A Journey Through Pharmacy School and Beyond: Shattering the Labels

One of my great friends from pharmacy school recently got married, and I had the honor of being able to attend the wedding.  Our lives crossed paths for 3 challenging years of pharmacy school in Duluth, MN.  We didn’t have a lot in common.

He was extroverted, I was introverted.  He was from Chicago, one of the biggest cities in the US, while I was from Clinton, MN, a town with a population around 400 and 0 stoplights.  His parents couldn’t speak English, while my mother was constantly correcting my grammar.  I educated him that you can actually drive a vehicle on a frozen lake, and he educated me about “the projects” and Poland.  For three years, he pushed me and I pushed him.  I can’t speak for him, but I think the thing that brought us together was that we felt like underdogs.

By all rights, my friend and I were not supposed to be in the graduating class of 2009.  He was at the end of the waiting list, and I was in the “Hold” pool, which is equivalent to the waiting list for the waiting list.  To the best of our knowledge, Marcin Puto and I were the last two students accepted into the University of Minnesota COP class of 09’.  He received an admission phone call a couple weeks prior to classes beginning in the fall of 2005 and I received my phone call less than 7 days prior to class starting.  Whether it was serendipity or divine intervention, I will let you decide that.

We were both thrilled to be there, but being the lowest “ranked” students (and knowing it) I felt intimidated.  I think we both felt like we had something to prove.  We could’ve easily adopted the “C’s get degrees” mentality.  After all, according to our ranking, we were supposed to be below average.  Nearly 10 years following the life changing month of August 2005, I couldn’t be more proud to call Marcin my friend.  Throughout pharmacy school, day after day, I watched him work tirelessly and dedicate his life to the profession he enjoys.  He easily completed his PharmD degree, went on to complete a PGY-1 and PGY-2 residency.  He is currently board certified in oncology and an expert in his field.

The message is simple:  Don’t let a label define who you are.  We put labels on people based upon their CV, past experiences, academics etc. and indeed this is necessary in the hiring and pharmacy school admission process.  Don’t let those labels dictate who you are or who you are going to be.  Own your story, like Marcin did.


  1. Alka

    A great story of tearing through labels and reaching for the beyond! I’m very inspired.

  2. NewPharmD2015

    What a great tribute to your friend, and inspiration to new graduates, new residents and even those still pursuing the dream. One’s destiny is only determined by self.

  3. Eric Christianson

    Thanks for the comments! He’s a great friend.

  4. edith murray

    Hi Eric,
    Thanks for sharing that story. I needed to read that. Going through something similar to shatter labels. I also have a good friend from Poland. She is really special. Thanks for being an inspiration!! Thanks also for being a source of wisdom and knowledge to others in the Health profession!

  5. Sheshagiri Gandasi

    The story is often the same, world over. Many a time the underdogs throw the favoured bigwigs out of the arena. Tear apart the labels that the world pastes on you by your dedication and hard work in the field you are interested in, and no body can rob you of the success. Well done Marcin Puto and more so Eric Christianson! I admire you both.

  6. Randi

    I was in a similar situation! Wait-listed, struggled through several classes, and now I’m CGP, BCPS, and BCPP. I have a great purely-clinical job in an ambulatory clinic. I often wonder if academia is out of touch with what it takes to be an effective pharmacist in “the real world.”


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Written By Eric Christianson

June 21, 2015

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