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Ndongai-and Dean Eddington

White Coat Ceremony Welcomes Pharmacy Class of 2020

(Pictured above: Dean Natalie Eddington and George Ndongai)

Family and friends joined faculty, staff, and alumni of the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy inside the historic Hippodrome Theatre on Sept. 9 to watch as the more than 160 members of the Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) Class of 2020 donned a pharmacist’s white coat for the first time during the School’s White Coat Ceremony. A tradition in which schools of pharmacy across the country participate each year, this annual ceremony marks students’ entry into the profession as student pharmacists.

Pharmacy - White Coat Ceremony 2016

Pharmacy Class of 2020

“The White Coat Ceremony is an opportunity for faculty, staff, and alumni at the School to welcome and congratulate you – our new first-year students – on the journey that you are beginning, and to validate your presence among us as student pharmacists and future colleagues,” said Natalie D. Eddington, PhD, FCP, FAAPS, dean and professor of the School, as she addressed the students. “The white coat represents your past and current leadership endeavors and achievements, as well as your commitment to deliver the best care to your future patients. Wear it with pride and remember your responsibility to provide honest and accurate information to those in your care.”

From Physics to Pharmacy

From the audience, George Ndongai reflected on his journey to reach this special day. A native of Cameroon, Ndongai was educated in both physics and accounting. However, it was not until he immigrated to the United States in 2013 that he had an opportunity to pursue his true passion – health care. “I have always known that I would rather be an expert in health care than an expert in business. Fortunately, after I arrived in the United States, I was able to gain some exposure to the pharmacy profession. I saw how much pharmacists contribute to the community and how they truly are the most accessible health care professionals. I take pride in serving others and giving back to the community, and look forward to the day when I am able to join the profession and help to improve the health of my community as a practicing pharmacist,” he said.

After accepting a position as a pharmacy technician at Eagle Pharmacy in Marriottsville, Md., Ndongai met customers Richard and Gloria Lepson, who immediately took the then 28-year-old under their mentorship. “The connection was instantaneous. I was being treated for a serious illness, and George would call me at home to see if there was anything that I needed – whether it was dropping off medications at my house or washing the dishes. Every day through my illness, he was there,” recalls Gloria Levinson.

Leveraging their relationships with family members and friends in the local area, the Lepsons worked to introduce Ndongai to the different career opportunities available to him. In 2015, Ndongai began working as a pharmacy technician at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he met a number of pharmacists and pharmacy residents who graduated from the School of Pharmacy and sparked his interest in the School.

“After hearing stories from my colleagues about the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, I decided to check it out for myself,” says Ndongai. “I was immediately impressed when I learned that not only was the School the fourth oldest school of pharmacy in the United States, but had also recently been ranked ninth out of more than 130 schools of pharmacy across the country. I knew it would be a competitive admissions process, but that only reinforced my decision to apply. I wanted to be challenged.”

Ndongai completed the necessary prerequisite courses, applied to the School, and was notified of his acceptance just one week after his interview. “It wasn’t always easy balancing school work with my full-time job, but I remembered my goal and made the necessary sacrifices. I am not usually a very excitable person, but after learning that I had been accepted into the School of Pharmacy, I glowed with joy,” he says.

An Unexpected Challenge

Ndogai traveled to Cameroon to celebrate his success with family and friends, but discovered that his father had been hospitalized with complications from asthma and a pulmonary embolism. Ndongai spent eight days in the hospital with his father, using some of the skills that he had learned as a pharmacy technician to help care for him. After his father succumbed to his condition, Ndongai remained in Cameroon to assist with funeral arrangements, returning to the United States just in time to begin classes as a first-year student pharmacist.

“Losing my father was the most devastating experience that I have ever had to endure, and I did not think that I would be able to bear it,” says Ndongai. “My father was my role model and best friend. He trusted me and always encouraged me in my endeavors. Although I have had a lot of support from my family and friends, I am still trying to cope with my grief.”

Gloria Lepson, who attended the ceremony with her husband to support Ndongai, added, “The White Coat Ceremony has been his first jubilant experience since his father passed. This celebration is just what he needed.”

The Need for “Difference Makers”

Pharmacy - White Coat Ceremony 2016

White Coat Ceremony 2016

The theme for this year’s White Coat Ceremony was professionalism, and Ndongai intently listened as Eddington continued her remarks, highlighting the importance of this critical concept. “Professionalism encompasses a variety of characteristics, including altruism, duty, honor, integrity, and respect. It is the cornerstone of who we are as pharmacists. Once you embrace professionalism, you truly become a student pharmacist,” she said.

