Lucy Saldaña, PharmD ’84She knew it had an unmatched academic reputation, but from the moment she arrived in 1980, she got even more than she expected.

“All the professors had an approach of, ‘How can I help you succeed? How can I help you get from point A to point B?’” Dr. Saldaña says. “They were always willing to bend over backward to find ways to help.”

As a young Latina woman on an uncommon career path, she’d found that not everyone around her was so encouraging. Yet at UCSF, she found essential mentors, like Mary Anne Koda-Kimble, PharmD ’69, professor and dean emerita – “I just love her,” Dr. Saldaña says – and Robert Gibson, PharmD ’58, who was the school’s associate dean of student affairs, among other roles. “He was like my guardian angel. He was just incredible,” Dr. Saldaña says. “He watched over many Latino and Black students. He used to have us over for dinner at his house. He’s part of the reason why I succeeded, because he cared so much.”

Finding a Path to Fulfillment

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Dr. Saldaña says she first considered a health care career when her mother went back to school and became a nurse.

She began to follow in her mother’s footsteps but wasn’t sure nursing was for her. Her first boyfriend’s brother was attending the pharmacy school at the University of Southern California sparked her interest in the field and placed her on a path she hadn’t really known existed.

“The science involved was so cool,” she says. “Pharmacy was a way for me to help people, and it was the right fit.”

She spent her first two undergraduate years at UC Santa Barbara and the last two back home in Los Angeles at USC, where she majored in biology.

However, the racism she faced at USC kept her from wanting to continue there. She remembers going to see her neurology professor to ask if she could make an appointment with him outside of his office hours, since they conflicted with her work-study program hours.

“He said, ‘If you have to work to come to USC, you don’t belong here,’” Dr. Saldaña says. “That kind of ugliness was new to me. It shocked me for a while, but I got over it.”

It also helped clarify her way forward: UCSF would be her sole grad school application.

“UCSF embodies pride and cutting-edge work,” she says, “and I felt included there.”

After UCSF, Dr. Saldaña worked in hospital pharmacy in San Diego, New York, Los Angeles, and Denver before returning to San Francisco in 1995.

“That’s where I wanted to end up,” she says.

Dr. Saldaña spent the last 18 years of her career at the regional office of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services as a pharmacist consultant. She retired in 2022 after a 42-year career in pharmacy.

Advocating with an Open Heart

UCSF instilled a spirit of service in Dr. Saldaña that she has paid back many times over in volunteer service in the community and to UCSF itself.

As a member of the UCSF Pharmacy Alumni Association board for the past few years, she has reached out to incoming students to welcome them and offer assistance.

“I just love connecting with students,” she says. “A lot of times, they feel out of place. So I welcome them, open my door, and tell them, ‘If you need anything, just let me know.’”

In addition to opening her heart and home to pharmacy students, Dr. Saldaña volunteers with Court Appointed Special Advocates, supporting children in the court system. She’s motivated by memories of her mother, who was, she remembers, always in “survival mode.” She understands how that can make a child’s options feel narrow.

“Unless someone puts into their head that they have opportunities, a lot of times they just don’t know,” she says. “There’s lots of programs in California for all kinds of people, if they want to get educated, so I get excited about sharing and encouraging and showing people there are amazing options.”

That also extends to the UCSF students she has mentored over the years.

“I’m proud when my students do well,” she says. “And UCSF students always do well.”

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