There are many obstacles when you get into pharmacy school that prevent you from succeeding. They can be as simple as managing study time with everyday life, having to work to pay bills for rent, or doing laundry because you’ve been wearing the same jeans for five days in a row. These are pretty common and most pharmacy students experience them.

Struggle with Crohn’s

I, however, have also had to deal with Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune disorder and an inflammatory bowel disease that affects the entirety of the GI tract. It portrays itself as ulcers and can be very debilitating at times. The most difficult part with diagnosing Crohn’s is that every single person is different and has different triggers for their disease. My main triggers are major stress and foods such as fruits, vegetables, sugar, and many spices which isn’t all that nice. My meals mostly consist of protein, carbs, and starches with lots of water.

There are some days where I have been feeling good and I want to try something I normally don’t eat. Most of the time it involves sugar or candy. If I eat a candy bar, I may have to miss school the next day, so I’m always very strict on keeping my diet to what I know works. I also have to miss classes some days due to Remicade infusions that I get every 6 weeks. These take about 2 hours and make me very tired for the rest of the day.

The struggle becomes a strength

Now, I’m not just writing this as a sob story or for people to feel sorry for me. I use my weakness as my strength. This is the reason I wanted to become a pharmacist. I think it is extremely important for pharmacists and all other medical professionals to know what it is like to be a patient. It helps create empathy and, in my opinion, a more driven person than someone who has never been a patient in a hospital before.

I have spent a lot of time waiting in the hospital for blood tests, infusions, x-rays, CAT scans, bone density tests, endoscopies, and colonoscopies. I know how difficult it can be, especially when other things are going on in life including pharmacy school. I have taken so many different regimens of drugs that it took 3 years for me to find out what works and what gives me pancreatitis (I’m looking at you, mercaptopurine).

Finding purpose and community at CUW

Through all of these experiences, I know that I will be able to relate to certain patients. This is why I also want to specialize in autoimmune disease including IBD and Crohn’s patients. My hardships have helped me learn so much, and being at CUW has deepened my technical knowledge and practical skills. All of the professors and teaching staff here are absolutely excellent with helping me through difficult weeks. They are all so accommodating and trust me when I tell them that I’ll get them an assignment by a certain date. This kind of trust and close community is not very common anymore. I cannot see myself anywhere else going to pharmacy school.

I cannot stress enough how wonderful it is here at the CUW School of Pharmacy and how much I love the environment of the students’ relationships with each other and with the faculty. It is certainly a friendly environment that encourages learning while having fun at the same time. My time here is only beginning but I know it is going to go too fast. I’m learning to enjoy the time I have now even if it involves just studying every day. The small breaks and chats with classmates keep us trucking through each day.

One more thing that I love about CUW, especially with my class, is that everyone seems to talk with each other. Everyone is open and talks, and no one is shunned out of any group. This is also extremely important professionally because the world of pharmacy is small! We will know each other probably for the rest of our lives!

I use my weakness as my strength. This is the reason I wanted to become a pharmacist. I think it is extremely important for pharmacists and all other medical professionals to know what it is like to be a patient. --Matthew Rupena, PharmD, Class of 2021

The key to success? Balance.

In summary, times can be difficult for me especially if I am in the mood for ice cream, brownies, Sour Patch Kids, Reese’s Cups, 100-Grand Bars… but I learn through my health issues and push through them to become a better healthcare professional. It is critically important to de-stress every weekend by doing something fun with friends or family. Keeping balance is something Concordia cultivates and encourages, and I whole-heartedly support it. Balance and determination in school and in life is absolutely essential to being the best person (and pharmacist!) you can be.

Matthew Rupena, PharmD Student, Class of 2021

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