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Graduate school is a challenge not many attempt, especially a professional degree program in the medical field. However, for one South Texan, one professional degree is not enough. Just two months after graduating in May from the Texas A&M University Irma Lerma Rangel School of Pharmacy, Enrique Arredondo will start his journey to become a medical doctor.
Growing up, Arredondo saw that pharmacists were very accessible. It drew him to the profession. Not only did he want to become an accessible health care provider, he also wanted to do so in the Rio Grande Valley community he called home, lovingly referred to as “the valley.”
“We sort of depended on pharmacists for recommendations. They were very accessible, and I saw the impact they have on our communities, so that was the driving factor in the decision to become a pharmacist,” he said.
Serving the underserved is at the heart of the mission of the Rangel School of Pharmacy. It opened its doors in Kingsville, Texas, in 2006 to tackle the shortage of pharmacists in the region. That alignment with his own goals, mixed with its unique location, made the Rangel School of Pharmacy an obvious choice for Arredondo him.
“The main campus is in Kingsville, and the reason it was created in Kingsville was to serve South Texas. It was very similar to my hometown which is further south, Edinburg, Texas,” he said.
Having felt at home and confident as a professional pharmacy student there, he excelled. He was involved in COVID-19 research, gave poster presentations at the Texas Society of Health System Pharmacists (TSHP) meetings and in just his second year, he rotated through the number one hospital in the nation, the Mayo Clinic.
“As a first-year pharmacy student, in a humble way, I was ambitious,” Arredondo said. “I just happened to come across the application and thought it would be a great opportunity. I never would have thought someone from the South Texas region would get the opportunity to go to the Mayo Clini. It just sort of happened and it was blessing in disguise. It really opened my eyes as to what resources they have for patients and how far behind, the big lag in between local, rural hospitals down here in the valley, compared to an institute like that.”
Throughout his entire four years in pharmacy school, Arredondo selflessly served by volunteering his time and expertise.
As a pharmacy student, volunteering meant counseling patients, translating for patients from English to Spanish, performing blood pressure screenings, blood sugar screenings and vaccination clinics. Over the course of his pharmacy schooling, he performed an estimated 250 screenings, a number he said would’ve been higher had COVID-19 not shut down many activities during its peak.
While doing his rotations as a fourth-year student in the Rio Grande Valley at places like DHR Health, the VA Coastal Bend Outpatient Clinic, South Texas Health System McAllen and H-E-B, Arredondo was reminded of why he wanted to join the profession in the first place. During a rotation at an H-E-B in Mission, Texas, he saw many patients that spoke only Spanish. Arredondo, who is bilingual, was able to help.
“I was in Mission, which is closer to the Mexican border, so a lot of the patients were Spanish-speaking and didn’t have insurance, and the questions that they would ask, even though it sounded simple, it was very impactful to them and to their health for the long term,” he said.
“There was a definite need. I would say there needs to be a difference in the patient-to-pharmacist ratio here in valley,” he added.
That experience, along with his mentor, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice Juan Castro, MD, influenced him. After seeing so many patients that needed help, the idea germinated that maybe he should become the doctor that they needed. He started to complete applications to medical schools but was still a bit unsure.
The driving factor to pursue a medical degree was an unfortunate and scary medical experience for Arredondo’s father. A heart issue needed immediate care, and yet instead of receiving that care in the valley, his father was sent hours away.
“It opened my eyes in terms of care here in the valley. They found an aortic dissection with him, there were no surgeons here in the valley that could do those types of surgeries, so they had to transport him to Houston. So right away in the Rio Grande Valley, for the higher, specialized care, patients need to get transported four or five hours out,” he said.
“You hear about it, but once you go through that experience, it just opens your eyes, and you realize higher level of care is still needed in the valley, and that’s insane because we have a large population. That is why I want to help medical services in the valley grow, so that we don’t need to transport out,” he added.
Arredondo says his father is doing much better now, and he, along with the rest of his family are excited to watch him graduate from the Rangel School of Pharmacy and become the first doctor in the family.
On July 31, 2023, he will begin school at UT Southwestern in Dallas where he plans to focus on interventional cardiology and non-invasive surgery vasculature.
While there, after receiving his pharmacy license, he hopes to find the time to work as a part-time pharmacist.
One day in the future Arredondo will return to Edinburg with both a PharmD and MD, where he will use his degrees, his hands and heart to do what he set out to do—to serve the underserved and bring more medical care to South Texas.
“Hopefully I can become a bridge to help the valley grow, become more innovative, have the better technology, have better resources so hopefully we get to a point where we don’t need to transport patients away,” he said. “Being able to make the valley a place with a higher level of care is very important to me.”
Media contact: Dee Dee Grays, firstname.lastname@example.org, 979.436.0611