Student Spotlight: Heesoo Kim

Meet USC School of Pharmacy student Heesoo Kim, who as an Albert Schweitzer fellow has co-created a program to assist homeless patients in taking advantage of the health and social services offered at John Wesley Community Health (JWCH), located in Skid Row. Heesoo shares her experience pursuing a dual degree in pharmacy with a master’s degree in global medicine, her plans to pursue a residency in psychiatric pharmacy, and her thoughts on why prospective pharmacy students should choose USC.

Heesoo Kim
Heesoo Kim

Why did you choose USC School of Pharmacy?

The main reason was to pursue a pharmacy career that serves the underprivileged community. As an undergraduate student at USC, I became passionate about working with the homeless at Skid Row after participating in an urban poverty program through InterVarsity Trojan Christian Fellowship. I wanted my career in pharmacy to align with this passion, so I began volunteering at the Los Angeles Christian Health Centers, a safety net clinic that provides health services to low-income and homeless communities. While volunteering, I learned that the clinic’s pharmacy was associated with USC Mann. I learned about Dr. Steven Chen, who established clinical pharmacy teams at several safety net clinics in LA, and saw pharmacy residents and students from the School providing screenings and counseling services to patients. The experience solidified my decision to pursue pharmacy because it demonstrated the important role pharmacists have in patient care. It also displayed the School’s commitment to serving the underserved, which was crucial in my decision to attend USC for my PharmD degree.

How have the resources and faculty available at USC helped you with your studies, learning, and growth?

I’ve had the privilege of working with five amazing faculty members during my time in pharmacy school so far; Marl Ayson, my partner for the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship; and I’ve received important guidance from Dr. Steven Chen and Lily Fu in connecting with our current project site and developing our project. Dr. Susie Park and Dr. Julie Dopheide are my faculty advisors for CPNP USC, and they provide the advice I need to be effective in my role as the Director of Educational Programs for the organization. I also have Dr. Michael Wincor as my academic advisor, who provides encouragement and an attentive ear to any concerns I have about school or my career as a pharmacist. Collectively, they’ve inspired me to become a professional who has the clinical knowledge and compassion to effectively care for her patients, and I’m grateful for the ways they have supported me to start on that path.

Another resource at USC that has helped me grow is the dual degree program for PharmD/M.S. Global Medicine. I had the advantage of starting the Global Medicine courses before attending pharmacy school, and these courses taught me the importance of factors such as government policy, culture, and socioeconomic status in determining an individual’s health. I appreciate the program because it gave me a broader perspective of health and grew my appreciation for the non-clinical aspects of pharmacy that impact patient care. It prepares me to have a holistic approach in caring for my future patients.

What is one of the best experiences you’ve had at the school so far?

One of the best experiences I’ve had so far was applying what I learned from class to help one of the patients from my Albert Schweitzer Fellowship project. We have a patient who is diabetic, and I had opportunities to use what I learned from my first year in pharmacy school to educate him. I was able to explain the connection between his diabetes and neuropathy, the difference between his short and long-acting insulin pens, the importance of checking his feet, and the importance of following the directions for his medications. Although he forgets the information I give him, and we have to remind him often of the importance of taking his medications as directed, his blood glucose levels have significantly improved since we first met him. Seeing his progress has been very fulfilling for me and has grown my appreciation for the education I receive at school.

Why should prospective students consider USC School of Pharmacy?

I recommend the School to prospective students who want to be in an environment that pushes them to be leaders in the field of pharmacy. The School looks for future leaders, and naturally I have met many inspiring faculty members and highly motivated students who aspire to be leaders in the field of pharmacy. As someone who is interested in psychiatric pharmacy, I was blown away when I found out Dr. Glen L. Stimmel, our Interim Dean, was one of the founders of the field. He is just one example of the accomplished faculty members at the School who make me proud to be a student here and motivate me to follow their steps in improving care for patients.

I’m also motivated by my fellow students who work hard to accomplish their career goals and encourage others to do so as well. One of my closest friends in the program, Kristin Seto, is a great example. As a first-year student, she was part of the team that represented the School and won second place in the National Pharmacy & Therapeutics Competition. She is currently the President Elect of Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy (AMCP), and uses her position to promote managed care pharmacy, a field she is passionate about. What I appreciate the most about her is the way she encouraged me to pursue more opportunities. In fact, if she hadn’t messaged me last year to consider the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, I may have missed out on the amazing experience the Fellowship has given me so far. Being around individuals who exemplify leadership has grown me as a future pharmacist, and I encourage students who want to become leaders in the field of pharmacy to consider USC School of Pharmacy.

What are your plans after graduation?

My immediate plan after graduation is to do a residency in psychiatric pharmacy. My experiences with the homeless population, the Global Medicine program and the list of top 200 drugs have shown me the need for more healthcare professionals that serve individuals who are affected by mental illness. There are so many barriers globally for individuals to receive care for their mental health, and I want to use my pharmacy career to make mental health services more accessible.

I eventually want to have a career that allows me to use both my Pharm.D. and Masters in Global Medicine degree and work with the low-income population in both the U.S. and abroad. I’m not sure what that would look like yet, but I’m hoping to participate in the study-abroad courses offered by the Global Medicine program and gain insight for integrating global health into my pharmacy career.

What is the importance of USC’s alumni network?

One statement I heard repeatedly after starting pharmacy school was “pharmacy is a small world.” It emphasizes the importance of networking in order to have the support you need in having a successful career in pharmacy. USC’s alumni network is a resource that helps you build these relationships by allowing you to connect to practicing professionals in the field based on your shared experience of school. And while other schools also have alumni networks, I think the level of pride that USC has in its Trojan Family sets its network apart from others.

What is the learning environment like at USC School of Pharmacy?

Students at USC Mann are encouraged to learn from both academic courses and hands-on experiences. The faculty recognize that lectures are limited in their ability to develop students into professionals, so they encourage students to add to their professional growth through their pharmacy practice experiences, internships, or community engagement opportunities hosted by student organizations. Students are also encouraged to collaborate with each other through group projects, which can prepare us to work effectively as part of the healthcare team as healthcare shifts towards interdisciplinary care. Even without the group projects, students work together to provide each other with the support they need to balance academics and extracurricular activities.

You are an Albert Schweitzer fellow. Could you talk about the service work you do and why it’s important to you?

As Albert Schweitzer fellows, my partner Marl Ayson and I work with John Wesley Community Health (JWCH) to assist homeless patients in receiving the services they need. We developed a homeless advocacy program, which aims to improve the patient flow between JWCH’s student-run mobile clinics at Pathways Shelter and Center for Community Health (CCH), JWCH’s main clinic in Skid Row. We do this by accompanying mobile clinic patients in attending their referral appointments at CCH and meeting with them regularly to help them take advantage of the health and social services offered by CCH and Pathways. This project is important to me because it keeps me focused on my goal of serving the underprivileged through pharmacy. It connects me to other Fellows like Marl who inspire and motivate me to continue pursuing a career that benefits those who are often overlooked by society. I’m reminded that the pharmacy program is worthwhile despite the stress because the project gives me a glimpse of the impact I could have on patients’ lives as a healthcare professional. Most importantly, it gives me an avenue to practice my Christian faith as a pharmacy student and reminds me of the core reason for my decision to become a pharmacist that works with the underserved.