Ricky Lam inspired by others
P4 student finds mentors at every turn
Ricky Lam didn’t even expect to graduate from high school, let alone college.
Growing up in a metro section of Rochester, N.Y., Lam is the only son of four children raised by parents who emigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam. He didn’t see much of a future for himself, until his junior year in high school when a friend inspired and motivated him — helping to submit his application to Monroe Community College and registering him for all of his classes.
The friend was the first of what has become a series of people who see a spark in Lam, who followed her to MCC where she was a nursing student.
“I went to MCC and followed her path, just to hang out with my friends, but she was in the science field so I took a lot of bio and chem,” he said. “I graduated and took a year off, and there was a pharmacy across the street from where I live. The job was rough and at times I wanted to walk out, but one day a pharmacist I really enjoyed working with pulled me aside and asked, ‘What are you going to do with your life? When you’re on the schedule I know that work will get done and you ask a lot of questions about medications — if you’re interested in being a pharmacist, I see it in you.’
“I went from seeing this as a temporary job to wanting to know what it takes to become a pharmacist,” Lam said. “My attitude at work changed and I started being more serious about taking care of people better. It changed who I am. I became more compassionate. It changed me for the better.”
Lam transferred to SUNY Brockport for medical technology, then finally completed all his prerequisites. “It took a while,” he said. “The path has been a journey, but I’m definitely in the right field.”
When it came time to apply to pharmacy schools, Lam was going to apply to every school in New York state, so why not Binghamton? “Rachael Perry [assistant dean for enrollment management and student affairs] made such a good first impression,” Lam said. “She was everything I imagined through our interactions via email, at the door when I arrived, waiting and smiling. I liked the energy here. It was brand-new and away from home just enough where I could focus on my studies.”
And his path continues to evolve.
“The reason I got into pharmacy was because of community pharmacy,” he said. “A lot of underserved populations came to the store, and it felt good to give back to where I come from.”
But as a result of his first of eight APPEs (Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences) as a P4 PharmD student and his coursework at the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, other possibilities have appeared on his horizon.
His institutional rotation at Oneida Health Hospital, based in Central New York a bit east of Syracuse, is one reason, and it was eye-opening, he said.
“I did a lot of medication reconciliations for patients admitted into the emergency department,” he said. “I had to interview them and couldn’t always talk to them, so I would call pharmacies, talk to family members and make sure we delivered their home medications to them.
“One fun project my preceptor let me do was to present at a pharmacy and therapeutics (P&T) meeting with the heads of each department when they discuss what we can do differently,” Lam added. “Pharmacy usually takes the lead, talking about possibly using a medication that’s more cost effective or clinically effective. It was nerve wracking, but I was excited to do it. It’s a big way a pharmacist can make a difference in the hospital.”
Lam and a student from St. John Fisher prepared a presentation on a medication used to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbation. The one that was usually administered didn’t have a lot of science to back up its efficacy, Lam said, so they researched other medications and presented on one that is cheaper and shown to be effective. “The head respiratory specialist was hesitant, but my preceptor said most of these meetings when you present, you’re putting the bug in their head and maybe, as time goes on, they will consider it,” he said.
His preceptor at Oneida Health Hospital, William Fry, was an inspiration. “He has the alphabet after his name and yet he’s so humble. I felt so honored to be working under such a knowledgeable person. In my second week, he said, ‘Hey, I’m running out of assignments to give you and I can tell you’re hungry to learn and that you are in the right field,’” Lam said. “That meant a lot. Having a serious conversation about me as a student, it did light a fire under me and made me realize I could really do this.”
Hands down his Oneida APPE has been a favorite, Lam said. “For me, coming to Binghamton where it was a brand-new school and not accredited, then being thrown into the real world my first year, I wasn’t sure I had had enough training,” he said. “But after my first APPE, it proved that the school prepared me well. I was able to keep up and even contribute to a lot of clinical discussions. I am very impressed with what I’ve learned here, even in how to deliver information. It gets so cemented in your head those first three years; that made me impressed with the school and I owe a lot of credit to it.”
Lam also had thrown himself into his studies while keeping his mind open to future opportunities. He joined clubs and was active with the school outside of his studies. Then, yet another person reached out to encourage him to do more, this time through one of his courses.
“Surprisingly, in a P3 class, Dr. Spinler had several guest speakers and one was a residency coordinator at Penn State,” Lam said. “That person reached out to Dr. Spinler and said, ‘There is a student that made a lasting impression,’ and it was me! Dr. Spinler said, ‘You have a bright future.’”
Lam connected with the guest speaker to thank her and they talked about residencies.
“A residency is very competitive and challenging, so when someone in that position saw something in me I wanted to explore it,” Lam said. “After getting to know her [over Zoom], she saw characteristics in me that will make me a great candidate. So, who am I to doubt myself? It changed my perspective on how I view my future, and she motivated and inspired me.
“Then, after my first clinical rotation [at Oneida Health Hospital], I got really good feedback, too. These are successful, humble, admirable people who say, ‘You can do it!’”
Lam’s drive comes in part from his family.
“My parents’ plan was just for me to stay out of trouble and graduating from high school was all they could ask for,” he said. “I know they’re proud of me and I never want to burden them with what I go through because their reality was making sure I had a roof over my head. Their battles are different than mine.
“It’s exciting because I’m going take them out of where we are now. I have this opportunity because of them. I’m here now because of the sacrifices they made. It all starts from there.”
And for now, Lam is keeping all options open and plans to apply for a residency program. “I like the thought of the competition,” he said. “I look at what a clinical pharmacist does. They really get to be hands on and make a difference with patients and I really want to do a residency now because if I can help more people and make more of a positive difference, my heart is the most full.”
And that friend who filled out his first college application? She’s an oncology nurse in Rochester now and drove Lam to Binghamton for his interview day at the School of Pharmacy. “She’s the first one I go back to talk to. Jennifer, you were changing my life and didn’t know it, just by being yourself.
“That’s why I try to keep open communication with everyone because you don’t know who you will inspire,” he said.