Professional Advice / Opinions:

Student Pharmacist Star of the Month: Albana Alili

By: Marie Huang

      Each month, the Rho Chi Post has the wonderful opportunity to sit down with an inspiring leader among the student pharmacists here at St. John’s University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences – someone who is not afraid to stand apart from the crowd and can be the change he or she wants to see in the world.  This June, Albana Alili, a 5th year PharmD candidate speaks to us about legislation, her aspirations, and “running the world.” 

Q: Before you enrolled in pharmacy school, what other majors did you consider? How did you ultimately decide to choose pharmacy over you other areas of interest?
A: I knew for a long time that I was very interested in pharmacy as a career, but at first, I did not know enough about all the different things I could do within pharmacy to make my final decision. The other major I considered was pre-medicine, with a possible minor in something to do with linguistics. They seem different, but I was always interested in the medical field and patient care; I was also good at languages and wanted to expand my knowledge of them, especially for communicational purposes with patients and people in general. Once I learned more about pharmacy and how involved pharmacists are with their patients in a community setting, how they hold clinical positions in hospitals, and how they are involved with different aspects of pharmaceutical products on a large industrial scale, I realized I could use many of my strengths and pursue many of my interests through the one profession of pharmacy. Moreover, when I heard of the six-year PharmD programs offered through schools like St. John’s University, the major became all the more appealing. It slowly but surely was clear to me that pharmacy was the right choice for me.

Q: How did you first get involved on campus, and what made you the motivated person you are today?
A: When I first came to St. John’s University, I became a Woman in Science scholar and later got inducted into the Phi Eta Sigma honor society, through which I got oriented with campus organizations and what they do. I first got involved in pharmacy organizations freshman year by joining the APhA-ASP chapter at our school. I was able to attend several meetings and events through that organization and later decided to take the plunge and run for an executive board position. I became a patient care projects chairperson and worked with the rest of my E-board to organize Operation Diabetes to raise awareness of the disease, as well as help put together other patient care projects and events for the organization. I realized that I liked being more involved and taking charge.

When I was fortunate enough to be inducted into the Rho Chi Beta Delta chapter at our university, the opportunity presented itself to run for another leadership position. I interviewed to be Vice President and was selected for the position, through which I became significantly more involved on campus and was able to really expand my abilities as a leader. Meanwhile, through my APhA-ASP position, I decided to attend the APhA Annual Meeting in New Orleans, where I was exposed to a great deal of policy and advocacy issues within the pharmacy profession. I became very interested in this area and decided to run for Student Policy & Advocacy Network (SPAN) liaison for APhA-ASP. It is through this position, even though my actual term has yet to start, that I was able to attend Legislative Day in Albany where I spoke to legislators, along with other students, about pharmacy policy and attended the annual Pharmacists Society of the State of New York (PSSNY) Convention. I am also currently very interested in Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs in the pharmaceutical industry so I joined the new Drug Information Association chapter at our school and will be attending the annual meeting in Philadelphia in June. As you can gather, one thing led to another as far as involvement goes, but I think the main thing that fueled my motivation to get involved is knowing that we as future pharmacy professionals have to take charge and be leaders for our profession to be taken seriously as an essential component of the healthcare system. Moreover, we have to become active if we want to see any changes or expansions in our profession, as with any area in life.

Q: So you attended APhA’s Legislative Day in Albany last month and the annual PSSNY conference just last week. What were those experiences like and what did you take away from them?
A: I was very fortunate to be able to attend both of these events. I did not know exactly what to expect going into Legislative Day as it was my first time, and I was very pleasantly surprised with all that we students were able to do. We had pharmacists and board members of PSSNY, Mr. Howie Jacobson and Mrs. Joanne Beechko, who guided us and were extremely helpful. We went around to state senators’ and congressmen’s offices to speak to them personally about pharmacy legislature we wish to see passed, which this time was a bill to not only remove the sunset clause on the immunization law allowing pharmacists to immunize but also to expand it in various ways. We explained the bill to them, why it is essential, and the positive impact it could have if passed, with our end goal being to persuade the legislatures to cosign the bill. It was an amazing experience because we were side by side, as students, with actual pharmacists advocating for our profession.

My group leader, Mr. Jacobson, actually let us do most of the talking, which intimidated us in the beginning. However, with time we become very comfortable with the information, and it truly made us feel like professionals. It was this day that we also met pharmacist, pharmacy owner, and PSSNY board member Mr. Roger Paganelli, who invited us to help out at the PSSNY convention. We helped the PSSNY board as needed to ensure that all of the events planned at the convention went smoothly. We also had the opportunity to sit in on several continuing education (CE) events taking place, which had to do with different aspects of pharmacy practice and were all very informative. Both of these experiences were profound in that we felt like a real part of the pharmacy profession, which is otherwise difficult to feel when merely a student attending lectures. This is essentially what I brought back from the experiences; we as students must be involved in our profession and remain updated on current issues, because these issues are relevant to us as future pharmacy professionals.

