Spanish. His customers are growing antsy. Someone drops a plate. The owner explodes. Profanity is thrown into your ears. The sauce on the stove is about to burn--you'd better check it. Who wants to eat dinner an hour and a half later? You have mouths to feed. Knives are everywhere; hot stoves are burning. The pressure is high, and the owner is ready to throw butter knives at anyone who dares to prepare a meal that is anything less than perfect. This was my world.

The on-the-job stress was nothing to me. Why shouldn't the owner demand the best for his customers? I became a chef to make those people smile. I became a chef to give every one of those customers a fine dining experience. I was making crisp, sugary creme brulee crusts ready to be cracked into, exposing their lovely soft cream flecked with raspberries. Lava cakes hiding warm, sweet chocolate inside were emerging from my hands. Light, refreshing basil sorbets awaited for those quick business lunches. I was helping to finish the perfect meal with the perfect dessert. I was living my dream.

It all changed one day when I got a phone call from home. My grandfather's health was failing. My mother had become diabetic. I was lost. The thing I knew best was making desserts, and a cake was not going to cure my mother's diabetes or improve my grandfather's health. I saw things completely differently that day. Those joyful moments in my heart of sugar-sprinkled rice became bittersweet memories of a past life. I saw that some people could not eat sugar because of diabetes. I noticed that some people could not eat meat for fear of gout. These people were my family. I realized there was no point in using food to make people smile if they were not healthy enough to eat it. How could I walk through that kitchen door again when I knew that these people needed more than just something to eat? They needed to feel well again, to be whole again.

I closed the kitchen door, and I went back to school. I began working at a pharmacy. I saw how the pharmacist was able to help people with their daily needs and concerns, people like my own family. I knew then that I wanted to be a pharmacist, someone who can help people feel well again.

I finished my prerequisites at a local community college, and on the recommendation of a professor I highly admired, I applied to her alma mater: the University of Oklahoma. As fate would have it, the University of Oklahoma College of Pharmacy gave me a chance. It opened the door toward my future career as a pharmacist.

Things are different now. Unfortunately, mastering the butchering of a 10-pound salmon does not translate to a mastery of biochemistry. The transition from the culinary arts to the sciences is not easy. Vast amounts of information blaze through my mind in short periods of time. Chefs train by cutting, cooking, and tasting repeatedly. As a P1 student, I train by writing notes, reviewing lecture videos, and highlighting passages. It is hard to break down and cut up everything into comprehensible pieces of information, but it also is rewarding. Each new piece of information I digest leads to new doors opening for me to help people. Pharmacy organizations for every possible area of pharmacy I could imagine and areas I never knew existed are there, ready for students to jump in and get involved. The university works hard not only to be active in the community, but to help each and every student reach their potential as a future pharmacist.

And as different as the culinary arts are from pharmacy, there are many similarities between them. As a chef, you experience the stress of customers demanding that they get their fine dining experience. They want their food prepared as soon as possible without sacrificing its quality or safety. You, yourself, want to uphold this standard. You want your customers to get that fine dining experience. You try to prepare the food as soon as possible, but you never sacrifice quality or safety. The customer's satisfaction is your priority. As a chef, you search for just the right ingredients to give your customers that fine dining experience. You locate these ingredients at supermarkets, farmers' markets, wholesalers, and anywhere else you can find them. You search through all of your knowledge and apply it in any way possible to bring that fine dining experience to your customers.

Being a pharmacy intern is not much different. As a pharmacy intern, you experience the stress of patients demanding that they get back their sense of well-being. They want to feel well again as soon as possible without sacrificing quality of care or safety. You, yourself, want to uphold this trust. You want your patients to be healthy again or to stay healthy. You try to make them feel well as soon as possible, but you never sacrifice their quality of care or safety. The patient's welfare is your priority. As a pharmacy intern, you search for the right ingredients to restore your patients' well-being, only this time your ingredients are facts and knowledge. You locate these ingredients at your pharmacy school, DrugFacts.com, AHFS Drug Information, and anywhere else you can find them. You search through all your knowledge and apply it to the needs of your patients to bring that sense of well-being back to them.

So once again I am standing in front of the mirror, looking at my new white coat. My white pharmacist's coat feels heavier on my shoulders. It carries with it a greater responsibility--not just the appetites of customers, but the hearts, bodies, minds, and souls of the patients in my care. It includes the additional responsibility to maintain the trust people have in health care professionals across the nation. This is the extra responsibility all P1 students uphold, and will continue to uphold as they head out the door toward their careers as extraordinary pharmacists.

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U.S. Pharmacist is a monthly journal dedicated to providing the nation's pharmacists with up-to-date, authoritative, peer-reviewed clinical articles relevant to contemporary pharmacy practice in a variety of settings, including community pharmacy, hospitals, managed care systems, ambulatory care clinics, home care organizations, long-term care facilities, industry and academia. The publication is also useful to pharmacy technicians, students, other health professionals and individuals interested in health management. Pharmacists licensed in the U.S. can earn Continuing Education credits through Postgraduate Healthcare Education, LLC, accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) as a provider of continuing pharmacy education.

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