Bridging the Gap for Spanish Speaking Patients in the Central Valley
While on his fourth-year clinical rotation in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) of a local hospital, Dr. Raymond Alcaraz, CHSU College of Pharmacy graduate and Madera native, explains the purpose of a nasogastric (NG) tube is to a young child suffering from jaw cancer and his mother. Dr. Alcaraz assures the child that the tube won’t hurt and will help get him the nutrients he needs to withstand the chemotherapy.
Dr. Alcaraz is fluent in Spanish and he was tasked with helping this Spanish-speaking patient and his mother understand what this treatment will do to help him survive. Finally assured, the child acquiesces, and his mother expresses her gratefulness and relief. Surprisingly, very few pharmacists are able to connect with Spanish-speaking patients in this way.
“Being a bilingual pharmacist, I used Spanish at every single fourth-year rotation I had been at – bridging the gap without even realizing it,” said Dr. Alcaraz.
For Dr. Alcaraz, helping break down the language and cultural barriers between Spanish speaking patients and their health care providers has always been his top priority. At the age of 4, he lost his mother due to a heart attack caused by an accidental prescription medication overdose. His mother only spoke Spanish, and her doctor did not. The miscommunication between his mother and her doctor about the amount of medication to take at one time, took Dr. Alcaraz’s mother away too soon and set him on a course to honor her life.
At the time, he didn’t understand why he lost his mother or the chemistry behind what the excess medication was doing to her body. He sought answers and decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry at UCLA to learn how prescription drugs work. He then turned his sights on earning a Doctor of Pharmacy degree at CHSU, where he learned about the chemistry behind the prophylactic migraine medication that his mother was taking, connecting the dots to her tragic death.
“I came to pharmacy school to be the change I wish to see in the world, to be that bilingual clinical pharmacist that can actually communicate the warnings and precautions properly to patients here in the Central Valley and lead by example,” said Dr. Alcaraz.
In addition to his studies, he made the most of his extracurricular time at CHSU. He served as a CHSU Lead Student Ambassador and a mentor for the CHSU Próspero Program, a pathway program to prepare high school and undergraduate college students for a career in pharmacy. One of the most rewarding experiences was teaching Madera area middle school students about pharmacy during a field trip to the CHSU College of Pharmacy.
“When we had Madera middle school students here for a tour at CHSU and they heard my story, found out I was from Madera, they started realizing that they too could pursue a career in pharmacy,” he said.
Dr. Alcaraz was also a part of a multitude of student organizations and volunteer opportunities. He held leadership positions in Phi Delta Chi and Phi Lambda Sigma. He was a member of the California Pharmacists Association (CPhA), the Student National Pharmaceutical Association (SNPhA), the American Pharmacist Association Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP), the California Society of Health-System Pharmacists (CSHP) and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP).
He also participated in research and presented an evaluative study on an investigational drug called compound 21 that shows promise in helping mitigate the effects of losing alveolar epithelial cells, a major contribution to pulmonary fibrosis and other respiratory illnesses, especially for people living in the Central Valley.
After graduation, Dr. Alcaraz will be working as a community pharmacist at a local Walgreens. He hopes to one day pursue further education and apply for a residency program to allow him to work as a clinical pharmacist in a hospital setting.
Dr. Raymond Alcaraz will be graduating Cum Laude this Saturday, May 15, 2021 with his Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) from CHSU.
The 2021 Grad Stories is a series dedicated to honoring our California Health Sciences University (CHSU) Doctor of Pharmacy graduates and showcasing their accomplishments throughout their time at CHSU while earning their PharmD degree.