Pharmacy Students Awarded OHA Scholarship
The Oregon Health Authority has awarded a scholarship worth approximately $35,000 each for pharmacy students Omar Vargas PharmD ’21 and Blanca Piñon PharmD ‘21. The scholarship, offered through the Primary Care Loan Forgiveness Program, requires the recipients to practice as pharmacists for at least one year in a rural and medically-underserved part of the state.
Giving back to the community comes naturally to Vargas and Piñon. They are both Mexican-Americans with close ties to the seasonal and migrant farmworker population. Having witnessed firsthand the hardships many immigrant families face, they plan on using their bilingual skills to help build relationships with future patients to better help them achieve their health goals.
Piñon is the oldest of eight children, many of whom share her passion for medical professions. Watching her parents struggle with a language barrier strengthened her resolve to provide health education to underserved patients who would otherwise fall through the cracks.
“Over the years my parents developed many preventable diseases,” Piñon said. “The lack of proper healthcare and understanding of their chronic disease caused them to develop preventable complications. I believe my parents situation is lived by many immigrants every day.”
Vargas, meanwhile, will be working this summer with the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Centers’ migrant farmworker outreach program, which provides essential healthcare to individuals and their families.
“There is a lot of misinformation among immigrant patient populations,” Vargas said. “This underserved populations track helps in terms of putting things into perspective and offering different tools for me to help the patient as a whole.”
For Vargas and Piñon, who are first-generation graduate students, the scholarships relieve the financial strain of student debt and pave the way for their siblings. As Vargas said, “With hard work and dedication, anything is possible.”
For Pacific, it means bragging rights. The OHA scholarship was competitive, with a high number of applications from pharmacy, dental, physician, physician assistants and nurse practioner programs across Oregon.
“We strive to be a national leader among pharmacy programs for equipping our students with the skills necessary to provide interprofessional, culturally-appropriate care to communities in greatest need, and that elevates the scope of practice for our graduates,” said Edward Saito, assistant professor of pharmacy.
Reza Karimi, dean of the School of Pharmacy, credits Vargas and Piñon’s success in part to the Care for Underserved Populations Learning Track at the School of Pharmacy, which was developed by faculty members Saito, Sigrid Roberts, John Begert, Nicola Carter and Danielle Backus. Merging the learning track with the Oregon Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) made it possible for students to apply for the scholarship for the first time.
“We are proud of Blanca’s and Omar’s achievement and their unwavering desire to serve and support underserved patients in Oregon,” Karimi said. “Their achievement aligns well with our strategic goals, and we hope that this award will inspire future students to consider joining our learning track and to apply for this recognition as well.”