Journey of Compassion to Pharmacy

Inspired by the Extraordinary Care by Her Father’s Clinical Pharmacist, Student Finds Her True Calling

June 10, 2024
A photo shows Touro University California College of Pharmacy Student Doctor Soutsada Sikhounchanh.
Touro University California College of Pharmacy Student Doctor Soutsada Sikhounchanh.

After graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in integrative biology, Soutsada Sikhounchanh believed she would attend medical school as she had dreamed.

“I was getting ready to apply to medical schools when my dad was diagnosed with cancer,” says Sikhounchanh, who had just completed all the necessary prerequisites. “It was heartbreaking to get that news.”

As Sikhounchanh and her family managed the complexities of her father’s treatment, one health care provider stood out: his pharmacist. When the combined effects of chemotherapy and radiation sessions diminished his quality of life, it was the clinical pharmacist that made sure Sikhounchanh’s father was as relaxed as possible.

“My father’s very last days were a lot more comfortable than he would have been without his pharmacist, and so that totally changed everything,” says Sikhounchanh, a second-year student in Touro University California (TUC) College of Pharmacy. “It changed my career trajectory; I said I want to do this.”

Initially Sikhounchanh’s idea of what pharmacists did was limited to dispensing medications and offering consultations in community settings. However, after witnessing the significant role the pharmacist played in her father’s care, she learned that clinical pharmacists play a crucial role in patient care, particularly in specialized areas like oncology. They are instrumental in dosing, managing drug interactions, and customizing treatments based on individual patients’ needs.

“I'm very interested in infectious diseases, and I know that pharmacists play a huge role in antibiotics stewardship program,” says Sikhounchanh, who begins her rotations in Contra Costa County in the fall, where she hopes to shadow infectious diseases pharmacists.

Additionally, Sikhounchanh hopes to teach part time once she graduates, particularly because she sees a concerning number of departures among pharmacy professionals. Sikhounchanh has been doing research on the causes of the high turnover among pharmacy professionals, and recently received an award from the American Foundation of Pharmaceutical Education for her work. By collecting in-depth interviews with former pharmacy faculty, she hopes to get to the root of the causes driving people away.

"Issues like work-life balance, burnout, and lack of incentives are recurring themes we've identified," says Sikhounchanh, who is doing the research with the help of Dr. Shane Desselle, Professor in TUC’s College of Pharmacy. She hopes to use the research results to develop strategies to retain quality educators in the field, by better understanding the challenges they face.

Despite the tragic circumstances that took her from an aspiring medical school student to a passionate pharmacy student, Sikhounchanh knows the impact that health care professionals can have on individuals and their families.

“Everything happens for a reason, and now I'm in pharmacy school, and I've never been happier,” says Sikhounchanh.