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Arizona Assurance Prompts Impactful Connections

Wendy Wong’s ambitions regarding health care are rooted in her upbringing.

Growing up, both of her parents held full-time jobs, so much of her childhood was spent with her grandparents, who emigrated to the U.S. from China, via Vietnam. 

Culturally Eastern principles such as chi – relating to the flow of energy in the human body – impacted every aspect of Wong’s early life, all the way down to her diet. Similarly, old-world knowledge of medicines and herbal remedies figured prominently into her wellbeing, sparking her interest in pharmaceutical studies. 

"I always knew I wanted to do something with medicine," the first-year student in the College of Pharmacy said. "I grew up around herbal remedies, and some of them are superstitions. I wanted to know if they're real or not."

Wong's enthusiasm about discovering the scientific basis and merits for what was medicinally essential in her household has led to a focus not solely on various medicines' validity, or how they are derived. Partly due to the role her grandparents played in her formative years, she wants to work in the field of geriatric pharmacy.

Three years ago, Wong received an Arizona Assurance scholarship, where she accrued the necessary credits to gain acceptance to the College of Pharmacy. One of the greatest benefits of the program, besides the funding, is the Mentorship Program, said Wong, who was paired with Jeannie Lee, a research associate with the Arizona Center on Aging.

Wong credits Lee for both reaffirming her ambitions to pursue pharmaceutical studies and for furthering her interest in geriatric pharmacy. Even though the program only stipulates participation during a student's first year, Wong and Lee have stayed in touch, and regularly have lunch with other mentors and mentees within the College of Pharmacy.

Lee said emigrating to the U.S. from South Korea has helped her to relate to what new students often go through entering a new environment. It has motivated her to serve as a mentor for Arizona Assurance since the program's onset. 

"There definitely was a learning curve in being adjusted to a new environment, and I feel that I can relate to students who are just coming out of high school and trying to get used to this huge University," said Lee, who arrived in the U.S. at age 12 without knowing all of the alphabet.

"It's helpful to know that I've gone through such stages to get to where I am, to be able to help somebody. You have a little bit of a road map, in a way, because you've gone through similar steps."

Lee is particularly passionate about geriatric pharmacy and enthusiastic about working with students such as Wong, who will carry the torch of her vital field.

"We all will need a pharmacist one day, as we age, and as we retire," Lee said. "So it's extremely important to cultivate the next generation of pharmacists and to be able to train them so that they can provide the best patient care that they can—to give them the means, the knowledge and the skill set to be able to do so.  Because we will all eventually benefit from that."

Read the full article in the Arizona Assurance Newsletter (PDF).

Photo credit: Colin Hodgkins