“It’s not how you get knocked down; it’s how you get back up.”
Bear Nash: Will you start by telling us a little about yourself and what it was like growing up and attending public school in NM?
Dr. Loya: Yes. So my parents are immigrants and are originally from Mexico. I was born in Mexico as well and didn’t come to the U.S. until 4th grade. English is my second language, so I was learning English in elementary school while trying to keep up with the other students.
My parents never went to high school, nor college, but they are very hardworking people. I grew up in Santa Fe and attended Monte Del Sol Charter School (MDS). One of my teachers at MDS, Cara Esquibel, told me about the New Mexico Simon Scholars Program. She taught most of the Spanish classes at school and was very passionate about the success of her students, many of whom were children of immigrants. Cara unfortunately passed away, but her support preparing my classmates and I for college was invaluable. On hearing about the program I thought it was a great opportunity to help me with my goal of going to college. Cara knew of my college goals, helped me to apply and wrote me a letter of recommendation for the Scholars Program. Only a handful of students from MDS applied to the program that year and I was the only one that got in.
Bear Nash: What were some challenges you faced being a first generation college student?
Dr. Loya: Still to this day I am the only one in my family who has attended college, and there were a lot of challenges. My parents didn’t have a lot of money so I had to pay for most of my undergrad degree myself. People told me I was crazy because I was working about 60 hours a week while taking 18 credit hours per semester. I was very driven. I always said that I wanted to be a Pharmacist, wanted to go to Pharmacy school, and am going to make it. Having that dream always gave me something to work toward.
Even though my parents weren’t able to support me financially, they have always been very supportive of every decision I made toward my goal. Regardless of what I thought or what I wanted, my parents always supported me. One of the challenges that we face is the stigma of being immigrants; that we come to this country to take peoples jobs, we don’t work hard, and so on. So I always tried to show people that isn’t true. That I’ve had to work as hard or harder to get where I am, and haven’t taken someone else’s opportunity. I always wanted to show people that, yeah we’re immigrants and we really want to help this country. We’re not just freeloaders as some of the stigmas might make you believe.
I was often underestimated and looked down on for being an immigrant. Those challenges haven’t really changed since I received my doctorate degree and started looking for jobs in my field. Some of my classmates had family connections that made it much easier for them to find jobs, but I didn’t have that. I wanted to get a residency after Pharmacy school, but no one would give me an opportunity. I felt I was more than qualified at that point with three degrees and a variety of volunteer experience, but I couldn’t even get an interview. It was disheartening especially after being in college for nine years. I’m not giving up though. I’m working in a rural area to gain some experience and build my skills so that hopefully in the future I will get an opportunity for a residency. It’s not how you get knocked down it’s how you get back up. I’m still early in my career as a Pharmacist and I will keep going.
Bear Nash: You recently received your Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm .D.) from the University of New Mexico (UNM). Can you tell us about your journey preparing for and attending UNM?
Dr. Loya: Yes. So my 9 years at UNM in were in progression toward my most recent degree, Doctor of Pharmacy. When I was in High School I also went to the Santa Fe Community College to better prepare myself. Because English is my second language, I knew that I wasn’t as proficient in English and writing as I would need to be in college. So I took classes in those subjects on top of my regular curriculum just to help myself. These college level classes really helped me get more proficient and prepare me for college.
Despite that additional preparation, my first year at UNM was the hardest one I ever had. I didn’t really know how to approach things. MDS is a very small school, I had close relationships with my teachers and when questions came up I would just go ask. It was a totally different ball game when I started college. It felt like I couldn’t really reach out to my professors. I felt unprepared when I didn’t understand something and didn’t really know how to get help. I think I got my first D ever in a class that semester, in calculus (laughs). It was very disheartening because I tried so hard and it still wasn’t enough. Getting used to doing everything yourself was a hard shift, and on top of that I was working. I had to find resources to support me, like the tutoring center, and once I did it became easier and I did ok.
