What's more challenging than Pharmacy School? Pharmacy School in a second language. Meet four friends from Mexico and Puerto Rico who are graduating from Concordia's School of Pharmacy. As they helped each other navigate through the rigorous doctoral program, they also learned to assimilate into Wisconsin's culture, and master the nuance of the English language.

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of stories highlighting a few Concordia’s uncommon May 2022 graduates. Faculty and staff submit candidates for consideration. Stories are posted in the days leading up to commencement. View more uncommon graduates here.

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Among the 73 PharmD candidates set to graduate from Concordia’s School of Pharmacy on Friday, May 13 is a tight-knit group of four from Mexico and Puerto Rico who bonded by language on their very first day.

“I couldn’t believe it when I heard someone else speaking Spanish at our orientation,” shared Stephanie Ruvalcaba Rodriguez. “I had already prepared myself to be the only one going through this program in my second language.”

Industry trends support Stephanie’s assumption. Nationally, there’s a dire need for Hispanic and Spanish-speaking pharmacists. It is estimated that by 2042, 1 out of 4 people living in the United States will be Hispanic. Yet, the number of Hispanic or Spanish-speaking pharmacists in this country is estimated at just 4.5 percent of the 342,000 currently employed pharmacists.

Fortunately, Stephanie Ruvalcaba Rodriguez, Camille Ortiz Rivera, Gabriela Garcia Ruiz, and Luiggi Perez Soto each found their way to Concordia and to each other with a shared goal of adding four more Hispanic pharmacists in the world.

Future Pharmacists

Stephanie Ruvalcaba Rodriguez (’22) had already been in the United States when she applied to Concordia’s School of Pharmacy. In Mexico, Stephanie earned her degree in Chemistry and Microbiology. When she moved to Wisconsin to be with her fiancé and his family, she knew she needed to improve her English and enrolled in Concordia’s ESL program. Armed with her science degrees and a new competency in the English language, Stephanie was ready to tackle pharmacy school.

Country: Mexico

Native Language: Spanish

Degree: PharmD

Employment: PGY-1 Hospital Residency at Ascension All Saints

Quote: “In Mexico, I went to a public university with 80 or 90 students in class and my professors didn’t know me. Here at Concordia, you can always reach out to someone and they know you and are happy to help you.”

Camille Ortiz Rivera (’22) is the second person in her family to graduate from Concordia’s School of Pharmacy. Her sister was the first to leave their home in Puerto Rico to pursue a pharmaceutical degree. Camille credits Concordia’s professors for being available and attentive to the needs of all students.

Hometown/Country: San Juan, Puerto Rico

Native Language: Spanish

Degree: PharmD/MBA

Employment: Pharmacy intern at CVS

Quote: “Concordia would have been so much harder without these people. When my sister went through the program she had such a different experience because there were no other Spanish speakers. We know how lucky we are to have each other.”

Gabriela Garcia Ruiz (’22) was an undergraduate student at the University of Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria struck the island. She had an opportunity to stay with family in Minnesota. While living with them she applied for a retail position at the local CVS pharmacy. That experience and the company sparked her interest in pharmacy.

Hometown/Country: Fajardo, Puerto Rico

Native Language: Spanish

Degree: PharmD

Employment: PGY1 Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) Community-based residency with AltScripts/Sixteenth Street Community Health Center to further develop skills in ambulatory care pharmacy, specialty pharmacy, and academia

Quote: “I’m so grateful that we had each other through this program. We were each others’ “life hacks” and kept track of deadlines, agendas, and tasks so that we would all do well.”

Luiggi Perez Soto (’22) relocated to Wisconsin from Puerto Rico with his wife and four children to enroll in Concordia’s School of Pharmacy. Upon graduation, the family will return to Puerto Rico and Luiggi will help with the family pharmacy business.

Hometown/Country: Puerto Rico.

Native Language: Spanish

Degree: PharmD

Employment: Family pharmacy business in Puerto Rico

Quote: “I appreciate Concordia’s Christian focus. I saw how the program blends the science that we need to know with ethics and values that are important.”

The Need for Hispanic Pharmacists

In 2018, the National Hispanic Pharmacists Association (NHPA) was created to increase access to care for Hispanic communities across the country. Concordia is just one of a dozen pharmacy schools in the nation to have a student chapter. Stephanie Ruvalcaba Rodriguez, Camille Ortiz Rivera, Gabriela Garcia Ruiz, and Luiggi Perez Soto hold leadership positions on Concordia’s board.

“There is an increasing need for pharmacists to be linguistically and culturally equipped to provide safe and effective care to the country’s growing Spanish-speaking population,” said Robert Mueller, PharmD, BCPS, Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice is advisor of the group. “We are really proud of these students who have already demonstrated their commitment and ability to meet this need and make a positive impact in the lives of the patients they serve, especially with the underserved Spanish-speaking patient population.”

While the four friends are thankful to Concordia for giving them the opportunity to make a positive impact in the lives of patients, they are most grateful that they were able to share this experience with each other. According to Luiggi, “These three have become my sisters; my family. We’ll always support each other no matter where we all end up.”

— Lisa Liljegren is vice president of marketing and strategic communications.

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