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The Quarterly Connection: April 2024

Manaar Khan's Pathway to the Health Sciences

Welcome to the The Quarterly Connection, where we dive a little deeper into our programming as well as share upcoming activities and opportunities for you to engage in. This month we are excited to share a story from one of our former pathway program students.  Read on to learn about the journey of Manaar Khan, a student from Aurora, CO who started in our high school pathway program, moved onto our undergraduate pathway program, and ultimately got accepted into a professional program at CU Anschutz.

I am a first-generation Pakistani Muslim-American student, and I've lived in Colorado all my life. I went to Smoky Hill High School and during my sophomore year, the director of the CU-Pre-Health Scholars Program (CUPS) came to our school to present about the program. At the time, I was interested in going to medical school, so I immediately applied, interviewed, and got accepted into the program in December of 2017. During my time in CUPS I got to take an ethnic studies college course (which earned me college credit), an anatomy course where I got my first exposure to a cadaver lab, partake in workshop days that taught me how to suture and dissect specimens, and learn how to use both digital and printed 3D modeling for medical research projects. I also got to take elective classes in various areas like pharmacy and public health. These were just a few of the things I got to experience in CUPS. On top of this broad exposure to healthcare, I also received SAT prep and got to go on various college visits. This helped me tremendously since, at the time, neither of my parents had completed college in America, and I was unsure of how to go about these things.

Once I graduated from both high school and the CUPS program in May of 2020, I immediately started working as a Learning Assistant for CUPS. I committed to CU Denver in the early Spring of 2020, and since I was looking for a work-study position and loved my time during CUPS, I wanted to give back by working for the program. I thoroughly enjoyed mentoring students, assisting with their classes, putting on college prep workshops for them, and much more. I worked at CUPS for two years, took a year off to prepare for my pharmacy school applications, and returned as a Student Assistant for CUPS in May of 2023. In between that time, I also was a scholar in the Undergraduate Pre-Health Program (UPP).

I joined the 2021-2022 UPP cohort at the end of my freshman year of college since my International Baccalaureate credits had qualified me to apply earlier. When I was in UPP, I got even more in-depth exposure to the field of healthcare. I got to do a public health internship where I got to research and present on colonially induced diabetes among South Asians, attend workshops to prepare for graduate school and explore careers in areas like physical therapy, anesthesiology, dentistry, pharmacy, and others.

Throughout high school and my first year of college, I thought I was pretty set on going to medical school. CUPS gave me a wide variety of healthcare exposure in high school, making me question if I really wanted to become a physician. From all the medical experiences, labs, and skills we learned, I knew for sure that I wanted to still stay in healthcare and pursue a field in that, but I felt even more lost as to what. Our pharmacy elective had piqued my interest, but I was still hesitant to switch from the pre-med path because it was something I stuck with for so long. In my sophomore year of college, while working for CUPS, I met Dr. Dale Nepert, who was a PharmD who worked at Pfizer. We were paired together to help facilitate a pharmacy careers class. Although I was there to help run the class and support her and the students, I was learning just as much. She gave a presentation to the students about the various careers of pharmacists, which opened my eyes to what I felt I was missing. She brought up how, with a PharmD, you are not just limited to a retail pharmacy but have endless healthcare possibilities. When she talked about clinical pharmacy and the ability to still work with patients, work on a team of other healthcare providers, and use your drug knowledge for hospital applications, I finally felt like I found my path in healthcare again. Wanting to do more research, I kept my options open and told my college advisor to guide me on pre-requisite classes that could satisfy both medical and pharmacy schools. I finally solidified my interest when I came to UPP. Although we had a brief exposure to pharmacy during our career exploration week, being exposed to all the other healthcare careers affirmed what I didn't want. This finally made me confident to make the switch from pre-med to pre-pharmacy.

Photo of Manaar Khan; she wears a black top and hijab and a dark green skirt.

Manaar enjoying some fresh air (submitted by Manaar Khan).

Participating in CUPS contributed to my academic growth through the college prep I received. When I started high school, I knew my goals were to get good grades, get into college, and get scholarships. The problem was that I only knew how to get good grades but not how to get into college or get scholarships. I didn't know how to study for the SAT nor what colleges would be best for me to investigate, but CUPS helped me with that. I was provided with an intensive and interactive SAT prep course during my sophomore year, and I was then given tools to continue on my own as I neared my testing date. I was also taken on various college visits to see my options. I was also shown how to apply for scholarships best suited to me and the schools I was looking at. I now can proudly say that I will be graduating from CU Denver with my education having been fully paid for from scholarships and work-study, and I don't think this would have been possible without the academic foundation CUPS set for me in the pre-collegiate sense.

Participating in UPP contributed to my personal growth by giving me the space to form interpersonal connections. Our cohort consisted of about 20 people, and this encouraged us to get to know each other better. We all came from different universities across Colorado, majoring in various things, but we all shared the same ambition for similar career goals. Connecting with my cohort every month during our Saturday Academies and over the summer during our internships was a valuable experience that helped me set myself up professionally. I think it helped set a foundation for the networking skills I now have and hope to continue to use.

