UCSF Pharmacy Student Promotes Diversity, Community Outreach on National Scale

By Robin Hindery

When UCSF’s School of Pharmacy updated its strategic plan in 2007, it created what it hoped would serve as a roadmap for its students as they pursued their degrees and made their own contributions to the field. For fourth-year pharmacy student Ashish Patel, the diversity-minded, outreach-focused plan read less like a list of goals and more like a list of accomplishments. "Patel, who seems to squeeze 30 hours out of each 24-hour day, has been a standout among the school’s already impressive student body," said Associate Dean Susan Levings. “Normally, students here get involved in one project and they’re very passionate about it, but for most of them it’s not about sparking an idea, passing it on to others and then moving on,” she said. “That’s what Ashish is doing, and it’s a very mature, high-level way of approaching things.” One of the numerous ideas Patel has sparked is the School of Pharmacy’s Program for Investigation and Training for Careers in Health (PITCH), which he helped launch in 2007. The intensive three-week program is designed to bring students from underrepresented groups into healthcare careers by exposing them to science and teaching them skills such as interviewing and preparing an application. “We give them hands-on exposure to what healthcare is all about,” Patel said of the PITCH participants. “We want to provide enrichment skills to empower them to pursue any kind of job, even if it’s not in the medical profession.” A second Patel-generated program, sends UCSF student pharmacists to work with fifth-graders at San Francisco’s Rosa Parks Elementary School and fill in some of the gaps in their science curriculum. Patel also served for two years as the co-director of student orientation for the School of Pharmacy, and he remains the school’s student representative on the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Diversity. Beyond UCSF, Patel’s work with the Student National Pharmaceutical Association (SNPhA) has given him a chance to effect change on a national scale. After serving first as a student representative and then as president of his local chapter, he became SNPhA’s national president in July 2008 and has seen the organization’s membership increase by 35 percent over the past year, he said. SNPhA aims to engage pharmacy students in national healthcare issues, while also actively promoting diversity within the field and reaching out to underserved communities — objectives that mirror Patel’s own personal career goals, he said. Patel’s ambitions are shaped in part by his own background. He was born in Fullerton, Calif., in 1982 to a Kenyan mother and an Indian father. At the time, his parents, recent immigrants to the United States, were struggling financially and when he was 18 months old, Patel was sent to live with an aunt in his mother’s native Nairobi for a year and a half. He received his bachelor’s degree in Integrative Biology from UC Berkeley and then spent a year at UCLA as a researcher in geriatrics before starting at UCSF in 2005. Since then, he has been a shining example of the type of student the School of Pharmacy hopes to send out into the world, Levings said. “Ashish’s story really fits in with three of the school’s strategic plan goals: Preparing our students to be leaders and agents of change; strengthening the diversity of the school and the field; and helping to meet the pharmacy needs of the underserved,” she said. Patel is weighing several job offers but hasn’t finalized his post-graduation plans. Though his presidency ends in July, he hopes to continue his involvement with SNPhA in some capacity, and he is considering pursuing a Master’s degree in business administration or public health a few years down the line. Whatever his future holds, one thing is certain: He won’t be slowing down any time soon. “Some people ask me how I can do so much at once,” he said. “But I love to be busy, especially when I’m helping people. And I know there’s so much more I can do—it’s endless; there’s no limit to it.”

Photo by Susan Merrell