Pharmacy students told to the break rules

Jesabel Rivera-Guerra, the Community Health Director at the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association in Pittsburgh, speaks about how to subvert norms to resolve complex problems in and out of the workplace. (Photo by Elise Lavallee | Contributing Editor)

Students gathered in a lecture hall Monday night to hear a health care professional tell them to defy authority.

Looking out at about 30 students assembled before her, Jesabel Rivera-Guerra summarized her entire talk in six words.

“Life is short. Break the rules,” Rivera-Guerra said.

Phi Lambda Sigma, Pitt’s pharmacy leadership society, and Pitt’s chapter of Rho Chi — a pharmacy honor society — held their second annual Young Professionals Lecture event at Scaife Hall Monday night. The lecture series aims to highlight young professionals that have made a significant impact in the health care field around Pittsburgh. Rivera-Guerra, the community health director at the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association in Pittsburgh, was the guest speaker Monday.

Rivera-Guerra — a Pitt graduate from the School of Public Health — said most rules are purposeful and necessary. But she said some rules, or the status quo, need to be broken, specifically those that are obstacles between equality and equity — whether those rules challenge civic rights, equity, better protocols or better policies.

“There’re so many rules, you tend to lose your focus on the people,” Rivera-Guerra said.

Shannon Ye, a graduate student in Pitt’s school of pharmacy and member of Phi Lambda Sigma, said she enjoyed the talk because it promoted challenging social norms as a way of bringing innovation into the health care field.

“It’s really refreshing to see a leader — she herself is a sign of authority — to tell us, people younger than her, less experienced than her, that her advice is to break the rules,” Ye said.

Ye said America’s health care system is unbalanced, and people need to put a lot of energy toward fixing it  — and must break rules to achieve this.

“We can’t do what we’ve been doing before, we need to find a better way to change the world and make it a better place for everyone,” Ye said.

Rivera-Guerra said looking for a different angle as a fresh viewpoint and transitioning from old standards to new ideas are valuable tactics in effecting change. She told the audience to develop a new perspective by traveling and meeting new people.

“Start interacting with people who are completely different from you,” Rivera-Guerra said.

Sophia Cothrel, a student in Pitt’s School of Pharmacy and president of Phi Lambda Sigma, said medical and pharmacy students too often become ingrained in rigid studies. She said they can lose creativity and stop considering what they could change or improve.

“It’s easy to get stuck in the grind of learning clinical information,” she said. “We are very focused on the rules, which can be helpful in some aspects, but we can get stuck in cycles and ruts.”

Cothrel said Rivera-Guerra’s speech motivated her to avoid becoming this sort of student and work toward any goals she develops in the future.

“She made it seem easy to go out and do the things you aim to do,” Cothrel said.  

In her speech, Rivera-Guerra also said it is important to know how to influence different people to effect change. To do this, she said to be conscious of dress choice and personality, tailoring these things to the audience to gain respect.

“You need to know how to speak their language,” Rivera-Guerra said.

Lastly, Rivera-Guerra said promoting oneself is important, despite being taught to be humble.

“When you’re in the real world, nobody’s gonna talk about you,” Rivera-Guerra said.

After breaking the rules, Rivera-Guerra says it is imperative to take responsibility and “own it.”

“Once you break the rules, you’re on your own,” Rivera-Guerra said.


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