Fourth-year pharmacy student Vivien Yu has already become a student leader and is a recipient of the Half Scarlet Award for her work at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland — an award given to those who are a core and respected participant in their student group.
She is also indispensable to the Boots and Charles Michie pharmacy team where she works part-time in Aberdeen – though this can sometimes increase to up to 50 hours per week.
“Sometimes it is really stressful,” she says, describing how she juggles her studies and working commitments. “I do really enjoy my job though.”
Hands on experience is vital for Yu: “I don’t necessarily think I’m learning anything of value until I go into class and we’re talking about something that I do all the time. I’ve already had to tackle a few difficult conversations but the pharmacists are always there to back me up.”
Her nominator praised her determination to succeed: “She has the potential to do great things in the world of pharmacy. She has demonstrated strong leadership skills and is able to include others, including under-represented groups, in activities.”
At Robert Gordon University she is co-president of the Pharmacy Society and president of the Interprofessional Education Society — a group with more than 200 members — which she said was a great opportunity to make friends and meet others doing different disciplines.
From there, Yu started to organise events and plan new initiatives. Most recently, she joined in the#whatwedoinpharmacy social media campaign from an MPharm perspective to raise awareness of the student experience, even getting other universities involved.
Like many people, Yu was personally affected by the coronavirus pandemic; she had to shield because she takes immunosuppressant medicines. However, she harnessed this experience and spoke on BBC Radio Scotland about what it was like for shielding patients.
Witnessing the effects of the pandemic on pharmacy students’ wellbeing, she came up with the idea of a virtual graduation for the 2020 class at Robert Gordon. This broadcast to the final year students included speeches from Professor Jason Leitch, national clinical director of the Scottish Government and professor Rose Marie Parr, Scotland’s former chief pharmaceutical officer.
She is a champion for diversity, working with students across pharmacy to get involved with learning British sign language (and taking the course herself) and encouraging people to join student committees. “They’re 50/50 on female-male representation and we’re working on diversity,” she says.
Running events is no small undertaking, but Yu has managed to project manage many events and develop processes for signing up, managing social media and providing certificates of attendance. When the pandemic got in the way, she organised online pub quizzes for her fellow students to boost morale.
Owing to a pre-existing condition, Yu spends some time in hospital. “I know I can’t procrastinate and, if I need to get something done, I need to do it right there and then. I worked at the start of the pandemic but then I had to shield and I thought I was going to go crazy, but it did give me a lot of time and I could juggle being president of both societies. I’ve had time to learn how to, and organise events over Zoom, and I think the other students appreciated it.”
While shielding, Yu moved back to her family home in Glasgow. “Part of the reason I continue to do the things I do is because my parents always said to work hard and not to forget about the people around you. I organise because I want to help and support my peers.”
Her friends joke about how organised she is — they would say “she has her fingers in many pies”, she says, and she hopes it will always be that way. “I see myself as a hospital pharmacist, but … I hope I would be part of lots of organisations. I can’t imagine myself just being in one place.”
Although her enthusiasm for pharmacy is clear now, she did not have a burning passion to pursue it originally: “I didn’t know anyone who did pharmacy but a family friend asked if I had considered it. I didn’t expect to get so much out of it and now I can’t see myself doing anything else.”
“Vivien is a real woman to watch. Keen to see where she goes”
“If she can do all of this now, I can’t wait to see what she achieves when she qualifies”
“An example to others, she is determined to make a difference early in her pharmacy career”
Meet the rest of The Pharmaceutical Journal’s Women to Watch 2020 here.