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A KGI PharmD Alum and Student Get Engaged in Paris, Bonding Through Their Mutual Support While Pursuing Careers in Pharmacy

Richard Abaniel and Carolyn Saba, an alum and fourth-year student in Keck Graduate Institute (KGI)’s Doctor of Pharmacy program, recently got engaged with a romantic Paris proposal before the Eiffel Tower. They have bonded through their shared Filipino heritage and support for one another in overcoming challenges and celebrating successes as they pursue careers within the pharmaceutical industry.

They initially met after Abaniel, PharmD ’20, founded KGI’s Pilipino Graduate Student Association and announced the new organization to Saba’s first-year class. They got to know each other better throughout the school year, and their connection grew.

Because Abaniel was two years ahead of Saba in school, he continually provided guidance—something she deeply appreciates.

“It’s been rough with school transitioning online, but he’s been very supportive the whole time,” Saba said. “Also, I was able to get his input when it came to choosing my rotations going into my fourth year, which is the most important thing when it comes to securing a fellowship.”

Abaniel is now completing the second year of his Medical Affairs Fellowship with Abbott Diabetes Care. At the same time, Saba recently landed a Health Economics and Outcomes Research (HEOR) Fellowship, where she will be with Thomas Jefferson University and Teva Pharmaceuticals.

Abaniel gained valuable experience working with diabetes patients during his rotations as a KGI student, where he worked with Assistant Professor of Clinical Sciences Dr. Stephanie Kourtakis for Riverside University Health Systems in ambulatory care.

“That rotation was exciting to me because it intertwines in a positive feedback loop in regard to clinical knowledge and the pharmaceutical industry,” Abaniel said. “The clinical knowledge that you learn in rotation translates well into your pharmaceutical therapeutic area knowledge, so having that rotation helped differentiate me. For example, I could talk about the patient experience navigating insurance.”

At Abbott Diabetes Care, he has played an integral role in launching a new Medical Information platform.

“We have stakeholders across the globe, which also means that they speak various languages,” Abaniel said. “I became the subject matter expert in this platform, helping create slide decks for training sessions on standard operating procedures in regard to troubleshooting any situation. Not only am I learning a lot, but I love the team I’m working with.”

Through Abaniel, Saba has gotten a first-hand glimpse into how fellowships work.

“I was fortunate enough to witness his transition into a fellowship role after graduation and overhear some of his meetings from time to time,” Saba said.

“Through that, it piqued my interest in getting more exposure to different functional areas in pharma and potentially going for a fellowship myself.”

Having access to Abaniel’s knowledge and support helped her through the difficult process of landing a fellowship.

“I underestimated how challenging applications would be,” Saba said. “I went into the fellowship interviews already having solid years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry, but fellowship interviews are just different and more challenging.”

However, her rotation with Becton & Dickinson gave her an edge over other applicants. She worked with professionals from different backgrounds, including pharmacists within health economics and outcomes. In addition, she was given a strong foundation in HEOR from KGI Associate Professor of Administrative Sciences Dr. Nazia Rashid, who first ignited her interest in the field.

Another KGI professor who has been influential for both Saba and Abaniel is Professor of Practice Dr. Daniel Kudo, who has mentored them over the years, helping them navigate the fellowship process and giving them advice for life after graduation.

This past fall, Abaniel and Saba took time out of their busy schedules to visit Europe. Abaniel proposed to Saba in Paris—the final city they visited—at the Jules Verne, a Michelin restaurant situated inside the Eiffel Tower.

“If the vibe was right, I might have proposed in another city,” Abaniel said. “We visited many scenic, romantic places. But for whatever reason—God or fate—I ended up doing it in Paris, which was perfect.”

Other future plans include relocating to Philadelphia after graduation for Saba’s fellowship and a destination wedding. They are excited for this next phase of their life in another state.