Nicolle Rae Ferren Cruz was conferred a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Creighton University, Omaha, Neb., at an online ceremony May 16, 2020.
“There was pomp – and a very unconventional circumstance – as Creighton University awarded more than 2,200 degrees during virtual commencement ceremonies on May 15 and 16,” stated a Creighton news release.
Cruz, daughter of Tom and Judy Ferren of Lovell, graduated from Lovell High School in 1995. She attended Northwest College at Powell and received an associate degree in art in 1997. She married Rusty Cruz of Powell in 1998. Together, they have three children, Hannah, Magdalene and Caleb.
When Caleb was in kindergarten Nicolle Cruz decided it was the right time to get a job since all the children were in school all day. She noticed a pharmacy technician opening at the Powell Hospital. Although she had no experience or training in that area, she called to inquire about the job. Unexpectedly, she got an interview, but was told not to expect to be called for a second interview because they were looking for someone with experience, Cruz said. However, she was called for a second interview and was hired.
“I loved the work from the first day. The workers were so nice. I started asking questions about one medication versus another. It was so interesting to me. Soon my supervisor started encouraging me to go to pharmacy school. The University of Wyoming was the closest facility that offered the program, and I would have had to go to Laramie. With a family to care for, that just wasn’t an option,” Cruz said.
Cruz began studying on her own to be eligible to take the technician board exam and received a Wyoming Pharmacy Technician Certification in 2011. She continued working at the Powell Hospital Pharmacy for a couple years without considering moving toward a degree.
After the continued prompting of coworkers and supervisors, Cruz began looking into options available for a degree. Creighton’s pharmacy program required many prerequisites, none of which Cruz had taken with her art degree. Thinking it would be a start, she enrolled in the necessary classes at NWC. In the spring of 2016 she completed them, but in her mind she was still not committing to pursue the profession further.
Somewhere along the line, she decided to take the PCAT, the pharmacy school entrance exam, and to her surprise actually did quite well, Cruz said. To study in the degee program at Creighton, one has to apply for an interview. In March of 2016 Cruz was sitting before a panel of professors in Omaha. Creighton accepts 75 students a year into their doctorate program. There were more than 1,000 applicants. In the fall of 2016, Cruz began her graduate school classes.
“I never dreamed I would make the cut,” Cruz said. “I had to continue to work 10-hour shifts at Powell Hospital Pharmacy, make dinner for the family, help kids with homework and then shut myself in my study room. The classes are assigned each semester, no choices, and the course load is 20 to 26 credit hours a semester. I did this for eight semesters and a summer.
“After my first year I had to do a condensed lab session on campus for three weeks, followed by two weeks after the second year and 10 days the third year. The last year included eight five-week blocks of rotation experience that began in June of 2019. They were in the Sheridan VA, Billings Clinic-Cody, three at Powell Hospital pharmacy, an emergency medicine rotation at the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper, Cody Regional Health Cancer Center and Medical Center pharmacy in Cody.”
With her education completed and Doctor of Pharmacy degree aquired, the next step was to take the Wyoming State Board exams, which consists of the MPJE, pharmacy law exam, and the NAPLEX, the pharmacy exam. Several of the testing centers have been closed due to COVID-19, Cruz said, and those already signed up had first place on the list at the remaining facilities. It appeared that the closest opportunity to take the exams would be in September. That not being acceptable because of her need to start drawing a paycheck again, Cruz began searching in a wider area. The Bozeman testing center allowed her to take the law portion on June 30 and the pharmacy test on July 6.
“I was so nervous about passing the tests. The cost of the tests and travel expenses was around $2,000,” Cruz explained. “I couldn’t afford a retake if I didn’t pass. I was nearly sick. On July 9 I was notified that I had passed and was a registered pharmacist in the state of Wyoming.
“Looking back, I had not really committed to this accomplishment. I just kept taking a step at a time, and then suddenly found myself at the end of the journey. On more than one occasion along the way I told myself it was nuts to attempt this kind of thing so late in life. Everything was extremely demanding from family issues and keeping full-time status working at the Powell Hospital to the rigorous classes for 6 1/2 years. It was not possible on my own strength. God was with me all the way. He gets the credit. I want to serve others for His glory. I have a heart to serve my community in this way.
“Powell Valley Healthcare and especially the pharmacy department have been extremely supportive through this whole journey. They have been patient with me and let me work when I needed to work as well as have time off to complete school requirements. I get to work with an amazing group of coworkers that I admire, respect and consider family. I feel blessed that I get to do something I love.”
By Teressa Ennis