Pharmacists Overcome Odds to Succeed


Miller photo 12.28.15The following story appears in a recent issue of Texas Pharmacy magazine and is authored by Bradley A. Miller, pharmacy technician operations supervisor at Seton’s University Medical Center Brackenridge. Miller also serves on the Texas State Board of Pharmacy.

Both of the pharmacy technicians featured below are overcoming daunting odds in their journeys from pharmacy technicians to pharmacists.

Earning a doctorate in pharmacy and becoming a registered pharmacist is no easy task, but because of their perseverance and dedication, both Zlatina Manolcheva-Salem and Maya Bhakta-Patel are close to achieving that goal.

Zlatina Manolcheva-Salem is just a few steps away from achieving her ultimate goal, which is becoming a registered pharmacist in Texas. The journey has not been an easy one.

Salem photo 12.28.15Manolcheva-Salem is a foreign graduate student from Bulgaria who graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Pharmacy in the fall of 2001 in Libya.

“My decision to pursue a pharmacy degree goes back to my teenage years. During that time I used to visit the hospital where my mother worked as a nurse and I enjoyed stopping by the pharmacy and observing pharmacists work. I was fascinated watching them compound different pharmaceutical products from scratch. Those moments helped me understand that pharmacy involved both art and science. So when it came the time to decide my major, I was confident that I had found my future career: I wanted to be a pharmacist,” Manolcheva-Salem said.

As a part of the pharmacy degree program Manolcheva-Salem, along with other students, participated in summer internships working as pharmacy technicians in retail and hospital pharmacies. During these summer internships she developed an interest in hospital pharmacy and set her goal of working as a hospital pharmacist once she completed her degree.

“Right after graduation I only had the chance to work for a few months in an independent retail pharmacy,” Manolcheva-Salem said. “My primary duties as a retail pharmacist were processing prescriptions, dispensing medications and counseling customers. Since then, I have travelled a lot due to family reasons, taken care of my four wonderful children and have decided to settle down in Austin. My family and I came to Austin in the summer of 2008 when my husband was accepted as a graduate student at The University of Texas.”

The first step toward achieving her goal of becoming a registered pharmacist in Texas was the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Certification (FPGEC), which she passed in 2009. By the end of 2012, Manolcheva-Salem’s family had become permanent U.S. residents, which gave her the right to work in the United States.

“That’s when I realized that I could start working as a pharmacy technician and gain a fundamental knowledge of how pharmacies operate,” Manolcheva-Salem said. “My next steps were getting certified by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) and finding a job as a certified pharmacy technician.”

A few months later, Manolcheva-Salem started working as a certified pharmacy technician at University Medical Center Brackenridge. There, she had the opportunity to work with a great team of professionals and learn how to operate automated dispensing systems, compound pharmaceutical products, repackage bulk medications, aseptically compound sterile products, prepare orders and maintain inventory for the pharmacy department.

“Today, I can proudly say that I have achieved many of my goals. I have gained a valuable knowledge of procedures and skills that will be extremely helpful once I become a registered pharmacist,” Manolcheva-Salem said.

Patel photo 12.28.15Maya Bhakta-Patel is the first and only person in her family who has been determined enough to pursue higher education.

“When I first started college, it was my parents’ hope that I would pursue a career in pharmacy because they felt that it was a well-respected and honorable profession,” Bhakta-Patel said.

Taking her parents advice, Bhakta-Patel began taking pre-pharmacy courses. However, she was uncertain about it and felt more comfortable in accounting. Immediately after graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting, her parents moved forward with their plans for her arranged marriage according to Indian tradition.

“After marriage, I became a part of a family-owned hotel business, helping my husband to operate it. In addition to running the business, we began our family and cared for my ailing, elderly parents,” says Bhakta- Patel.

In the years that followed, Bhakta-Patel lost both of her parents to long illnesses. After their deaths, she began contemplating returning to school.

“After much thought, I decided that I wanted to take the first step and see if I was up for the challenge of returning to school and becoming a pharmacy technician,” Bhakta-Patel said. “After achieving my pharmacy technician certificate in 2004 with a 4.0 grade point average, I worked in a retail pharmacy setting for two years and then started working for Ascension Seton Family of Hospitals in 2006.”

Meanwhile, she kept working on her prerequisites for pharmacy school, though she was still undecided on what her next step would be.

“I continued to help run our business and raise our young sons,” Bhakta-Patel said. “In December 2011, my husband had a major heart attack, which required him to have an emergency triple bypass. During this time, I hoped to be more clinically knowledgeable about my husband’s recovery, which would have made it less traumatic and help reduce his level of anxiety.”

On a positive note, that life-changing event solidified her decision in pursuing the next step of becoming a pharmacist.

“Although my obligations extend to caring for my family, business and work, I am passionate about the field of pharmacy,” Bhakta-Patel said. “I have a great network of pharmacists that I have come to know, and I am involved in local and state pharmacy associations, such as the Austin Area Society of Health System Pharmacists, Capital Area Pharmacy Association , Texas Society of Health-System Pharmacists and Texas Pharmacy Association.

“Many pharmacy professionals have inspired and encouraged me to follow the steps in pursuing a degree. I have been a pharmacy technician for 10 years and my experience has led me to discover that I have the will and dedication to become a pharmacist! With the help and support of my family, friends and mentors, I have successfully completed my P1 year at The University of Texas at Austin.”