4th-year pharmacy student lands Rutgers University/Bristol Myers Squibb fellowship

BUIES CREEK — Sonie Lama’s journey to pharmacy school wasn’t that of a typical graduate student. Neither was her journey to becoming a fellow at Rutgers University, but through perseverance, dedication and a little alumni encouragement, Lama is right where she needs to be.

At 18, Lama, a Nepal native, packed her bags and traveled from her home country to North Carolina to attend Salem College in Winston-Salem. The small, liberal arts college for women was ideal for Lama as she attended female-only schools the majority of her life. After graduating with a bachelor of science in biology, she began her career with a clinical research organization. There she became familiar with regulatory affairs, clinical trials, and the drug development process. This exposure inspired her to return to school  and pursue a Master of Science in Clinical Research and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree at Campbell University.

“I was really drawn to Campbell because of the dual-degree programs,’ she said. “It was reassuring to know that I had the option to start with my MSCR and then continue with pharmacy to create more career opportunities for myself in the future.”

Once she began her pharmacy classes, she realized industrial pharmacy wasn’t her only option. So she used the greatest resource the College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences has: the alumni.

“I started contacting a lot of our alums to try to get an idea of what real-world pharmacy is like,” said Lama. “I was going out on a limb because I didn’t know any of these individuals. I was just hoping they would respond and they did.”

Lama attributes a lot of her decision making process to the feedback and overwhelming responses she received from the College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences’ alumni. Those alumni interactions helped her make informed decisions about whether or not she wanted to join the world of retail pharmacy or pursue a post-grad fellowship, and ultimately led her to the Rutgers program.

“I was in my second year at the time, and I emailed Catherine Benco Gray, who is a member of the class of 2000. I was interested in summer programs and she responded immediately. She was in Italy during that time, but she still went out of her way to help me. When we finally spoke on the phone, she told me about the Rutgers fellowship program.”

After months of dedicated research, Lama applied to a different fellowship with the Rutgers and Bristol-Myers program due to not having the appropriate number of years in clinical and hospital experience required for the medical information fellowship. She received an interview and upon the conclusion of that interview, she was faced with a rejection. Ultimately, the interviewers thought Lama was a perfect match for the medical information fellowship, but not the program she originally applied for.

“When the interviewer told me that I was rejected from the program I applied to, but I would be perfect for the medical information program, I was at a loss. I remember panicking and thinking, ‘What am I going to do?!’ The deadline had already passed to schedule an interview for that fellowship. It was just too late.”

Within 15 minutes of the conclusion of that interview, Lama received a call from the current Medical Information/Medical Science Liaison fellow. He had spoken to her original interviewer and wanted to offer her a chance to interview for the position.

“I’ve been told throughout my time at Campbell that everything I do matters. Someone is always watching how I react and how I respond to situations. And that is what got me this fellowship. I thought I had made a mistake by choosing the wrong program to apply for, but they pursued me since I had been proactive about the entire process.”

The Medical Information/Medical Science Liaison fellowship with Rutgers University and Bristol Myers Squibb is a two-year fellowship. In her first year, Lama will serve as part of the medical information team at Bristol-Myers Squibb. Her time will be divided between the medical information center and attending professional development exercises with Rutgers University. Her second year will include various field work under the guidance of Bristol-Myers Squibb’s medical science director. — Leah Whitt, College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences