Student Spotlight: Michael Hsiao

Meet second-year PharmD student Michael Hsiao, a father who helped start the first student-parent support group on campus. The Temple City, Calif. native shares why he decided to transition from a career in art/animation to one in pharmacy and gives advice on how to balance school, work and family.

What attracted you to the field of pharmacy? Any particular moment(s) that made you stop and think, “This is the path I want to take?”

I graduated from California State University, Northridge with a B.A. in art with a focus on animation and started my career working in the digital entertainment industry. However, I realized I wasn’t happy with what I was doing. While art is far from easy, I yearned to challenge myself in a more intellectually demanding career.

Around this time, my wife was working as a registered nurse in a hospital’s gastrointestinal lab and told me a story about one of her patients. A 22-year-old came in complaining of stomach pains and was scheduled for an esophagogastroduodenoscopy, a procedure used to examine the inside of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. He was full of life and joking with his friends about where they wanted to go eat afterward. However, the procedure revealed a stage IV cancer that had metastasized into the duodenum and esophagus. Just like that, this young man’s energy and youthful optimism disappeared. I knew I wanted to be someone who was there for the treatment portion, and maybe one day become someone who restores that energy and optimism to people like him.

Why did you choose USC School of Pharmacy?

I have always considered USC as my first choice for pharmacy school just from its history and reputation alone. What sealed the deal, though, was how well my interview day went. I arrived feeling nervous and unsure of myself. However, the staff, faculty and students who greeted us were nothing but knowledgeable, warm, friendly, and encouraging. The process was well organized and meeting other prospective candidates was a joy. In fact, some of my current best friends in school are people I met during my interview day! Since then, I’ve been involved with the admissions process by taking part in the Student Admissions Committee. I remember how I felt during my interview day and I want to help make our process as easy, friendly, and inviting as possible.

Why was it important for you to start a student-parent support group on campus? What happens at each meeting?

The most important reason to start any group is to provide a benefit to the community or help fill a demand. As a parent myself, I noticed that there wasn’t a group on campus that focused on student-parents. After Dr. Susie Park expressed that other students were also asking about a student-parent support group, we collaborated and started the group during the fall 2018 academic semester. Since then, we’ve had three meetings, including a Christmas and Easter celebration. A unique characteristic of our group is that we encourage our members to bring their children, significant others, and parents to our meetings as a way to meet and thank everyone’s support systems. We catch up and share advice from our own experiences and discuss ways to better serve our members. We also always have activities for the children, including crafts and fun games. For our Christmas party, we built and decorated gingerbread houses (take a look below at the video we put together from the event)! Hopefully, these meetings serve as a way for our members to realize they’re not alone in trying to balance parenthood and graduate school. Finally, I want to give a big thanks to Dr. Susie Park and Ms. Rocio Pinal for all their support and assistance with the group.

What advice do you have for other parents in graduate school on how to balance school, work and family?

Try and set some time aside for school and studying, but understand that it’s sometimes impossible to do that. More importantly, set aside time for your family and thank them for their support. Learn to rely on your support system and ask for help when you get overwhelmed. It’s also helpful to accept that your situation is unique and not compare yourself to classmates. Lastly, understand that the struggles you’re going through is for your family. Whenever I’m struggling, I remind myself that all the hard work and sacrifice is for my wife and daughter.

What are your career aspirations? In general, how do you feel about the outlook of the pharmacy profession?

In the short-term, I’d like to pursue a residency as a clinical pharmacist and specialize in either pediatrics, oncology, and/or critical care. I’d eventually like to own my own consulting business that will provide services in medication therapy management and lifestyle optimization directly in clients’ homes. My long-term goal is to contribute to the profession by pushing the envelope of what a pharmacist can do. I want to help grow our profession in ways that haven’t been thought of yet. I think our profession still has a lot of room to grow and I encourage my peers to remain optimistic.

If you want more information about the student-parent support group, please contact Michael Hsiao.