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You Got This: One Student’s Journey of 2 Pharmacy Schools, 3 Mentors, and 8 Years, By Liz Laughlin

As an eager 18-year-old kid fresh out of high school I thought I had the world at my fingertips: in 6 short years I’d be a doctor. It only took about a week for that all to change. My mom had major surgery, suffered two strokes and passed away after 7 days in the ICU.

Life turned upside down. I returned home to be with my family but what I didn’t know was that those two months I took off from school would change my path. When I returned to school I was unfocused and had lost my drive, and my grades suffered. I was not allowed to progress with my class into my professional years. Reluctantly finishing with my bachelors degree, that PharmD never left my mind.

I met an amazing woman, Susie/The Suzanne/“Adopted Mom,” who never let me lose sight of my dream. Even during her battle with stage 4 cancer, a fight which she would lose, she drove me to a pharmacy school interview just hours after a chemo treatment. With her support combined with the love from my family I continued on an 8 year path of hearing “no” until the fateful day when I got not one but two “YES.” I chose Binghamton University School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences because it allowed me to go to school in my hometown. Now a “second time” pharmacy student I look at this opportunity as one that cannot be wasted.

What changed? Simply my mindset. I wake up every morning and spend my days finding three things I am grateful for, which I reflect on every night. This practice is what helps me to keep my head “in the game.” I’m not perfect so on the days where my mind is elsewhere I make a point of talking it out with a friend or mentor. Remaining grateful and leaning on others when I wasn’t, I sought to change during my second time around because I learned that negativity doesn’t make anything better.

Paraphrasing a great poem, it is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us; playing small doesn’t change the world but when we liberate ourselves from fear we give others permission to do the same. This passage has been something that keeps me motivated but also illustrates my new look on school. I have always been the person in the background because I didn’t think I could lead. With no reason not to, I jumped right into leadership roles at Binghamton. Navigating these roles, planning community events, and empowering others to do the same was my mission on my new journey.

I quickly learned that I could do anything I set my mind to if I believed in myself enough. Believe in yourself, even if you have a crazy idea: ask somebody and make it happen. These are the moments that will set you apart from the next person. A word of caution: there are times to say no, so remember your limits and do not spread yourself too thin! You can do one thing really well or you could half-do a bunch of things (a wise person reminds me of that frequently). This time around I decided I would take the driver's seat instead of playing it safe.

I also decided to make another change: I TOOK CLASSES SERIOUSLY!! I am the student who sits in the front of the room. I do this because I am easily distracted, and once distracted being in class is useless to me. Being engaged in class and answering and asking questions helps me to maintain focus and here’s a big point: I actually learn things. After learning my limits in the classroom I learned how to study. Still working part time, time set aside for studying needed to be productive. I came up with a system to keep me organized, on task, and doing well in classes. I figured out where I struggled, in anything relating physio, and sought help. Find the person who can help you: a classmate, tutor, or the professor, and do it often until you understand. THE most important step of my system, stolen from a brilliant friend, the “pow-wow.” Meet up with someone you study well with and literally gush all information you have on the test topics into a white board the morning before the exam. These big picture topics will serve you well! While I thought I had it together before, the second time around I learned my weaknesses so I could turn them into strengths.

Now shout this from the rooftops: find a mentor! I have known what I wanted to be since I was 18 but I had no clue how to get back there. After losing Susie, I was mentor-less and lost until another amazing woman filled those shoes. A chance meeting, followed by lots of perseverance, I found a person who inspires and uplifts me, who isn’t afraid of a little tough love, and who is willing to take a chance on my crazy ideas. On and sometimes off, hours she is the person I turn to when I feel lost in this journey. Her advice and general care when I’m struggling helps to change my whole outlook on things. The lesson I learned: the path is easier with the encouragement of someone who has been in your shoes. Find a mentor who keeps you grounded, but challenges you to be great and take in all of the advice they can offer; I promise it will change your experience.

“Second time” or “non-traditional” student are labels I placed on myself. Frankly, at the beginning, it gave me the excuse to not try. I quickly learned that I had too much drive and too much at stake to stay in that mindset. I seek every day to make my mom, Susie, and my family proud of the person I have become and that meant doing my absolute best every day. The keys to my success have been changing my mindset, believing in myself, learning my weaknesses, and finding a mentor. I hope these words inspire you to be the greatest you. Find your why, the reason you set out on your journey, and give it your all! These your moments, the ones you dreamed of, go make them great!

Liz Laughlin

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