Manaar stands in a room with mirrors and disco balls; she wears a floral dress and yellow hijab
Manaar enjoying time with friends (submitted by Manaar Khan).

I encountered A big challenge navigating the PharmD pre-requisites and application process altogether. Because requirements, like taking the PCAT and having pharmacy work experience, was different depending on the pharmacy school, it was a bit challenging for me to figure things out. I had to navigate a lot of this process on my own because I had graduated from both the CUPS and UPP programs when I was applying, and both of those programs were going through significant changes at the time. Hence, I had to use the skills I attained from the programs to navigate this process myself. I overcame these challenges by researching and networking to help me in my application. I did a thorough research on each of the schools that piqued my interest; then I narrowed down my list to the schools I felt I would both benefit from and excel the most in. With that, I made a spreadsheet template that compared factors like tuition, nationwide ranking, residency information, notable achievements, job outlook, classroom environment, and student-professor experience. Then, I set up appointments with pharmacy school advisors for each of the schools I was interested in to inquire about if the PCAT would benefit me in the case that it was optional and clarify that my course history aligns with their pre-requisite classes. I overcame these challenges and secured acceptance and scholarships at every school I applied for, despite how daunting this process seemed in the beginning.

Ultimately, I decided on the CU Anschutz Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences because of the amazing opportunities and high-quality education I could get here. I never thought I could be in a position where I had the luxury of deciding where to go for my doctorate. I always thought I would be at the school's mercy and have to go wherever I got in. However, I was highly blessed to be in this position, and I thought over my options carefully. As I mentioned, I did in-depth research for each school, reviewed my financial aid packages, and looked into rankings, and student testimonies. On top of Skaggs School of Pharmacy being ranked in the top 15% for pharmacy schools in the nation, I found out they have a 96% first-time NAPLEX pass rate. This was the highest compared to all the other schools I was accepted to. While I want a quality education, I also want to ensure I can be adequately equipped to pass my boards and succeed in my career, and this statistic was an excellent sign of that. Rotation opportunities were also much more diverse and would guarantee valuable exposure. I also talked to some current PharmD students, and they all talked about how prepared they felt with every passing year in the program and how much support they received in their academic journey. I also came to find out how well-developed the DEI department is at CU Anschutz, meaning that there was a place for someone like me to be supported and represented here. Since I have also been involved with CU Anschutz for so many years, I've seen the type of respect that comes with those part of this school beyond campus. Once I compared these factors to the other schools I got accepted into, I knew CU Anschutz was the best choice for my PharmD journey.

Manaar Khan wears dark blue scrubs and a black hijab while holding a CU Anschutz School of Pharmacy pennon
Manaar holding a CU Anschutz Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences pennon after being accepted into the program (submitted by Manaar Khan).

A really big goal of mine that has shaped my educational and healthcare journey thus far is remedying health disparities. As someone who is South Asian, health disparities have been a huge part of my identity. I spent so long not understanding why people like me were more susceptible to things like diabetes and high cholesterol than other racial groups. It wasn't until I learned that a series of colonially induced famines during the British occupation of India shaped our South Asian community's genetic predispositions. This made me realize how bio-cultural and historical narratives are crucial to providing proper healthcare and closing the health disparity gap. I aspire to be a Doctor of Pharmacy who is conscious of my patient's medical history and the predispositions they face due to their bio-cultural and historical narratives. I want to provide personalized, empathetic, and competent healthcare for all who seek it. I want to do my part in making healthcare more equitable, especially for marginalized racial communities in the U.S.

My most significant piece of advice to young people considering participating in a pathway program is to join it! The programs were already amazing back when I did them, and now they've only gotten even better. You don't lose out if you end up deciding in the program that healthcare isn't for you because that is such a valuable experience. You get to reaffirm or figure out if healthcare is really for you. In my case, I could affirm I didn't want to go to medical school anymore, but I also found out I had a passion for pharmacy.


In today's rapidly evolving landscape, the importance of Educational Pathway Programs cannot be overstated. They serve as beacons of hope, breaking down barriers and unlocking doors of opportunity for students who may have otherwise been overlooked.

The primary goal of pathway programs is to bridge the gap between education and employment. These programs provide invaluable resources and ways for students to interact with STEM fields, giving them access to mentors, internships, and research opportunities.

As noted by the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science staff, pathway programs are wonderful because they bolster students' confidence and resilience, enabling them to overcome the challenges of education in the medical field and succeed in their future healthcare careers (Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science. (n.d.).

The Office of Educational Outreach & Pathway Initiatives has a variety of pathway programs that support students throughout their educational journey, and we are excited to onboard our first middle school cohort this summer, 2024.

Read more through the work of our very own Dr. Dominic Martinez and he explores how enrichment programs such as pathway opportunities can get young students excited about science and pursuing those careers.