Bear Nash: What led you to pursue Pharmacology?
Dr. Loya: My grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer back when I first started attending college. I was very close with my grandmother and she was an important person in my life. She always wanted me to go to college and be a doctor. She was an immigrant and didn’t have health insurance, and so she had a really hard time dealing with the healthcare system.
Having a loved one going through cancer was hard on my whole family. They didn’t understand a lot of things because there are many barriers to the healthcare system, especially for immigrants. Language barriers, not understanding what was going on, and the list continues. So I wanted to be a pharmacist because they are the most accessible healthcare providers. Patients see their pharmacists maybe 2-3 times a month, maybe more, while they might visit their doctor once every few months. So pharmacists are always there to answer questions for their patients and get to know them better. And, considering the amount of education we have, people don’t realize how much of a resource their pharmacist can be.
I remember the pharmacist that took care of my grandmother. He would call and check up on her, see how she was doing, answer any questions she might have on her therapy. And that made a huge difference in her process. So to me being a pharmacist was a way to help reduce the barriers that people have in accessing healthcare. Not just immigrants or people who don’t speak English, but everybody. Healthcare has become a difficult thing these days, it’s so complicated. Sometimes people don’t get a lot of time with their providers, but pharmacists are more accessible and able to just be there for patients.
Bear Nash: Did anything surprise you about your experience at UNM?
Dr. Loya: It was surprising to me that it seemed no one was there to help me. I was mostly on my own trying to figure out all these different things that were going to make me successful in my education. In High School, and even in my undergrad program, I had many mentors and people who could help to guide me in the process. It was really helpful having people to talk with about navigating the system and push me to do things that I might not have otherwise been aware of. Once I got into Pharmacy school it was very different because I never really had a mentor in the process.
Bear Nash: You talk about working while in college. Can you tell us how this impacted your college experience?
Dr. Loya: Yes, as I said earlier, I worked a lot to put myself through college. Because my schedule was so full I had to be really good with time management. I had to schedule myself out two months in advance and I was always doing something. On the downside, I was so busy that I wasn’t really able to be there for my family. One of my biggest regrets is that I had finals the week that my grandmother passed away from cancer. I wasn’t able to go visit her because of that, which was very hard.
I also didn’t sleep very much. There was a point where I was sleeping about 2 hours every 2 days. I worked a graveyard shift at one job, then had another job in the afternoon after my morning classes, and then I had homework.
Bear Nash: Will you tell us about what you are doing currently Daniel?
Dr. Loya: Well, I wasn’t able to find a Pharmacist job in New Mexico, but I got one in California in March although I graduated from my program in May. I wasn’t actually able to start until August because the licensing process took three months. I am now working in rural northern California. I found the opportunity because it is an area where not many pharmacists want to come for work. So I am working to gain experience before seeking a residency again. I will probably be here for a couple years before applying for a residency. I’ve considered getting another degree in the meantime, but am not sure yet.
Bear Nash: What has been the biggest challenge in working in the healthcare industry?
Dr. Loya: Right now it is a difficult industry because everyone is trying to find profit, and they make a lot of sacrifices for that. One example is how staffing has been cut, which has an impact on patient care. Some days I am at the Pharmacy alone and have to fill 200 prescriptions. Sometimes I don’t have much time to speak with the patients and answer their questions. This makes me worry about patient safety because mistakes happen. When you have a few people looking things over it’s very different than working alone to help the patients.
Bear Nash: You have talked about seeking a residency, what else do you see in the future for yourself?
Dr. Loya: Well certainly doing a residency is the priority for me. I’m almost ready but not quite there yet. The residency I want to do is two years to become a board certified Pharmacal Therapy Expert. I haven’t picked a specific field; I can either pursue Oncology or Infection Disease, which is where my passion is now. That is the goal at this point, though things are always evolving so we will see.
Bear Nash: Thank you very much for talking with us Daniel.
Dr Loya: Of course. My pleasure.