Lucinda Maine, PhD, RPh, executive vice president and chief executive officer for the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), served as guest speaker for the event. In addition to reflecting on the history of the pharmacy profession over the last 175 years, in honor of the School’s 175th anniversary, Maine challenged students to be “difference makers” in the profession. She encouraged them not to be constrained by professional silos and to use their knowledge, abilities, and professional courage to stimulate change to improve the well-being of individual patients as well as the entire population.

Malissa Carroll Education, UMB News, University Life, USGASeptember 19, 20160 comments
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SOP Students

SOP Hosts Orientation to Welcome Incoming Students

On Aug. 17, the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy kicked off new student orientation for members of the Class of 2020. Activities designed to introduce incoming students to the School of Pharmacy and set expectations for the next four years spanned three days and included remarks from Natalie D. Eddington, PhD, FCP, FAAPS, dean and professor of the School, and Jay A. Perman, MD, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB).

“As one of the top ten ranked schools of pharmacy in the United States, our School takes pride in leading pharmacy education, scientific discovery, patient care, and community engagement across the state of Maryland and beyond,” said Eddington. “Today, you begin your journey as student pharmacists. The next four years will be not only challenging, but life changing. You will learn what you need to be successful in our Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) program and have countless opportunities to see the knowledge and skills that you learn in the classroom put into action, helping patients from communities around the world. The curriculum is difficult, but when you graduate in four years, you will be changed for the better as both a practitioner and a person.”

Imparting Lessons for Success in Pharmacy School

In addition to emphasizing the importance of time management to ensure that students are able to successfully manage their coursework – a concept repeated across many faculty members’ presentations – Eddington spoke about professionalism, asking students to conduct themselves in a manner that would make their family and friends proud. “It is exceptionally important for you to practice professionalism from day one — whether it is in how you demonstrate your skills, apply your judgement, or conduct yourself both inside and outside of the classroom – because you will ultimately be interacting with patients and other professional colleagues,” she added.

Following Eddington’s remarks, Steven Fletcher, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences (PSC) at the School, was introduced as the advisor for the Class of 2020. He spoke briefly about his educational and research background and explained his role serving as a liaison between the members of the Class of 2020 and faculty and administration at the School. Andrew Coop, PhD, associate dean for academic affairs and professor in PSC, later offered an overview of the curriculum and advised students about the importance of actively engaging in their education.

“The curriculum will be difficult, and the faculty will ask hard questions,” said Coop. “But it is important that you recognize that we do this because we know that you will replace us one day, and we want sharp, well-educated practitioners and researchers to replace us. No matter what path you choose for your career – whether you go into practice, academia, government, or industry – we want you to be better than us. As a pharmacist, you will be one of the most trusted and accessible health care professionals, and our goal is to put you in a position in which you have the knowledge and skills to create the future of the profession.”

Learning About Their New Environment

Students participated in a number of additional activities throughout the week to help prepare them for their new lives as student pharmacists, including a student organization gala and a fashion show that demonstrated the importance of professional attire and behavior. They also had opportunities to network with each other, as well as with the School’s faculty, and were sized for their white coats, which they will don for the first time during the School’s White Coat Ceremony on Sept. 9.

“I always had an interest in chemistry and biology, so pursuing a career in pharmacy seemed like a great way to apply those interests in a practical way,” says Erin Ryan, an incoming first-year student. “Although the amount of information that we have received during orientation feels overwhelming, I know that it will be very helpful as I prepare to start classes next week. This entire experience has been incredibly exciting, and I can’t wait until I’m in the classroom.”

“A serious illness in college motivated me to look into pharmacy school after I became fascinated by how a single prescription medication was able to alleviate my symptoms and help me feel well again,” adds Mia Lynch, another first-year student. “Attending orientation has been very eye-opening. I’ve had an opportunity to meet some of my classmates and am looking forward to starting classes and learning just how the basic science – everything from biology to chemistry – correlates with drug therapy, and how we can use that knowledge to help patients.”

Going Beyond Student Pharmacists

The Departments of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Pharmaceutical Health Services Research (PHSR) also hosted orientations for new students in their graduate programs. Students in the PSC PhD Program were introduced to the different types of research conducted in the department through a series of presentations by faculty. Incoming students from the PHSR PhD Program met with Frank Palumbo, PhD, JD, director of the program and professor in PHSR, and Colleen Day, the program’s academic coordinator, to set expectations for coursework, teaching assistantships, and research rotations. Both departments hosted luncheons attended by faculty, postdoctoral fellows, staff, and current students to welcome their new students.

Classes at the School of Pharmacy began Aug. 22. Afternoon ice cream socials to welcome students back are scheduled for Aug. 24 at the Shady Grove campus and Sept. 21 at the Baltimore campus.

Malissa Carroll Education, UMB News, University LifeAugust 22, 20160 comments
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