Commencement Spotlight: Kaycey Pearce

Meet Kaycey Pearce, president of the PharmD Class of 2021, who will deliver a message to fellow graduates at the virtual celebration honoring USC Mann Class of 2021 on Thursday, May 13. Here, she talks about how losing close loved ones to cancer inspired a career change, the advantages of studying pharmaceutical sciences in a place like Los Angeles and reveals what’s next for her after graduation.

What originally attracted you to the field of pharmacy?

I entered pharmacy school as a non-traditional student after having a career in brain research for more than a decade. Although I enjoyed working as a research associate in a neurobiology lab at UCLA, I felt a calling to make a career change after losing my dad, uncle and close friend to cancer. I was attracted to pharmacy because it is a field where I can realize my passion for working in cancer research as a future clinical research pharmacist specializing in oncology. Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I believe a cancer cure that eliminates all traces of cancer from the body will happen in my lifetime, and I want to be part of a team that contributes to or ultimately finds the cure.

Why did you choose USC Mann for your degree?

Honestly, I only wanted to go to USC Mann for my degree. It was a calculated risk to only apply to one school, but I just knew I wanted a program that would best prepare me for a residency and then ultimately as a competent clinician in my specialty. Since I came back to school as a non-traditional student, I was not going to settle for anything other than the best, which I believed to be USC Mann for its unparalleled networking opportunities. I wanted to join a school that creates leaders who shape the pharmacy industry by extending the scope of practice.

What are the advantages of being on a health sciences campus, and studying pharmaceutical sciences in a place like Los Angeles?

Studying pharmaceutical sciences in Los Angeles allows you to work alongside people from all different backgrounds. Even though we are different, being located on a health sciences campus provides the opportunity for multidisciplinary team-based learning with students who have shared interests and goals. In my first year, I participated and worked with USC medical, occupational therapy, and physician assistant students to provide patient care to the homeless population through MAPSC’s Interdisciplinary Homeless Healthcare project. Together, we reviewed patient charts in real time, conducted patient consultations, and formulated treatment plans as a team. I found the experience invaluable and it instilled in me the importance of working in a multidisciplinary team for the betterment of patient-focused treatment.

You’ll be delivering a message to fellow PharmD graduates during the virtual Class of 2021 celebration. What’s your message to the graduating Class of 2021?

Congratulations! We did it!

On August 21, 2017, the first day of class, a total solar eclipse was visible in the U.S. for the first time since February 1979. Some said our class was cursed; we even became known as “the class of the eclipse.” Just when we were preparing to expand our wings and acquire in-person clinical training through APPE rotations, the global pandemic threw a wrench in our plans. Many of our scheduled APPE rotations were canceled or changed to virtual experiences instead, which taught us to expect the unexpected, be flexible, and make the best out of bad situations. Giving up was not an option. As we close this chapter in our lives and embark on new journeys, I have realized how resilient we are and see ourselves like a rough diamond that reveals its brightness by being polished under tremendous pressure. We were polished with challenges and pressured to adapt, learn, and grow during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have seen the importance of the pharmacy profession in saving lives and are now comfortable thinking outside of the box. With this realization, I have no doubt that we will do great things in our future, and I am so very proud to be part of the Class of 2021.

Here, I would like to leave you with translated lyrics by MoinNet to “Diamond,” a song by Ha Hyun Woo.

Follow the rules as they’ve been written

That’s the way to living a wise life

Live as quietly as a dead mouse

Absurd advice, who does that serve

Go ahead and burn me

I’ll endure it without ever flinching

Go ahead and strike me

It’ll only hurt your own hands

Just watch

You can’t hurt me

I might stumble and fall

But I’ll just get up and rise again

I’ll tell you about me

Pay attention

The more I’m cut and broken

I only get stronger and mightier, like a rock, like a Diamond

A world too overwhelming to bear

A world especially cruel to me

Everyone turned away

Laughed me off, my pain defined me

Wither and wane

How the world works but don’t confine me to it

It’s alright to be wrong

I’m the one living this life

My way no matter what they say

My way is the only way

Put everything on the line

Keep walking

Again and again

Even if I’m hit and fall

Get up and walk on

One day

At the end of this road

Until I can

Cry out as loud as I want

What will you be doing after graduation, and how do you feel the School has prepared you for this next chapter in your life?

I will be at the City of Hope for my PGY-1 residency training after graduation. After months of applying to residency programs and thirteen interviews later, I have come out feeling that USC Mann has given me a solid foundation for the next chapter in my life. The school has given me a strong foundation in pharmaceutical knowledge and taught me to be a receptive learner who is both humble and confident. Seeing how all my professors emphasized the importance of developing trust with patients to encourage proper treatment regimens set a precedence for the type of practitioner I want to become. I feel USC has given me a clear road map to success as I embark on the next chapter toward becoming a clinical research pharmacist specializing in oncology.