How Pharmacy School Changed My Perspective on CF

From a young age, I was determined that cystic fibrosis would never stop me from pursuing my dreams in the medical field. It wasn’t until I hit a road bump in pharmacy school that I realized my CF could actually give me a unique advantage.

Jan. 10, 2024 | 6 min read
A professional headshot of Rachel Salmon
Rachel Salmon
Rachel smiling with her dog, who is wearing an Oregon State University harness

I still remember the moment I knew I was going to be a pharmacist. Ever since I was in elementary school, I wanted to have a career in the medical field, and I wasn't going to let my cystic fibrosis stop me. Many years later, on a cold day in Connecticut, my dad and I drove to a church function in Rhode Island. It was a pretty quiet ride until he broke the silence with an unexpected question — he asked if I still wanted to pursue a career in the medical field despite having cystic fibrosis. As a junior in high school, the dream of being a doctor was still high on my list and I quickly said yes, not thinking twice about the question. However, he quickly reminded me that my health was the most important aspect when picking a future career, and I can't put myself or my patients at risk of getting sick. Feeling quickly defeated, I scrambled, trying to think of a plan B for my career, my life. "What about being a pharmacist?" my dad asked, breaking my string of thoughts. "You know all the names of your medications you take, their dosing, and what the side effects are. You can teach others how to use their medication responsibly." After hearing that, I finally realized I could use my experience with cystic fibrosis to help others in the world of pharmacy. I was going to become a pharmacist. 

In the fall of 2022, I got one step closer to reaching my dream. I started my first year of pharmacy school at Oregon State University College of Pharmacy! Before starting pharmacy school, I had to manage my time well and had the freedom to pick what times I wanted my classes so I could continue my lung treatments. However, pharmacy school was a whole new world. I had to take a set schedule of classes each term, 3-hour labs, extracurricular activities, and even multiple exams a week. With all the excitement of starting pharmacy school and continuing my lifelong dream came lots of worries. How was I going to balance all my responsibilities, my own personal interests, and my CF treatments? What would happen if I had to go to the hospital unexpectedly to treat a CF exacerbation? 

The answer was simpler than I thought — I had to advocate for myself and my CF. How could I treat patients and teach them how to use their medication if I am not healthy myself?
 

Even though I usually share my CF diagnosis with people I know and trust, I also had to let my professors know about my CF. Ultimately, going to the dean of students at the college of pharmacy was the best way for me to share my concerns regarding my schooling and CF and discuss plans if I had to miss school due to a hospitalization. She assured me that she and the professors were there to support me and my pharmacy school career. After leaving the dean's office, I knew I was going to succeed.

In October 2023, I got the message from my CF care team that I had to be admitted into the hospital for the first time in nearly a decade to treat a CF exacerbation. I was taking good care of myself and balancing my treatments during my first year of pharmacy school. But over the summer and the incoming fall, the stress of working at the pharmacy and starting my second year of school made it hard to remember to take my medication and do my treatments, and my health did slip a bit. My priorities had fallen out of order. In shock and near panic, I quickly emailed my professors about my situation, trying to stop the flow of uncertainty saturating my brain. Each professor was so understanding about my unexpected time of absence and assured me that my health ultimately comes first, and they wanted to see me healthy more than anything. They allowed me to attend class online and encouraged me to take my missed exams on my own schedule. Breathing a sigh of relief, I knew I needed to use this time in the hospital to shift my priorities back into the correct order. 

Being in the hospital as a pharmacy student was such an enlightening and enriching experience. In class, we had professors mention cystic fibrosis and the newest treatments on the market such as Trikafta®, but they didn't go in depth into specific medications. With all the combined knowledge of my personal experience with CF and pharmacology, I had fun and enlightening conversations with my care team, the pharmacists, and even my classmates. We discussed the different medications I was taking during my stay, and I asked questions regarding certain treatment plans, and advocated for myself in multiple situations with my treatment. My classmates were fascinated with the treatment plan that I was on, and we even tried to guess which antibiotics I would be on during the hospitalization. 

It was through the combined experience of living with CF, my recent stay in the hospital, and my pharmacy school studies that I gained a renewed perspective about cystic fibrosis. I am a bridge between patients with chronic illness and the realm of pharmacy.

I know what it's like to live with a chronic illness, and I can use that awareness to truly advocate for the health of the patients I serve and empathize with them when they are struggling with their illness — whether they have diabetes, hypertension, cancer, CF, or other various health conditions.
 

Classmates and professors have seen the resilience I have to pursue a rewarding career, to continuously advocate for patients and pharmacists alike, all while living with a chronic illness myself. Having cystic fibrosis makes me a better pharmacy student, and I cannot wait to continue to make a difference in the lives of my classmates, the patients I serve, and the pharmacists I work with. CF was never going to stop me from reaching my dreams — it ultimately propelled me toward them!

Interested in sharing your story? The CF Community Blog wants to hear from you.

This site contains general information about cystic fibrosis, as well as personal insight from the CF community. Opinions and experiences shared by members of our community, including but not limited to people with CF and their families, belong solely to the blog post author and do not represent those of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, unless explicitly stated. In addition, the site is not intended as a substitute for treatment advice from a medical professional. Consult your doctor before making any changes to your treatment.

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A professional headshot of Rachel Salmon

Rachel Salmon is a graduate college student who was born with CF. She is currently pursuing her Doctor of Pharmacy degree at Oregon State University College of Pharmacy. She has a bachelor’s degree in BioHealth Sciences from Oregon State University and a dance teacher certificate. She is the class president of her pharmacy class at OSU and the president elect of her local American Association of Psychiatric Pharmacy chapter. In her free time, Rachel actively competes in ballroom dancing, and teaches and participates in country western, swing, and Latin dancing in her community. You can follow her journey on Instagram.

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