Javier Garza never imagined that at 25 years old he would be called "Dr. Garza." The pharmacist title still seems foreign to The University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA) alumnus.
"I am getting used to it. Sometimes I still can't believe I am at this stage in my life already," Garza said. "It is awesome, and I can say with total confidence that if it wasn't for the pharmacy program this would not have been possible."
In Fall 2000, in an effort to help tackle the need for more pharmacists, UTPA aligned with the University of Texas at Austin (UT) College of Pharmacy to establish the Cooperative Pharmacy Program (CPP).
"The partnership with UT Austin is paramount to our program. We are very grateful for the opportunity that our students have to matriculate to one of the highest rated pharmacy schools in the country," Dr. Lydia Aguilera, clinical assistant professor of the CPP, said.
Just last month, Garza and a dozen others graduated from the CPP with their Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degrees.
"When it was first presented to me back in high school, it gave me some direction. I knew I wanted to be involved in the medical field and the pharmacy route turned out to be a great option," Garza said.
Convocation exercises for the Pharm.D. Class of 2012 were held at Bass Concert Hall in the Performing Arts Center on the UT campus.
"I am very proud of the students, but not surprised at their success in the program," Aguilera said. "The Valley is teeming with hard-working, brilliant students who are up for the challenges of the pharmacy school curriculum."
The CPP is designed to encourage Rio Grande Valley students like Garza to consider pharmacy as a profession.
"I think this program is successful because the admissions process is very intense," said Aguilera. "The committee tries to select those students who have a proven track record of service to the community and superior academic success in high school and university prerequisite courses."
Once accepted, students complete their first two years of pre-pharmacy course work at UTPA, move to Austin for the first two years of the professional program, then return to the Valley to complete their third and fourth years of the curriculum.
"You can't steamroll through a class and settle for a C. You have to achieve that A. That is the standard and so you are always working towards that," Garza said.
In spite of the rigorous curriculum, the Edinburg Economedes High School graduate said the joint venture is invaluable.
"You don't get very many opportunities for two universities to partner up in such a big way. This is very beneficial for UTPA and its students," Garza said. "When you enter UT Austin people know about Pan Am simply because of the correlation with the cooperative pharmacy program."
Aguilera agrees that the stringent program is making tremendous strides.
"We are continually working to enhance our students' experiences and strengthen the program," Aguilera said. "The role of the pharmacist continues to evolve every day. Medication consults, immunizations, and disease state management are just a few of the new roles for today's pharmacist."
There are currently 58 students enrolled in the CPP. Since its inception, 67 students have graduated from the program, and of those graduates, 76 percent have stayed to practice in South Texas, including Garza.
"Looking back, it really was difficult. We have to maintain a high grade point average, and we are going to UT Austin and so you have to try that much harder," Garza said. "We can't take it easy, but in the end it is so worth it. I will never be a financial burden on my parents and my family will always be taken care of."
For more information on the cooperative pharmacy program's requirements, deadlines and curriculum, call (956) 665-5255.