Back to Meet the Grads

Dianne Techwei

PharmD
School of Pharmacy
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Why did you choose pharmacy as a career?

I came to the U.S. when I was 14 years old. Growing up in Cameroon, I’d never seen a pharmacist or experienced pharmacy because the practice doesn’t exist there. The way pharmacy works in Cameroon is you wake up one morning looking for a source of income, and you find a wholesale distributor, buy some medication, and sell it. What we have is laypeople prescribing medications for other laypeople. As a result, one of the most significant issues we have in the healthcare sector in Cameroon is medication errors. I’ve had more than one family member die from the lack of pharmacy in my country. So, coming to the U.S. and being told I can be anything I want to be, I decided to go for something that I had never experienced.

Do you ever think about going back to your native country to practice pharmacy?

Most definitely, that is one of my dreams. I think about my cousin who died at the age of 18 because of a medication error, and we’ll never know the details. I think about the many Cameroonians whose lives have been affected by medication errors because there are no pharmacy experts to guide proper medication utilization. One of my long-term professional goals is to pioneer the foundation for pharmacy practice in my country. I believe my goal is attainable because Cameroon is fresh ground for ideas, and there is a lot of creative space to work with. People are open to suggestions, especially if they see the quality of life improving. Other African countries like Ghana and Nigeria have pharmacy practices and pharmacy education to use as models to start a practice in Cameroon.

Why did you choose WVU for Pharmacy School?

I knew this was the place I was supposed to be. Driving into West Virginia and seeing the topography reminded me so much of home. I had not been back to Cameroon since 2009, and the scenery here had me reminiscing. During my interview, I connected with the faculty both professionally and in terms of sharing my journey. It was a combination of the two things that lead me to choose WVU.

Tell me more about the comparisons between West Virginia and Cameroon.

It’s like when you are driving from Maryland into West Virginia [on Interstate 68], and you go through a mountain divided by the highway. If you look to the right, that’s what Cameroon looks like. It’s rural, and it’s green. It’s like you hit the mountains, and the temperature is different. The air is cleaner, it’s just fresh, and I’m like — this is home. I’ve lived here for the past four years, and I’ve enjoyed every second of it.

What is one of your favorite memories from Pharmacy School?

One of my favorite memories is Dr. Marina Galvez’s pharmacogenomics class. We were studying the relationship between genetics and antidepressants. She gave us some reading material, and we had a debate-style discussion on the subject. It was memorable for me because it made me think about the real-life implications of pharmacogenomics. As a pharmacist, how do I approach someone with a different mindset without being combative or accusatory? How can I be understanding and sensitive yet educational? Communication is a large part of what we do as pharmacists. We need to have the ability to educate people without being condescending and dismissive. She used the same approach with teaching immunology in regards to vaccines and the anti-vaccine community.

What are some of your proudest accomplishments?

One of my proudest accomplishments is starting the Multicultural Association of Students in Healthcare (MASH). It was a journey of self-discovery. I started the organization because I was studying the opioid epidemic in conjunction with America’s War on Drugs. I also heard a story on NPR about how white Americans are very much affected by the opioid epidemic. Still, black Americans are more likely to die from it. Primarily because of the lack of public health initiatives and programs in minority communities. Coincidentally, we had a guest speaker at the School who gave a lecture on the opioid epidemic. I asked about her statistics because they didn’t include numbers for black and brown people. She told me that she didn’t have any. I couldn’t sleep that night because I kept thinking about disparities in healthcare. How many other disease states do we not have statistics for black and brown people? So, I created MASH to provide a space for minority healthcare students to think about the different health disparities in their communities and develop solutions.

Were you involved in other student organizations?

I was the volunteer coordinator for Lambda Kappa Sigma (LKS) women in pharmacy. I was so appreciative of my involvement in this organization because when I started, there was internal civil unrest in Cameroon. I shared this with my organization, and they asked how they could help. Together, we organized an over-the-counter medication supply drive for the refugees. It was very touching to see my friends come through for me and know that I could help my country with what little I have.

Can you tell me about the special award you received for your community service?

Last year, I received the United States Public Health Services Excellence in Public Health Pharmacy Award for my community service. The world is my classroom, and I feel comfortable working outside in the community. I created an intersectional health fair to serve people who don’t typically go to health fairs like homeless people, international students with no insurance, and minority populations that rarely have time for healthcare intervention or go to a doctor’s office. Also, I implemented a health booth at the WVU International Student Festival.

What are your plans after graduation?

I will be doing the PGY1 and PGY2 Residency in Health-System Pharmacy Administration and Leadership Program with Masters at Yale New Haven Hospital and the University of New Haven in Connecticut. Medication errors have very much impacted my life, and I would like to work in medication safety and quality control.

Do you have any additional thoughts you'd like to share?

I want to highlight a few people who have been supportive throughout my journey. Thanks to Dr. Marina Galves for taking me under her wing and giving me a voice in pharmacy. I never asked her to be my mentor, but she saw something in me. When I didn't have the confidence to start MASH, she encouraged me. She's always been that voice that's pushing me forward, even when I'm scared in my boots. I want to thank Dr. Mary Euler. While I was deciding what path to take with my pharmacy career, she took the time to listen and guide me. She introduced me to Health-System Pharmacy, and now that's what I'm doing for my PGY1 and PGY2 Residencies. I'm thankful for my friend and classmate Kayla, who helped me learn how to use a MacBook. She was always there for me when I had a question, and that's what friendship is about. I went through my APPE rotations with Dr. Kazuhico Kido. My theory of becoming an intentional pharmacist is because of him. He was very patient with me and allowed me to ask questions. He provided a very soothing learning environment. These people have impacted the way I see my profession now and the way I want to practice someday when I'm an independent pharmacist. I also thank my family for being a support system for me.

Let’s go.