Carlos Herrera pulls into the UC Irvine campus at 5 a.m. most days and stays until 9 p.m., when the library closes.
“We’re making history,” he says.
Herrera, 23, is in the inaugural class of UCI’s new Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) program, which trains future pharmacists.
After earning a biochemistry degree from UCLA last year, he considered PharmD programs at Ohio State University and the University of Michigan but chose to be among the first 41 students entering Irvine’s Ph.D. program.
“I feel like a trailblazer,” he says. “We’re laying down the groundwork for all future classes.”
Many in his class are trailblazers in another way, too: Fifty-six percent of the students, including Herrera, are first-generation college students.
“Being one of only a few pharmacy schools in California that is part of an academic health center immerses our students in an inter-professional clinical practice, training and research environment.” – Dean Jan Hirsch
So when Herrera read his acceptance letter – in which founding Dean Jan Hirsch wrote: “Fortune favors the bold” – he could relate.
“Nobody in my family has a degree, so that meant a lot to me,” he says.
When UCI established its School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences in 2020, it was the first new public pharmacy school in California in nearly two decades.
Its pharmacy students train alongside medical school and nursing school students in what Dean Hirsch calls a “team-based, whole-patient” approach to education.
“Being one of only a few pharmacy schools in California that is part of an academic health center immerses our students in an inter-professional clinical practice, training and research environment,” she says. “There is a buzz of excitement here about that.”
The inaugural PharmD students will graduate in 2025 but already feel a special bond.
”We’ve grown so close in such a short time,” Herrera says. “I know my peers will always have my back for any obstacles I need to overcome. And I’ll have their backs when they need help. Together, we’ll make it through this.”
Like other medical school students, the class gathered recently for its “white coat ceremony,” where they were presented white coats, signifying their transition from undergraduate studies to clinical health sciences.
After the ceremony, students turned to thank their families in attendance.
“I gave my parents a hug so tight that an anaconda would be jealous,” Herrera says. “It was a huge milestone in my life. Putting on that white coat signified my overcoming all the obstacles that I’ve ever faced.”