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Students Pharmacy Perspectives Magazine

The Class of 2024 Displays its Resilience Through Annual Story Slam

Author Jordan Kellerman | Publish Date January 10, 2022

“Story Slam always sticks out as this event, this kind of seminal event in their pharmacy training, where they really become a unified class.”

Jay Bolan, Senior Academic Coordinator for Experiential Programs, reflects on the annual event typically done in the spring of the P1year. Story Slam is a friendly competition of amateur storytelling in which the audience selects the best story, or storyteller. Each year, the P1 class gathers in one group to each tell 5-minute stories using one of three prompts – How I got here; Confirming Experience; and Do-Over. The class then selects a winner. Bolan is hands-on in running the Story Slam and subsequent Reflective Practitioner Program, where students learn to share their experiences with their peers to process the emotional journey of a medical professional.

“It’s really about getting the students to tap into, and get comfortable with, sharing their emotions freely, being vulnerable with that process … it is about being able to share deeply and honestly with their peers.”

Building Connections

No class, it seems, needed that connection quite like the class of 2024. Because of last year’s COVID-19 restrictions, the class began its academic journey online, where Zoom was the new normal and meaningful connection required extra effort. When the class was able to regroup this fall, Story Slam had an updated dynamic; no longer P1s, the class knew each other virtually, they had more education than the previous year, and their experience over the pandemic had changed them. This year’s finalists, Cody Alexander, Latifa Sharker, and Nick Perez; and eventual winner, Scott Ho, came to class with a variety of life lessons.

“What I really love about Story Slam is that you never know what you’re going to hear,” said Bolan, “Every year is completely different, and just when you think you have heard everything, a student will tell a story that surprises you, or humbles you, and you realize that there is always so much more going on with the student body than you are ever aware of.”

 

“I applied to pharmacy school before the first COVID case was identified in the United States and interviewed in person so I had no idea I would begin my doctoral degree online in the fall of 2020 during the pandemic,” explained Sharker. “However, as cases rose, I started to realize that I wouldn’t begin my pharmacy degree the same as so many other student pharmacists had.”

Perez, who moved from Miami to Colorado for graduate school, also had an adjustment to online learning, but he says he found a lot of opportunities to connect to his peers in then-unorthodox ways and experienced a new-found appreciation for social opportunities when possible.

Finding Common Ground

“Appreciate your peers and the opportunities you have to connect with them,” he says. “They will help you socially, and in your career and education.”

For his story, Perez reflected on a time when he also had to appreciate his peers. In a teenage wilderness camp tasked with staying out in the woods alone for the night, he built a single lean-to quickly to shelter for a coming storm. When he heard a bear approaching, his fear began to grow, quickly to discover the “bear” was a fellow camper, lost and in need of shelter. The two shared the tiny lean-to until dawn and realized they had much more in common than they thought.

Finding common ground, and a meaningful connection, has been easier in person.

Wearing the White Coat

“The biggest adjustment this year was seeing people in person,” Ho said. “I had to literally tie people’s faces to their Zoom picture. That always takes a moment.”

“With this class in particular, I cannot help but admire them for their resilience and fortitude. What they have accomplished is remarkable, and it has not been an easy road."

 

Ho’s story was reflective in nature, about an experience he had while working at his community pharmacy. He explained that after being approached by a mugger in the back of a pharmacy, the mugger expressed pity on him when he learned Ho was a student and not an actual pharmacist and gave back his pocket change. “Several thoughts ran through my head; I was glad I wasn’t hurt but should I feel offended by this? That a crook conveyed his condolences to a student?”

“I think the moral of my story would be that each and every one of my classmates are here biding our time for something big,” he said. “We’re here for the long haul and ultimately have a successful future ahead of us. We may be broke students now, but we’ll come out of this journey in a profession we all dreamed about all these years.”

The Lessons of Little Things

Sharker, a current pharmacy intern at the University of Colorado Hospital, says her story was inspired by the simplicity of the situation.

“Every day we encounter little and big things that give as an opportunity to reflect and to learn,” she said.

“What I really love about Story Slam is that you never know what you’re going to hear,” said Bolan, “Every year is completely different, and just when you think you have heard everything, a student will tell a story that surprises you, or humbles you, and you realize that there is always so much more going on with the student body than you are ever aware of.”

The Strength of Diversity

“When I think about this class, the thing that struck me the most is that they have such diverse backgrounds from what we have seen in the past,” said Dr. Megan Thompson, PharmD, Assistant Dean of Experiential Programs. “Hearing about their life experiences is exciting. From globe trekkers, to being multilingual, to interesting previous careers, to first generation college students, these life experiences will be important tools in helping them connect with their patients and communities.”

Indeed, the class of 2024 stands apart from the rest. The most diverse class ever welcomed to the School also started fully remote during a pandemic. Bolan agrees with the class of 2024 being unique – and ready for a challenge.

“With this class in particular, I cannot help but admire them for their resilience and fortitude. What they have accomplished is remarkable, and it has not been an easy road,” he said. “Instead of deferring enrollment to a later date, they forged ahead amid unprecedented circumstances. It’s commendable.”

All of the students are here for the challenge, and Sharker gives the perfect summary of why.

“Although unique,” she said, “the experience is invaluable, and I do believe it will help make me a better pharmacist in the future.”

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