By: Erik Pedersen, Senior Communications Manager
Class of 2023 Spotlights
BALTIMORE – Laura Calderon Lugo D’23 learned earlier this semester that she will be returning to her home in Puerto Rico much sooner than expected.
Pharmacy residencies on the island are extremely competitive, with many of the limited opportunities typically offered to students who attend pharmacy school in Puerto Rico. The School of Pharmacy’s 2023 Class President, however, overcame those odds to earn a spot at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in San Juan beginning this fall.
The chance to return home came after Calderon Lugo took advantage of the many leadership and academic opportunities available to her during her four years studying at Notre Dame of Maryland University. Learn more about Calderon Lugo’s NDMU experience in today’s Class of 2023 spotlight:
When did you decide that you wanted to become a pharmacist? What was it that drew you to the field?
I was always drawn to healthcare professions, but it wasn’t clear to me which path I was going to take until during my time as an undergraduate. I had previously considered becoming a teacher, but I then realized that I could do both as a pharmacist, because pharmacists can be seen as teachers to their patients on a daily basis. I saw it as a way to merge those two passions of teaching and healthcare.
How did you first hear about the program at Notre Dame, and what originally led you to apply here?
The main reason that I chose Notre Dame, apart from the fact that there was already an established Puerto Rican community here, was the dedication that the staff displayed during the recruitment of students. Larry Shattuck (director of admissions for the School of Pharmacy) emailed me directly, he came personally to the University of Puerto Rico, and he took the time to talk to me about the program for close to an hour. With that drive to assist the students, and to do so in a way that wasn’t superficial, he really made the decision to go to Notre Dame an easy one.
Talk a bit about your experience here. What organizations have you been a part of, and what leadership positions have you held?
My first leadership position was as vice president of the Class of 2023. That was for the first two years, and then I transitioned into the role of Class of 2023 President. That’s been a challenging position with many responsibilities, but it has really made a difference in helping me become a good leader. English is not my first language, and I used to be very self-conscious when writing emails or talking to people, but this position has completely changed that. It has brought me out of my shell, it’s helped me improve my communication skills, and it has really helped me bloom into the leader that I am today.
I’ve also served as the Operation Hear co-chair and chair for our American Pharmacists Association student chapter. That position really helped expand my passion for clinical pharmacy. Before I came to Notre Dame, I thought that all pharmacists were just community pharmacists. When I got here, though, the learning and leadership opportunities expanded my scope of what I could become as a pharmacist. I thought I was going to become a normal commercial or retail pharmacist in Puerto Rico, but now I have a residency lined up with the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in San Juan to become a clinical pharmacist. It completely changed the path of my life and career.
Could you talk more about your upcoming residency opportunity in Puerto Rico?
I did not expect that I was going to match for that specific residency, because it is a very competitive process. There are limited residency opportunities in Puerto Rico, and they often go to students who remained on the island for pharmacy school. The fact that I got the chance to interview, and then ultimately got the position, was a very happy moment for me, because it means that I will get to go back home to my family. All of my family is still in Puerto Rico, and I still can’t believe half the time that I’m actually going back.
I really enjoyed my time here, though, and I will always hold Notre Dame in high esteem. The School of Pharmacy has done so much for me, and I would consider becoming a preceptor for the school from the island. I know how important those experiences are, and being able to offer that to Puerto Rican students back home would be amazing for me.
How did your learning opportunities in and out of the classroom at NDMU help you develop as a pharmacist?
I think the learning opportunities, both the introductory and advanced practice opportunities that the school offers, are great ways for students to explore different aspects of pharmacy. For example, I knew that I wanted to become a clinical pharmacist, so I chose practices that focused on that. I did a clinical track at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, and that really brought out a drive in me to be successful. I started at the beginning of my P4 year, and it was like okay, if I can get through this track than I know that I’m cut out for this.
That experience helped me choose my final path. I’ve had other classmates that have done the same thing in different areas. Some, for example, focused on compounding advanced practices and loved it, and now they want to be compounding pharmacists. The opportunities that were provided to us can go hand in hand with what we hope to become after we graduate.
Are there any top memories that stand out from your time at Notre Dame?
One of the best experiences I’ve had is being able to have such a strong sense of community, not only with my fellow Puerto Ricans, but with the class as a whole. That has made it much easier to handle being so far away from home, especially during COVID. The pandemic was very difficult, especially for the people who lived on campus, but the fact that we were able to support each other during the toughest of times will always be a very good memory for me. I’m going to hold the people from my class close to my heart forever because of that sense of community that we shared during those times.
What are your long-term career goals?
I would like to eventually go into academia and become a professor. Teaching is still one of my top passions. I’ve been a tutor since my P2 year at Notre Dame, and that has been an amazing opportunity for me to not only develop my teaching skills, but also to assist my fellow Puerto Ricans who have needed help. I’ve been able to tutor in both Spanish and English to help out with that transition. It can be difficult, because speaking English colloquially and in conversation is not always the same as studying complex medical terms. That has been a very good experience for me.
Is there a message you’d like to share with pharmacy students who are still working their way through the program?
Hang in there. The program is very difficult, but in the end the reward is amazing. You’re going to look back at all those long studying nights, and those days where you thought you couldn’t make it, and you’re going to get to the finish line and say, ‘Oh, I had it in me the whole time.’ You just have to persevere, and don’t let fear of failure get in the way.
Established in 1895, Notre Dame of Maryland University (NDMU) is a private, Catholic institution in Baltimore, Maryland, with the mission to educate leaders to transform the world. Notre Dame has been named one of the best "Regional Universities North" by U.S. News & World Report.