Pharmacist Drashti Upadhyay stands in front of the day’s inventory at Central Pharmacy.
Pharmacist Drashti Upadhyay stands in front of the day’s inventory at Central Pharmacy.
Main Content

Front and Center: Drashti Upadhyay

Published on Monday, August 14, 2023

By: Danny Barrett Jr.,

Photos By: Melanie Thortis/ UMMC Communications

If people truly had that proverbial candle inside them that gets burnt at both ends during college, then Drashti Upadhyay’s would be dust by now.

After four years of juggling work, late nights studying and learning a whole new culture – all with a global pandemic playing out in the background – Upadhyay, 28, earned her license in June as a pharmacist with the Mississippi Board of Pharmacy.

Most folks would need at least a nap at that point, but Upadhyay is eager to keep her motor running – preferably on the open road during a well-deserved vacation from her job in UMMC’s central pharmacy.

“I can go visit my parents in Tennessee and have some time to myself,” she said. 

Upadhyay was already a degreed college graduate and licensed pharmacist in her native India before moving to the U.S. in 2019 to pursue the same here and to catch up with a family already stocked with health care providers, including an aunt and uncle who are also pharmacists.

Abhay Bhatt

“It was about wanting to see the other side of the world,” she said. “I also have aunts and uncles who are neonatologists and immunologists, including my uncle, Dr. Abhay Bhatt, who works here in pediatric neonatology, who supported me when I got here and taught me driving. I felt motivated to join health care because of them.”

She found work as a technician at a Kroger pharmacy for 10 months when first in the U.S. before arriving at UMMC in November 2020 as an IV room tech. Despite being no stranger to the rigors of comprehensive testing, she found out earning a certificate here would be a bit longer and harder for someone in her position as an international graduate.

“In India, after 12th grade, you can go straight into pharmacy school and once you’re out and graduated with your bachelor’s, you get your license. And there are tests only if you want to get your master’s or doctorate. But the difference here is that when you get your bachelor’s, you have to do tests for law and boards. Those can take two to six hours each.”

Another set of steps to a license in the U.S. for Upadhyay, who was applying as an international graduate and has Permanent Resident status, were the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL, and the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination, or FPGEE, which is given only once per year. All international graduates must take the tests regardless of any licenses held in their native homelands. And, a successful grade on the language exam was still needed despite her being already fluent in English, Hindi and Gujarati, the native tongue of the Indian state of Gujarat.

“TOEFL took about 2 ½ hours in one sitting and was in four sections – writing, speaking, listening and reading,” she said. “And if you don’t get a certain score, they won’t even look at your application. It wouldn’t have mattered that I was already fluent in English had I not done well enough.”

Southern accents weren’t the only cultural difference between her past and present lives. She had to get used to everyday living, which included ditching her two-wheeled motorized scooter common in India for a standard set of American wheels and learn to drive it on the right-hand side of the road.

“I’d studied English since kindergarten, but it wasn’t the primary language like it is here,” she said. “I had to learn how to drive and get to other places, what I want to do and how to do it. Coming to the states felt different because, of course, you have to prove yourself here.

She weathered more than a few potential “breaking points” in her studies, she said, including a bout with COVID-19 this past January.

The final step to be licensed in Mississippi was a 1,600-hour internship working hands-on in a pharmacy. She did so in 2021 in the IV room in central pharmacy, where she worked with doctors and nurses to order proper amounts of intravenous medication for patients in the main hospital.

“Finding the little things that can be made right in each order I fill makes me happy about my job,” she said. “Whenever you’re in health care, empathy is the most important thing you should have.”

Those in her “pharmacy family” have taken note of all her heavy lifting, both mentally and sometimes physically, the past few years.

“Everybody loves working with her,” said Anna Touchstone, supervisor of Central Pharmacy. “We have loved watching her grow and celebrating her successes.”

Most impressive on that list of accolades was becoming licensed in two different parts of the world, said Barry Phillips, assistant director of Pharmacy Services.

“Drashti is a shining example of perseverance and resilience,” Phillips said. “Her successful completion of the rigorous process to obtain a pharmacist license in another country and then repeating it here in the U.S. is truly commendable.”

A residency in pharmacy is her next big plan, but for now, her thoughts drift toward how she’ll spend her time off between shifts now that those big exams are over.

“I haven’t traveled a lot since I came here,” she said. “Now that I don’t have to study and just work, there’s a lot of things I want to see. I’ve been to Houston and New Orleans, but not the East Coast or the (San Francisco) Bay Area. There’s a lot of stuff to explore there.”

Read more Front and Center stories online. Do you know a student, staff, volunteer or faculty member at the University of Mississippi Medical Center whose story would make an interesting feature or deserves to be recognized? Think about someone with outstanding job commitment, fascinating hobby or amazing accomplishment.

To nominate someone to be considered for a Front and Center feature, just complete and submit this short form. If that person is picked for a feature, a member of the Communications and Marketing staff will contact him or her to learn more about his or her personal story.