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HOSA Award with student participants

CU Pharmacy Recognized with State Future Health Professionals Award

School instrumental in incorporating pharmacy into international organization

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Written by Lori Westermann on April 15, 2024

Each year more than 1500 high school students from across the state of Colorado gather for the annual HOSA State Leadership Conference. HOSA is a global student-led organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, and several federal and state agencies. HOSA’s mission is to empower its members to become leaders in the global health community through education, collaboration, and experience. The competitive events at the HOSA Conference are always a student highlight. In activities ranging from emergency preparedness to biotechnology, sports medicine to behavioral health, student competitors flex their healthcare knowledge and skills to move on to the national HOSA Conference and Competition in Washington, D.C.

Faculty from the CU Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences have been a major catalyst in bringing attention to the vital role that pharmacists play in the health professions. This year, CU Pharmacy’s leadership was recognized with the Colorado HOSA Partner of the Year Award. The recognition honors the School for its leadership and support in developing high school and undergraduate students into healthcare professionals of the future.

Pharmacy leaders with HOSA award

(L-R) Susan Finstrom, RPh, Julia Rawlings, PharmD, and Chandler Follett, PharmD with the HOSA Partner of the Year award.

“The partnership between HOSA and the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Science underscores our commitment to supporting aspiring pre-health students,” said Chandler Follett, PharmD, pharmacy outreach specialist.

“Through HOSA's rigorous program, we have the privilege to nurture ambitious students and empower them with knowledge about the pivotal role of pharmacists in healthcare teams and the abundance of career opportunities within pharmacy. This collaboration is a sustainable approach to ensure our future healthcare teams continue to improve patient well-being and health outcomes in Colorado.”

Laying the Groundwork

When the HOSA organization got its start back in 1975, it largely focused on promoting health careers in nursing, dentistry, and medicine. It wasn’t until 2019 that a pharmacy event was officially added to the international Health Professions events.

And, it was largely through the tireless advocacy efforts of Julia Rawlings, PharmD, CU Pharmacy outreach specialist at the time. In late 2018, Dr. Rawlings initiated a project with the HOSA international competitive events team to develop a brand-new pharmacy event that required both a written exam and hands-on skills demonstrations. At the same time, CU Pharmacy faculty and student ambassadors partnered with bioscience teachers at several high schools in the Denver metro and Colorado Springs to help them incorporate more pharmacy-related content into their teaching plans and classrooms.

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Dr. Rawlings (L) and Finstrom (R) conduct a HOSA Pharmacy Science Training event at the Pharmaceutical Care Learning Center on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

Taking Center Stage

The new HOSA event was piloted at the state and international levels in 2019. Over the past five years, interest in pharmacy has rapidly grown among HOSA members and Pharmacy Science is now a key event in the HOSA Health Professions lineup.

“The impact of CU Pharmacy’s original collaboration with HOSA has been astounding!” said Rawlings. “During the initial discussions back in 2018 I could not have imagined the huge ripple effects our work would have and just how far our influence would reach. Through the HOSA Pharmacy Science competitive event, high school and undergraduate students across the U.S. and other countries (including China, Canada, American Samoa, Korea, Puerto Rico, and Mexico) develop confidence and leadership skills in addition to learning more about the profession of pharmacy.”

 The Magic in the Mentoring

For the past seven years, Rawlings and Susan Finstrom, RPh pharmacy compounding instructor, have shared their passion for pharmacy with Colorado HOSA students and their advisors through focused workshops, classroom visits, and one-on-one student mentoring. Rawlings has served on the Colorado HOSA Board of Directors since 2019.

According to Rawlings, despite the recognitions and awards, the real honor for her is being a part of opening up the world of pharmacy to a young person.

As a high school junior, Jenny Hoang was in one of the very first pharmacy science after-school classes offered by Dr. Rawlings in 2018. Fast-forward five years, and Hoang is now a first-year Doctor of Pharmacy student who credits her high school training for getting her to where she is today.


P1 Jenny Hoang (third from right) is pictured with (L-R) Susan Finstrom, Susan Hartley, Hoang’s high school HOSA advisor, and Dr. Julia Rawlings.

“Being able to participate in the pharmacy science division propelled me to go into pharmacy, as I really enjoyed studying for the competition and practicing the skills for it.” Hoang said. “I knew that I wanted to go to CU Pharmacy when I saw how passionate the pharmacy students and faculty were through the pharmacy science after-school classes. I had a really great impression of the pharmacy students that helped at the time, Dr. Rawlings, and Sue Finstrom, and knew that being a student at CU Pharmacy means that I would be surrounded by people who were enthusiastic about pharmacy, which is a great source of motivation.”

Jenny’s brother, Jason Hoang, was a high school freshman when he was introduced to HOSA Pharmacy Science. Jason has since attained mastery level of the Pharmacy Science event and achieved 6th place at the HOSA International Leadership Conference. He is currently completing his Bachelor of Science degree and plans to also pursue a career in pharmacy.

“The emerging opportunities in pharmacy are creating new and exciting roles for the next generation of pharmacists,” Rawlings said. “Those roles require heightened levels of professionalism, precision, leadership and patient-centered knowledge. CU Pharmacy’s ongoing support and mentoring helps ensure that our HOSA pharmacy students will excel in pharmacy school and be equipped for the changing pharmacy landscape.”

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Topics: Education, Pharmacy