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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

A realized dream -- Award winning pharmacy student gives back to community

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862

KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 5, 2004 -- Jose A. Reyes is not your typical pharmacy student. The 32 year-old who had no inkling of ever becoming a licensed pharmacist, has quickly become one of the most honored PharmD students on campus. In addition to receiving a prestigious pharmacy award, he works as an interpreter and intern in Providence, has helped to develop a Spanish health web portal, and has lectured at national and international conferences. Now he will realize his dream to practice "bilingual pharmacy" in the underserved, Spanish-speaking community in South Providence.

The Woonsocket resident came to the United States from Puerto Rico in 1981 when he was 7. After high school, he got a job at the corporate office of CVS Pharmacy as a payment claims specialist. His job required him to call physicians, patients, and pharmacists about medication bills and insurance claims. In 1995, one of the people he called most frequently, pharmacist Clarence V. Rajnath of Stevens, Pa., recognized Reyes’ passion for health care, and suggested he go to college to pursue a pharmacy degree. Reyes took his advice, left his job, and never looked back.

In the spring of 1996, Reyes started at the University of Puerto Rico, concentrating on math and science courses, and in the fall of 1998 he transferred to URI. As a transfer student, Reyes had to work even harder to get into the PharmD program. Socially, transferring to a large school like URI was tough as well, but immediately Reyes became involved in the Latin American Students Association which eased the transition.

After being accepted into the program, his second semester at URI proved to be a difficult one as well. Reyes became ill at the end of the term and missed one of his finals. "Luckily, Professor Clinton Chichester allowed me to makeup my final. I stayed in school because of him." Chichester became his advisor in academics and his role model for pharmacy. "He believe in me and motivated me to pursue my dreams," said Reyes.

Last summer, Reyes and four other students, under the supervision of Professor Ann Hume, began work on a Spanish health web portal. Funded in part by a grant from the National Library of Medicine, provides more than 600 links to reliable and understandable health information resources for the Spanish-speaking community. Last December, the URI student was chosen to present the web portal at the American Society of Health Systems Pharmacists' conference in New Orleans, La. Last February, accompanied by Professor Chichester, Reyes traveled to Panamaá to present the portal at the International Pharmaceutical Students Federation Conference. Not only did he speak in front of hundreds of professionals; he gave the entire presentation in Spanish.

Currently an intern at CVS Pharmacy in South Providence and a volunteer translator at the R.I. Free Clinic in Providence, Reyes spends his weekends translating orders, processing medication intakes, and answering his customers medication questions. He has already accepted a job at the pharmacy for after graduation.

For all that Reyes does, he has been honored with the U.S. Public Health Services Excellence in Public Health Pharmacy Practice Award. Reyes was "shocked, but very honored," when he received a congratulatory email stating the distinction.

"Jose Reyes has been tremendous in taking pharmacy to the average individual in Rhode Island-- he has blossomed into someone whose extremely competent and caring," said Chichester. "I just can't say enough about him."

This May, Reyes will graduate with both a doctorate of pharmacy (drug information tract) and a minor in Spanish. Having realized his dream, Reyes is ready to begin his career: "As a pharmacist, I will aim to provide community driven, prevention oriented, culturally relevant services that will inspire and empower people to achieve optimal levels of health."