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Dr. Kenya Covarrubias didn’t speak English when she began 10th grade at Washington Union High School in the small Fresno County town of Easton. But that obstacle didn’t stop the motivated young woman from becoming valedictorian of her graduating class. She then went on to double major in chemistry and biology at Fresno State.

Now, as she enters the medical field with her Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Clovis-based California Health Sciences University, Covarrubias is drawing on her personal experiences to guide her professional path.

“I realized how difficult it is to communicate with a person if you don’t speak the same language — especially if you’re in a position where you’re already not feeling well.” — Dr. Kenya Covarrubias

Local University Awards 52 Doctor of Pharmacy Degrees

She’s among a class of 52 graduates awarded doctorate degrees in May from the fast-growing local university’s College of Pharmacy.

“When I first moved here, I didn’t speak any English and I still had to go to the doctor to get my vaccinations, and I still got sick,” Covarrubias said. “And I realized how difficult it is to communicate with a person if you don’t speak the same language — especially if you’re in a position where you’re already not feeling well.”

That’s one of the reasons she is so strongly committed to remaining in the local area to pursue her pharmacy career.

“I feel a connection to the community and I feel the need to help and make a difference here in the valley,” she said. “There’s a lot of need and there’s a lot of gaps that need to be filled. And I feel like I could play a role in that.”

Connection with Migrant Community

While Covarrubias was born in the United States, she moved to Sinaloa, Mexico, with her family at a young age. She returned to the Fresno area when she was 16, living with relatives and focusing on her education. Since that time, she has become acutely aware of the significant health care barriers faced by many in the Valley, particularly those in migrant communities.

While attending CHSU, Covarrubias was active in an ongoing migrant health education program in partnership with Fresno Unified School District. She was moved by the response of a participant she had met earlier and who asked her for advice on managing his blood pressure.

“Ever since then, I’ve been watching what I eat,” he told her. I’ve been exercising and I’ve been telling my family, my kids, that it’s important to watch what you eat and to be healthy because it shows,” the man said.

“I knew that I really wanted to go into pediatrics and to go to a pediatric-specific or pediatric-only hospital,” — Dr. Renzio Apostol

To Covarrubias, the direct relationship is key.

“It’s never really about saving the world,” she said. “It’s about saving the one person that you made a connection with.”

Giving Back to ‘Community I Grew Up In’

Other 2020 CHSU graduates share similar views, including Dr. Renzio Apostol.

A Sanger High School graduate, Apostol took part in a humanitarian project in Central America while studying for his bachelor’s degree at UC Irvine.

“I volunteered in Nicaragua and Honduras, where we helped build water infrastructure for these communities that didn’t have sanitary water,” he said.

While on the trip, Apostol was particularly affected by the ability of the children he saw to persevere under those conditions. He says it had a strong influence on his ambition to become a pediatric pharmacist.

(L to R) Vu Nguyen, Kenya Covarrubias, and Brittany Johnson celebrate their graduation from California Health Sciences University. They are among 52  graduates who were awarded a Doctor of Pharmacy degree in May from the Clovis-based university. (CHSU)

Drawn to Pediatric Health Care

“I knew that I really wanted to go into pediatrics and to go to a pediatric-specific or pediatric-only hospital,” Apostol said. “I knew I’d be able to work with this certain population that is really resilient.”

His decision to apply to CHSU’s pharmacy school was an easy one, he said.

“I think the main reason I really wanted to come back here was I wanted to come back to the community I grew up in,” Apostol said. “I knew that we had a lack of primary care providers. And I want to contribute to increasing that number here by becoming a clinical pharmacist in the Central Valley.”

As a graduate, Apostol is staying true to his goal and will soon begin his residency with Valley Children’s Hospital. He intends to continue his health care career locally.

“My personal motto is, ‘I live to serve and I serve to live.’ “ — Dr. Brittany Johnson

“I plan to stay in the Central Valley and kind of hopefully stay with pediatric pharmacy and be able to help that community as I keep going forward,” he said.

Apostol was the recipient of the university’s Outstanding Graduate Award, sponsored by Granville Homes.

(Granville Homes President and CEO Darius Assemi is the publisher of GV Wire and is a member of CHSU’s Board of Trustees.)

Focused on a Healthier Community for All

Meanwhile, Dr. Brittany Johnson will continue to focus her efforts on improving health outcomes in her hometown of Bakersfield.

It’s there that she hopes to extend her career with CVS, the country’s largest retail pharmacy chain. She worked for the company prior to pursuing her doctorate degree at CHSU and continued part-time while attending.

“Being part of the Central Valley is part of me,” Johnson said.

She views her medical education as part of a responsibility to help create a healthier community for all — an ambition guided by her foundational philosophy.

“My personal motto is, ‘I live to serve and I serve to live.’ “

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