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First Generation College Student

Thanks today to Traci Newcomb, a pharmacy student at Eshelman School of Pharmacy for our student guest post! Traci is the first in her family to go to college, let alone pursue doctorate levels studies towards becoming a pharmacist. She felt there were some unique insights, struggles and value that first generation college students bring to the table as pharmacists and pharmacists in training.

Do you have a story you’d like to share or something you’d like to say to pharmacists and or students? If so, shoot an email to PharmsConnect at with your pitch idea. We love to host unique voices and conversation.

Now here is Traci’s post!

Simple Beginnings 

Neither of my parents graduated high school, opting to go and get their GEDs after dropping out. My mom has spent her life working as a manager at convenience stores, while my dad has worked on repairing and painting cars. I remember my mom telling me growing up that she doesn’t want me to end up like her. She always wanted me to have a secure job that would allow me to not have to live paycheck to paycheck. These are words that I have always taken to heart and it has motivated me to study hard.

Even so, I was a good student. I remember the first time I truly struggled in undergrad. It was my first chemistry course and the only thing I could think was “I’ll never make it in pharmacy school if I can’t pass this class”. I felt that to prove myself I needed to figure everything out on my own. By the end of the semester, I had passed the class. But I only passed because I sought out help. I fought against my misconception that the only way to prove I deserved to be there was to work on my own.

The self confidence I got from completing an obstacle I thought i couldn’t set the foundation for handling struggles I would face throughout pharmacy school

My journey Into Pharmacy

I figured out I wanted a career in pharmacy after ruling out every other career choice the summer before my undergrad year.  I knew I wanted a career in the healthcare field. At the beginning, pharmacy seemed like a good choice because it seemed reliable, interesting, and was constantly evolving. As I learned more about the field of pharmacy, I knew it was the right choice. It matched up with my interests, my desire to help patients, and learn about medications. 

With no experience in pharmacy, I applied to the #1 pharmacy program at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy located at the University of North Carolina. Honestly, I was not expecting to get in. How could I? No one in my family had gone to college, much less a professional school.

At my interview, I realized that what I was wearing looked much less “professional” than everyone else. Everyone had worn business suits. Meanwhile, I was wearing gray slacks and a white and black plaid button up. I felt like I stuck out, but not in the way I wanted to. 

Before the day was over, I had already given up hopes of getting in. Luckily for me, my pharmacy mentor for the day, reassured me that I would have never gotten this far, if the admission council didn’t see something in me.

Professional wear, loans, & Imposter Syndrome, Oh My

After being accepted into pharmacy school I spent many nights googling “professional wear.” 

This part of my journey was one that my mom and I took together. I explained to her that what she thought was professional wear, wasn’t exactly pharmacy professional wear. Admittedly, professional wear is still a bit tricky for me, but as a professional student there is inspiration all around me now.

Another disadvantage that is still a major stressor from undergrad to professional school are loans. 

The first time I accepted a loan, all I knew was that a master promissory note was what stood between me and being able to pay for a year’s worth of school.  Every time I take out another loan, I panic over my ability to pay it back.

Imposter Syndrome

Similar to undergrad, it is easy for me to feel like I do not belong in pharmacy school sometimes. Imposter syndrome can be defined as feeling as though one doesn’t belong in a certain environment. This is undeniably an emotion that many people in pharmacy school feel, but it may be more prevalent in first generation professional students.

Other students are constantly taking on internships, student positions, and jobs, while I go home on weekends to help my family with chores, taking care of my great-grandmother, and keeping up on schoolwork. It feels like I can never do enough to keep up with everyone else.

The bright side: First Generation Student “Perks”

First generation professional students have many disadvantages, but we do have some advantages that others do not. One of the main advantages is that we feel like failure is not an option. The drive to succeed precedes all other stressors in our way. On our toughest days, we know that we want to do this to help our families and future patients.

We do not have an exact path to follow. We get to decide how we should get to our next stages of life. There is no one pressuring us to follow in their footsteps. 

The Importance of First-Generation Professional Students

First-generation professional students are important to the healthcare field for many reasons 

One of the main ideas in healthcare is that everyone deserves to be able to have affordable and timely medical services and medications. Though we may all agree on this, it is not the case in the underserved areas and low income communities that many first-generation college students come from.

For example, the area around me has a very small clinic that has two doctors who work there four days a week. To get an appointment you must make one a month in advance.

Regardless of what I do in pharmacy, I will try to help the underserved communities. Many other professional students also take this stance. We may not live in the same underserved communities as we grew up in, but we won’t forget where we came from.

The perspective we have in these underserved areas are valuable. It may be easier for us to communicate with patients who have low literacy or little understanding of healthcare. We can be their voices and hear their concerns. First generation college students will know better than others how hard it can be to afford medications or insurance, therefore the cost of medications and services will always be on our minds.

What others should know

First generation professional students are critical for the healthcare field now and in the future. It may take us a little longer to adjust to the standards that are given to us, but we will. 

Do not be afraid to take a chance on these students. Take them under your wing and guide them to be the best pharmacist they can be. The fear of being unable to afford medications and remembering how under-served areas are struggling are some of the reasons we have different perspectives on healthcare. We acknowledge that patients may have a difficult time affording healthcare and medications. But we will find solutions to give patients the best healthcare possible.

Traci Newcomb

Hello! Thank you for reading my blog post. A huge thank you to Dr. Moore for allowing me to use my voice and perspective on the blog. I was born and raised in Spring Hope, North Carolina. I attended East Carolina University as a biology major and I am currently a PY2 at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy at the University of North Carolina. I am currently not sure what pharmacy field I would like to be in, but my interests are community, endocrinology, pain management, or psychiatric pharmacy. Feel free to add me on LinkedIn to learn more about me!

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