AVON PARK, Fla. – Sept. 2, 2016 – Hong Nguyen started the summer on a high note. Her family was on hand to watch her pick up her doctor of pharmacy degree at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Hong Nguyen with her family after graduating from pharmacy school.

Hong Nguyen with her family after graduating from pharmacy school.

But her studies didn’t come to an end with graduation, now a doctor in name only, Nguyen had to pass her board examination before she could practice pharmacy.

Nguyen’s career path to pharmacy took shape at South Florida State College, where she not only started college, but finished high school.

“While at Sebring High School, I chose to try my hand at the dual enrollment program at SFSC,” Nguyen said. “Going through the rigors of the program, and taking college courses while in high school, prepped me for my time at university and graduate school.”

The SFSC dual enrollment program offers high school students the option to complete courses for their diploma while earning college credits at SFSC.

After earning her high school diploma, Nguyen enrolled full time at SFSC and was admitted to the SFSC Honors Program.

Nguyen said she always knew she would work in the medical field and settled on pharmacy while completing her associate degree at SFSC. Her science courses at SFSC played a big part in her decision to study pharmacy.

“I give a lot of credit to my physics professor at SFSC, Erik Christensen,” Nguyen said. “Under his guidance, I immersed myself in studying science, which steered me ever more firmly toward pharmacy.”

In addition to the regular physics class Nguyen took with Christensen, she enrolled in a course he taught open only to students in the Honors Program.

“We spent an entire academic term focusing on global warming, giving us an opportunity to study a science topic in depth,” Nguyen recalled. “We presented our findings at a conference in Gainesville, and this experience had a big impact on confirming my interest in science.”

Recalling to mind Nguyen’s time on the SFSC Highlands Campus, Christensen heaped praise on her. “Throughout a year of almost daily observation and interaction in both the classroom and the laboratory, Hong impressed me,” Christensen said. “She was an engaged student who was always eager to learn new material.”

Nguyen completed her undergraduate degree in biomedical sciences at the University of South Florida.

“There’s a benefit to starting at a smaller school like SFSC because you can interact regularly with the faculty,” she explained. “Students who start at a large school see the professors as a distant figure and don’t seek help from them, which wasn’t the case for me based on my experience at SFSC.”

Although she’s from an immigrant family— Nguyen’s family moved to Florida from Vietnam when she was 3 years old—she is not the first in her family to graduate from college. Her older brother completed his Associate in Science degree in dental hygiene at SFSC.

Nguyen started her pharmacy graduate studies immediately after earning her bachelor’s degree at USF. She interned and worked for the CVS retail chain while completing her studies.

“I’ll continue to work for CVS for the near term,” Nguyen said. “I’m laying the groundwork for my future in pharmacy, and I need the experience.”

Looking forward, Nguyen plans to enter hospital-based pharmacy practice once she has built up her resume.

Nguyen noted that pharmacy is a broad field, not one just centered on serving patients in a retail setting. Pharmacists perform high-level work in hospitals and conduct research at major academic health sciences centers in the Unites States.

Her plans are on solid ground now. In late August, she got the news she had passed her board examination. “Learning I had passed the examination was a great way to end the summer,” Nguyen said. “Now I can breathe and relax.”

When she is not consumed with studying, Nguyen said she enjoys traveling and playing tennis, a sport she played while at SFSC.

With a career path in pharmacy now open to her, Nguyen said students entering college should look at opportunities in the field.

“Pharmacy can be a great career and one I found many of my peers didn’t even consider,” Nguyen said. She recommends students at colleges like SFSC to visit the career development department to explore the many career paths open to them.

“That’s what I did at SFSC,” Nguyen said. “Young people preparing for a career can’t eliminate any of their options before even considering them.”