Q: Pharmacy organizations seem to be divided to represent pharmacists in a variety of areas of practice, such as institution, community, industry, and federal. If each has its own interests, do you think there is any way pharmacists of all fields come to form a consolidated, centralized organization and work together to accomplish our goals as a whole?
A: I believe this type of organization is very possible because the end goal of pharmacy organizations, whether they are community, institution, industry, or federal-related, is the advancement of the profession of pharmacy as a whole. They all want to see their profession highly regarded and their roles steadily expanding, as well as pharmacists in any of these areas constantly excelling. Even for students like myself, being a member of various student organizations with an emphasis on different areas of practice, these same themes apply. Thus I do not see any reason why a centralized organization could not be formed. In fact, if pharmacists from all fields came together to form such an organization, it would be much larger than the individual organizations and would have more power to accomplish goals for the profession. As with countless examples in history, larger numbers are more successful at conveying messages and establishing change. This should apply to accomplishing goals in our profession as well.

Q: If you could pinpoint the most amazing or inspirational experience (anything related to pharmacy or patient care) within the last four years, what would it be?
A: While I had many inspirational experiences throughout the past four years, the most inspirational was Legislative Day in Albany. It really allowed me to see that we can play an active role in what happens with our profession, even as students. I was able to meet and spend time with people very passionate about their profession, and it was contagious. Knowing that what I or one of the fellow students there said to a legislator could have caused them to cosign and support a bill, which would help it get passed later, which would directly impact pharmacy practice, was a tremendous feeling. Through my work with patient care projects in APhA-ASP, particularly Operation Diabetes, I realized the actual definition of patient care. Patients look to us, as the most accessible health care professionals, to provide them with needed services (i.e. blood pressure screenings, counseling on drugs or devices, vaccines). We need to be able to provide for them. This is why being a part of something that could directly influence and expand pharmacists’ patient care services was so amazing and inspirational for me.

Q: In an ideal world, what would you be doing with your PharmD degree ten years from now?
A: I am not quite someone who specifically plans and maps out their future, but, regardless of what direction I take, the main thing I would ideally be doing with my PharmD is putting it to good use. This does not necessarily mean remembering everything about every drug I learned off the top of my head when asked questions. There are many other things we learn throughout our schooling in addition to just information, especially at St. John’s University. If I one day make an ethical medical decision based on what I learned in biomedical ethics, I would consider that putting my degree to good use. If I interact with a patient based on what I learned in simulation lab, that would be using my degree as well. If I work on clinical trials for a drug company, using my PharmD will give me an understanding of the underlying mechanisms of medications that others may not fully understand. Furthermore, if I work for the government addressing a public health issue, I will use my degree to understand what the underlying health issues actually are. I would even use my degree if it serves as the stepping stone to a potential second degree. While I do not seek to predict where I will be ten years from now, because I think people should always keep an open mind towards what happens over time, it would be ideal and I would be happy simply using my PharmD to do some good.

Q: If you had the ability to go back in time and talk to your high-school self, what would the conversation be like?
A: When talking to my high school self, especially nearing the end of high school when I was making college decisions, I would be talking to a somewhat frantic, stressed-out girl. She would be stressing over her SAT scores, whether she was making the right decision on where to go to college, and what she was going to do with her life in general. I would first of all tell her to calm down. I would tell her that she was making the right decisions. Knowing exactly what she wanted to do at that early stage in her life was absurd and would come with time. I would tell her to save her stress and spend more time enjoying that time in her life as it would pass quickly. Most of all, I would tell her to keep an open mind always, and make the most out of college, because she would not believe how much she was going to grow and how much she would learn about herself in the next four years.

Q: If you were forced to listen to a song on repeat for the rest of your life, what song would it be?
A: Right now, if I had to listen to a song on repeat for the rest of my life, I would pick Beyonce’s “Run the World.” It is so upbeat and so motivating that it just gives me energy and pumps me up when I hear it. My mood tends to be very affected by music, so any song I would have to listen to forever would have to be upbeat, positive, and make me happy and energetic. Also, I have listened to it quite a bit since it came out a while ago and am not sick of it yet, so I think it would be pretty tolerable for the rest of my life.

Q: I agree! I would definitely opt for something upbeat too. What is your most recent guilty pleasure?
A: My most recent guilty pleasure would have to be watching Storage Wars on A&E, a show where bidders bid on abandoned storage units in hopes of finding hidden treasures to sell. It is ridiculously addicting. I have never watched any show like it before, and do not watch too much television in general; but, it is so entertaining that I find myself watching it in my spare time.

Q: Thanks for sitting down with us! Any last words or tidbits of advice for your fellow student pharmacists?
A: No problem, thank you for having me, it is a great honor. My advice for fellow student pharmacists would be to really enjoy and make the most of their time here at St. John’s University, as it will be over before they know it. One of the best ways to do this is to get involved in student organizations, especially pharmacy-related ones. One constant theme always surfaces when I talk to anyone involved in organizations: that they wish they started sooner. Being involved also helps shift the focus away from simply attending classes and taking tests, and helps one see the bigger picture and actually feel like an active part of your profession.

If you have any additional questions for Ms. Alili, you may contact her at [email protected].

Published by Rho Chi Post
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