Biology major Shakira Fedna always aspired to be a doctor because of her mother’s struggles with diabetes and hypertension.
“I witnessed a lot of emergency situations, and I wanted to be the person who could help in those situations,” she says.
So Fedna began seeking experiences that would help her learn more about health care. As a high school student in Everett, Massachusetts, she got a job as a sales clerk at a local Walgreen’s.
Next, she campaigned for a job as a pharmacy tech, calling drugstores in the area to ask if they had openings and were willing to put her through training, an intensive, two-week course that covers everything from dispensing medications to the laws governing controlled substances. A CVS in Medford took her on, and she’s been working there since.
“I was so determined to get the job because I really wanted to learn,” she says. “I knew that being a pharmacy tech would help me understand the reasons for prescriptions, and I knew that would help me when I become a doctor.”
Her thirst for learning continues at UMass Lowell. Although she got into plenty of other colleges, both public and private, she decided to come here because of the River Hawk Scholars Academy (RHSA), a supportive program for first-year, first-generation college students.
“I felt like I could find somewhere to fit in … and meet people with similar stories and similar backgrounds who could help me understand and navigate higher education, because I didn’t have anybody at home who could help me do that,” she says.
“It’s more than what I hoped for. I love the RHSA, all the faculty, all the students: It’s literally like a family,” she says. “Everybody you come into contact with in the RHSA wants to see you succeed.”
Her peer leader, an older student, was especially helpful, encouraging Fedna to keep an eye on her goals as she struggled to balance her full-time pharmacy tech job with a full course load. This year, Fedna is a peer leader in the RHSA herself, mentoring 10 first-year biology majors while continuing to work 25 hours a week at CVS.
Yet she still found time over the summer and fall to learn another skill. While living and studying at home during the COVID-19 shutdown, she earned her Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) license.
She hopes to move back on campus soon so that she can work for the university’s Emergency Medical Service (EMS) without bringing COVID-19 or any other infectious diseases home to her family.
“That is a job that I’m super-excited to start,” she says.
She’s found other great organizations for socializing and support at UMass Lowell, too, including the Haitian American Students Association and the Association of Students of African Origin, both student-run clubs that she joined at the Engagement Fair, right after Convocation.
She also joined MAGIC, the Medical Profession Admission Gap Initiative and Collaboration, a new academic success program in the Kennedy College of Sciences, directed by Assoc. Teaching Prof. Khalilah Reddie, that aims to help students from groups that are underrepresented in the health professions.
When Fedna felt overwhelmed as a first-year student, Reddie encouraged her to remain true to her goals, even if that meant cutting back on her work hours, she says.
“I went into biology because I love biology, and I knew if I opted out of it, I’d be disappointed in myself, so I decided to stick with it,” Fedna says.
Now, with Reddie’s encouragement, Fedna is applying to the Baccalaureate M.D. Pathway Program that prepares UMass undergraduates who are first-generation, low-income or from underrepresented groups to go to UMass Medical School.
Fedna knows that her learning has only begun, but she’s enjoying the journey.
“The doctor career fits my personality so well because I’m always looking to learn something new,” she says. “Doctors have to be lifelong learners. With every virus that comes out, every new disease and all the new medications, you learn something new every day.”