Meet first-year PharmD student Filmon Haile, whose visits to Eritrea motivated him to pursue a career in pharmacy so he can help expand health care access in underrepresented communities. This San Jose native shares what he hopes to accomplish as a member of the Black Pharmacy Society and why USC School of Pharmacy was the right fit for him.
Where is your hometown and where did you attend undergrad? What did you major in?
I was born and raised in San Jose, California. I attended San Jose City College for two years, where I was a track and field athlete, then transferred to UCLA and majored in biology with a minor in African American Studies.
What attracted you to the field of pharmacy? Any particular moment(s) that made you stop and think, “This is the path I want to take?”
In 2010, my mother took my sister and me on a six-week trip to her birthplace, Mendefera, Eritrea. We got the chance to see our grandmother and cousins for the first time since we were toddlers. During this trip, my sister and I got sick but doctors were very restricted in what they could do due to limited health supplies. I knew then that I wanted to get involved in health fairs and eventually help provide equitable access to resources for third world countries. This experience and my genuine curiosity around medicine is when I knew pharmacy was the path I wanted to take.
Filmon Haile (right) with his family during a trip to Eritrea in 2018. (Photo courtesy of Filmon Haile)
You’re Eritrean American. Can you tell us about your trips to Eritrea and how your experiences abroad impacted your career trajectory?
My first trip to Eritrea was when I was a 1-year-old, so I don’t remember. The next time I went back when I was 14 years old, and that trip changed the entire trajectory of my life. Before I went to Eritrea, I didn’t take school seriously and had a hard time staying out of trouble. Eritrea exposed me to a country full of outstanding students my age who had to make endless sacrifices to receive an education like the one I was receiving here for free. When I came back, I looked at academia through a whole new lens and took it upon myself to enroll in college ready courses/workshops and build toward taking AP classes in my last years of high school.
My most recent trip back was after my 2018 UCLA graduation. At this point I understood the political and socioeconomic factors that play a part in the lack of resources and overall disparities that plague Eritrea. I can’t lie and say that it wasn’t disheartening at first, but throughout my trip, I spoke to family and locals about hardships they face, which ultimately gave me a sense of motivation and purpose.
Filmon Haile credits his visits to Eritrea for motivating him to pursue a career in health. (Photo courtesy of Filmon Haile)
Why did you choose USC School of Pharmacy?
My main motivation for becoming a health care professional has always been to provide equitable health care access to underrepresented communities. During my interview here, I asked faculty what separated the USC School of Pharmacy experience from that of other pharmacy schools, and they highlighted the impact that we’re able to have on the local communities while we’re students. From that point on, I was sold.
You’re a member of the Black Pharmacy Society, a new interdisciplinary organization at the School of Pharmacy. What are the group’s goals and what do you hope to accomplish?
My personal goal is to foster a sense of community for the black students on campus. We’re provided resources to combat impostor syndrome, but it’s almost inevitable, so having a community to support you during times of doubt is invaluable. There are many great cultural organizations on campus that put together amazing events, and the Black Pharmacy Society wants to showcase our cultures through school-wide events as well.
What are your career aspirations?
I really value patient interaction, so I’m leaning toward becoming an ambulatory care or clinical pharmacist. On the other hand, I feel like the scope of my impact can be widened in industry or managed care. Ultimately, I’m exploring all fields of pharmacy during my first year of the PharmD program.
What’s a fun fact about you that not many people know about?
I’ve sprained, fractured, broke, or pulled more than 10 parts of my body playing sports throughout my life.