Commencement spotlight: Newton Agbeshe

NEOMED’s Commencement Ceremony will be held Saturday, May 6, at E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall. Among the graduating class is Newton Agbeshe, who will earn his Pharm.D. degree. He recently shared his story with The Pulse.

During his childhood in Accra, Ghana, in West Africa, Newton Agbeshe saw first-hand the positive impact a pharmacist could have on a community. His town experienced an outbreak of cholera, which claimed many lives. His younger sister was among those who contracted the disease.

“Families were in fear, perplexed and in panic as they heard devasting death tolls in and around our neighboring towns,” Agbeshe recalled. “What makes it worse is the fact that hospital facilities were limited and far from town. I vividly remember families were running helter skelter to our local pharmacist in desperation for a recommendation to cure this cholera disease.

“I don’t remember what medication he gave, but all I remember was, he gave some medications to families, and it performed a magic, lives were saved,” he said. “My sister’s life was also saved and the whole town was singing his [the phamacist’s] praises. From that time on I’ve always desired to be like my local pharmacist, who will serve the community as he did.”

The childhood dream of being his community’s local hero – the pharmacist – was put on hold. According to Agbeshe, cultural norms dictated that his parents would choose his career path. Since he excelled at math, they believed that mathematics was his way forward. So, he attended and graduated from Accra Technical University with a degree in statistics and worked in the field until 2016. Then his grandmother died from a preventable illness. The experience rekindled his dream of pursuing a career in the health professions.

“I realized if we had a health care professional in my family serving as a resource person to answer basic medical issues concerning a family member, as well as being a voice to educate, I strongly believed my grandmother wouldn’t have died the way she did,” he said, adding that his father also experienced a medical misdiagnosis. “Reflecting on this motivated me to go into pharmacy and to bring the change I want in my family as well as the community at large.”

He and his family immigrated to the United States. They lived in Orange, New Jersey, where they ran a small business for several years until the mall where it was located closed.

“The mall owners wouldn’t renew the lease because they decided to put up a high-rise apartment for rent. At this time many New Yorkers were coming to rent residential apartments in New Jersey and working in New York,” he said. “Around this time, I decided to go back to pursue my dream of becoming a pharmacist.”

Toward that end, he attended Montclair State University in New Jersey, where he earned a second undergraduate degree, this time in biochemistry.

When he interviewed for the College of Pharmacy at NEOMED, he knew had found the right place to continue his studies.

“When I saw how students were sitting in the Giant Eagle [Commons] study rooms and in the library during our orientation, I knew I needed such an environment to study,” he said. “And also the diversity got my attention.”

During his time as a pharmacy student, one class in particular had a big impact on him.

“Poverty simulation class is one class I will forever remember,” he said. “It’s one of the class sessions where we’re taught to understand that there are a lot of families that are struggling with finances, with health-related issues, and as a health care professional you have to help every single patient. You have to show compassion and a great love as you take care of the patient. This always reminds me of my vision.”

It was helpful to have reminders like that as he pursued his studies while raising a young family. He and his wife have two daughters, aged 5 years, and 11 months.

“Honestly, it’s very challenging having a young family and schooling, especially being in a professional school where demand for school course work is very high,” Agbeshe said. “I remember times when I had to be in the ER throughout the night with my daughter because she was sick and at the same time, I had to be in class in the morning to take my quiz or exams.”

Even when everyone was well, there were times when school-home balance was hard to achieve. Five-year-old children are not known for their patience.

“I remember days when I would be at home and lock myself in a room to be on Zoom for a class, and we’re asked to have our cameras on. And suddenly my daughter will come banging at the door. ‘Daddy! Daddy!! Please open the door! I want to come in to play with you! Daddy, you don’t love me? Why won’t you open the door?’ Sometimes it’s very emotional but I have to try to explain to my little child to understand the fact that I am trying to prevent distractions and it’s not that Daddy is avoiding her,” he said.

Emergency department visits, little-girl guilt trips, long days away from home to focus on studying, and sometimes missing family outings to catch up on assignments or prepare for exams were all challenging, Agbeshe admitted.

“Despite all the challenges, it’s very rewarding seeing the family together, especially going on vacation and playing in the parks during school break,” he said. “And it’s also rewarding when, after the close of the day, I get home, and my wife and daughter run to me with a great smile full of excitement and a great joy to give me a big hug.”

Agbeshe gathered some good memories with his classmates, too. He fondly recalled participating in community outreach projects with Summa Health and OPEN M, a nonprofit organization in Akron.

He also enjoyed attending the annual Student Organization Fair held at the beginning of the academic year. “I always could feel that sense of community, and also the unity that exists among faculty and students,” he said. “For me, it’s just great to behold. It is something I always looked forward for and I am going to miss it in the coming years.”

Another annual NEOMED event that he’ll miss is the Multicultural Festival. “Celebration of cultures is another big thing I love about NEOMED,” Agbeshe said. “NEOMED gives the opportunity to students to showcase their country of origin and its culture. We learn a lot about other countries. The diversity representation on campus is something I really love about NEOMED.”

Following graduation, Agbeshe will work as a staff pharmacist for CVS. Eventually, he hopes to own his own business.

Wherever he lands, he will remember advice he received from a family member.

“My uncle once told me it’s better to do the job you enjoy doing than to do a job you hate doing,” he said. “Because you cannot wake up every day to go to a toxic environment. It won’t be healthy for our body and soul. When you do what you enjoy doing, you will always be happy.”

His advice for others who are studying for or considering a career in pharmacy?

  • “For P1s and P2s, I will emphasize “focus.” Be a master of time management. Have a study partner. Form a study group -- make sure it is not more than three in a group. When a study group is more than four in a group, often it doesn’t serve its purpose; students only chat and waste precious time. We must also understand that our best friend in class may not necessarily be our study partner if we want to be productive.”
  • “Be committed to whatever you want to do. If it’s time to study, then mean business and don’t allow any distractions.”
  • “If you have time to spend with your family and friends, make it a quality time.”
  • “Don’t ever think you have a lot of time at hand. Such thoughts can slow you down and cause you to procrastinate assignments. Work on school assignments at all times as if it is very urgent.”
  • “As for high school kids and undergrads, find a mentor in the field of pharmacy who can guide you and inspire you, a person who will give you a reason why you cannot afford not to work in this field of discipline. Find someone who is self-motivated and loves doing what he is doing in pharmacy. There are a lot of pharmacists out there who hate what they’re doing and meeting such a person will only be toxic to your dream. Connect with people who will help you nurture your dream.”
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