‘Give yourself grace’: Pharmacy grad from Nigeria reflects on 91 journey

At age 21, Theodora Udounwa is graduating with a Doctor of Pharmacy degree
Theodora Udounwa stands outside the Pharmacy building signage

Theodora Udounwa completed her 91 undergraduate degree in just two years before studying to be a pharmacist at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy (photo by Steve Southon)

Theodora Udounwa was 15 years old when she left her family in Nigeria and traveled to Canada to begin a bachelor of science at the University of Toronto.

Born and raised in Abuja, Udounwa graduated from high school at an unusually young age due to a combination of an early start to kindergarten and skipping a grade due to outstanding academic performance.

It was a trend that would continue at 91. After only two years as an undergraduate, specializing in pharmacology and biomedical toxicology with a minor in physiology, Udounwa began her doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) program at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy.

“Pharmacy was always the plan. I enjoyed pharmacology greatly, but I was also interested in patient care, and I saw pharmacy as a bridge between applying those theoretical principles to patient care,” says Udounwa, who graduated with her PharmD last week at only 21 years old. “There are also a lot of career options in addition to patient care, like academic and research, that I thought would be a good fit for me.”

Like many youths in Nigeria, Udouwna attended boarding school during middle school and high school – an experience that stood her in good stead when she moved into St. Michael’s College residence, where she was younger than her peers. The proximity to her older sister – who attended university in nearby Hamilton – and an aunt in Ajax meant she was able to spend holidays with family members in the area.

Udouwna also took it upon herself to get involved with student groups such as the Nigerian Students’ Association, where she was able to meet students from her home country and share her culture.

Starting the PharmD program during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Udounwa grasped the opportunity to contribute to the public health response and strengthen her training, delivering more than 1,600 COVID-19 vaccinations as well as numerous flu shots at Discovery Pharmacy pop-up clinics.

She also completed rotations at Shoppers Drug Mart, the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto General Hospital, St. Michael’s Hospital (Unity Health Toronto), the outpatient pharmacy at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the Canadian Armed Forces.

All along, she stayed involved with student groups, holding several positions with the Black Pharmacy Students’ Association and the 91 chapter of the Canadian Association of Pharmacy Students and Interns (CAPSI).

She says one of the highlights of her time at 91 was attending CAPSI’s 2023 professional development week in Saskatoon, where she supported 16 91 delegates and took advantage of several educational and networking opportunities. “It was great to connect with students from other pharmacy schools, and I appreciated the opportunity to expand my professional skills and clinical knowledge,” she says. “We also had the chance to visit an Indigenous heritage site, Wanuskewin, and learn about Indigenous history and culture, which was very enriching.”

Udounwa’s involvement in extracurricular activities earned her numerous accolades including a and a . “Devoting time to volunteering and participating in student groups has enabled me to facilitate macro-level changes that directly impact the pharmacy student community. It has also fostered my personal and professional growth through forming connections with and learning from students and practice leaders," Udounwa said upon receiving her Student Leadership Award earlier this year.

Looking ahead, Udounwa says she’s keeping her options open but envisions working directly with patients in some capacity. Her next step: an industry residency at pharma giant Novo Nordisk's medical affairs and strategic operations department.

Having navigated the challenges of moving to a new country for university and experiencing a new culture, Udounwa says she would advise incoming university students to be kind to themselves as they forge their journey.

“This is a pivotal moment in our careers; be patient and give yourself grace as you go through the process and navigate through that uncertainty to the next great opportunity.”

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