In 1997, 13-year-old Rayna Vasquez was in our first cohort of PharmCamp students. Before PharmCamp, Vasquez did not know what she wanted to be when she grew up. But after that first summer's experience, when it came time to sign up for a second summer camp and PharmCamp wasn't on the list, she wrote it in. "Before the first PharmCamp, I didn't even know what a pharmacist was," says Vasquez "After the second camp, I knew I wanted to be one."
Vasquez pursued her dream by volunteering at pharmacies while she attended Desert View High School. After graduation, she continued her education at the University of Arizona and Pima Community College. Vasquez wanted to get out of her hometown to explore new places -- so she applied to and was accepted by the pharmacy program at the University of Southern Nevada.
For her final year in the program, during which students do experiential rotations in a variety of settings, she asked that all of her rotation sites be in Tucson. It was important for her to return to give back to her community. USN granted her request. At a meeting Vasquez attended during her rotation at El Rio Clinic, Vasquez ran into the College of Pharmacy associate dean in an elevator. "I recognized Dr. Tong immediately," says Vasquez. "He looked exactly the same. He didn't remember me, but I told him I still have the poster I made in ninth grade after PharmCamp describing my decision to become a pharmacist."
Though PharmCamp launched Vasquez's passion for pharmacy, her motivation helped her overcome various obstacles leading up to becoming a pharmacist. She was the first in her family to graduate from college. Vasquez persevered, took out student loans and worked three jobs to finance her education. She relied heavily on her advisors and was introduced to mentors, like Dr. Tong, along the way. She had to sacrifice social activities for study groups and long nights of homework.
Now, Vasquez is the Clinical Services Manager for 12 of Southern Arizona's Walmart pharmacies. Her role is to provide expertise, resources and support to pharmacists. It's a career choice that has been humbling and rewarding.
"I love working in pharmacy because you get to help people be the healthiest version of themselves. You build relationships with your patients and can make an incredible impact on their health and well-being."
Speaking to this summer’s Tucson PharmCampers about her journey to becoming a pharmacist brought her full circle with Dr. Tong and the program that opened her eyes to pharmacy.
"Success is hard. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it," she told campers when sharing her story. "But it's important for me to come back here. This was the place that founded me into who I am today. Always remember, the secret to success is never giving up."