Local pharmacist urges students to lead

KINGSVILLE, Texas — A founding father of the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy wants to spur student leaders to continue to initiate change through leadership opportunities.

“I want to stare the students in the eye and see if I can find words to express how important their lives are,” said Ron Garza, R.Ph., president of the Coastal Bend Pharmacy Association. “This generation of kids really impresses me. They seem to be well-grounded. I think the profession will be OK with them at the helm.”

Selected students at the TAMHSC-Rangel College of Pharmacy will be inducted into the Pharmacy Leadership Society, Phi Lambda Sigma, at 6 p.m. April 15 at the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Center, 1730 W. Corral Ave., in Kingsville.

“Phi Lambda Sigma is such an honor because it recognizes that you have already accomplished amazing things as a leader,” said Amber Bacak, organization president. “Our organization is not for those who only have leadership potential. Being a member means you are already a leader, and it speaks volumes coming from your colleagues.”

Eight leaders will be inducted and adorned with green and gold cords – green symbolizing strength, gold symbolizing fineness of character.

“Being chosen for membership into Phi Lambda Sigma is a tremendous honor,” said Christine Carney, Phi Lambda Sigma treasurer and Pharmacy Student Council president. “Membership selection is by peer recognition, and there is no greater honor than being chosen by your peers as a leader in pharmacy. The eight people that were chosen to be inducted this year are the best of the best. I have no doubt in my mind that they will be the future leaders in our field.”

Garza, owner of DeLeon’s Pharmacy in Corpus Christi, will address the members and guests on ways for future leaders to affect change through pharmacy practice and community engagement.

Born and raised in Corpus Christi, Garza reluctantly became involved in politics when he was part of sharing the story of the legendary Hector P. Garcia, M.D., who inspired Mexican-Americans to educate themselves in democratic principles and worked to apply those principles to all people through his organization, The American GI Forum. Garza portrayed Garcia in reenactment scenes of the documentary, “Justice for My People: The Hector P. Garcia Story” that aired September 2007 on PBS.

Through his experiences, Garza learned politics is everything, and everything is politics.

“There are only a handful of people who are in politics for the right reasons,” he said. “Students need to get involved in politics.”

Garza’s childhood prepared him for patient care and independent pharmacy practice.

Suffering from upper respiratory infections and colic as a child and often needing medication to treat his illness, he remembers his grandmother talking on the phone with a local pharmacist discussing his problems. The pharmacist would calm his grandmother and even deliver medication to their home.

Garza also remembers how Carlos A. Oliveira would help him feel better and as a teenager decided to follow in Oliveira’s footsteps and become a pharmacist. Oliveira was mentor to many pharmacists, including Joe R. DeLeon, the man who would become Garza’s longtime friend and business partner.

In a twist of fate, Garza’s two mentors were friends and forever changed his legacy.

Garza graduated in 1985 from Texas Southern University summa cum laude and is a member of the Rho Chi Society. He became part-owner of DeLeon Pharmacy about 15 years ago and also a tireless fighter for independent pharmacy for South Texas.

“I encourage [students] to go out there to see what it’s like to work for a chain,” he said. “If they’re going to work hard, they might as well do it themselves. You can call your own shots. There will always be work for them in independent pharmacies.”

Just as he was mentored by independent pharmacists DeLeon and Oliveira, Garza said there are several independent pharmacists willing to mentor students.

“We are not a backstabbing profession,” he said. “We are a docile bunch, and we care about our community.”

Garza even shared his business experience with the pharmacy management class last fall.

“Ron Garza understands the essence of leadership,” said Charles Douglas, Ph.D., M.B.A., assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences and faculty adviser for Phi Lambda Sigma. “He is exceptional and has good management priorities. He is family-oriented and takes care of the employees who take care of him and give exceptional care to their patients.”

For example, Garza has been known to share the pharmacy’s earnings by taking his employees and their families on vacations.

A member of the Dean’s Advisory Board, Garza helps interview students for admissions and sponsors the Ron and Anabella Garza Outstanding Student Award for a graduating student.

Sebastian Perez, Pharm.D., now an assistant professor of pharmacy practice at the TAMHSC-Rangel College of Pharmacy, received the inaugural outstanding student award in 2010.

“People make a big difference, and when you have some recognition for the little you did, it motivates us to do more,” Dr. Perez said.

Besides serving at the TAMHSC-Rangel College of Pharmacy, Garza was a founder of the college as a member of the planning and building committees.

“I was involved in opening the pharmacy school,” he said. “I was with Irma Rangel when it was first an idea, and her sister Minnie (Henderson) was a pharmacist. They had a meeting with a dentist, attorney and a banker.”

The group debated back and forth what professional school should be proposed for South Texas. A pharmacy school was suggested, and Rangel made the group promise to see it through.

“Although she fell ill, during many of the inaugural events she would never have dreamed the school would be so successful in such a short period of time,” Garza said.

Garza was an outspoken advocate for the college when the building was initially empty, asking media to share that pharmacists were needed in South Texas and standing in front of the facility to demonstrate the physical property was ready.

Garza also was a member of the Dean’s Screening Committee, who chose Indra K. Reddy, Ph.D., to lead the professional school into uncharted territory as its founding and still current dean. He admires the dean because he’s constantly learning and constantly improving himself.

The TAMHSC-Rangel College of Pharmacy was created in 2006 in response to the shortage of pharmacists in the Texas border region.

DeLeon’s Pharmacy was one of the first South Texas sites for both Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experience and Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience rotations.

In doing what he has done for the student pharmacists of South Texas, Garza has established a legacy of living out being a leader and giving more than what he has taken for himself.

“My purpose is to exalt them and empower them through politics and nonprofit organizations. I don’t talk about myself,” he said. “My whole energy is focused on them and how they can affect change.”

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