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A Love for Languages and Life Decisions

Photo of Tasneem Elbasshir wearing a yellow shirt and black blazer. She poses in front of a red background.

Tasneem Elbashir, an NMF/Johnson & Johnson Pharmacy scholar, details how deviating from medical school led her to become a drug expert.  

When diversifying the health care workforce, National Medical Fellowships recognizes the value of addressing the pipeline in its entirety – even beyond doctors, nurses, and clinical researchers.   

Therefore, NMF, in partnership with Johnson & Johnson, developed a $25,000, four-year NMF/Johnson & Johnson Pharmacy Student Scholarship serves aspiring pharmacists from underrepresented backgrounds enrolled at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU).  

One such scholar, Tasneem Elbashir, will earn her Doctor of Pharmacy from University of Maryland Eastern Shore in 2026. 

“My goal is to help combat the biases in medicine that lead to poor patient outcomes for patients of color.”

Twelve-year old Elbashir immigrated from the politically rife Sudan to the rural town of Princess Anne, Maryland in 2011.  

“Never mind the culture shock,” Elbashir said. “I had to cope with the fact that I could neither speak nor understand the language.”  

Elbashir said she learned how to speak English through television shows.  

“And since my parents always wanted a physician in the family, my Dad had me watching every medical show there was,” she added. 

Not only was Elbashir speaking English within two months, but also she fell in love with medicine and planned to become a doctor. 

“Medicine was it for me,” she said.  

Originally a biology major, Elbashir earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Salisbury University in 2021.  

“Chemistry is like any language – you either know how to speak it or you don’t,” she said. “I was told by a professor in my first semester that because of my interest and talent in it, that it might make sense to attend pharmacy school rather than medical school.” 

Still, Elbashir was undeterred. Though her older sister had graduated from pharmacy school back home, Elbashir was determined to become a physician all the way through graduation, the MCATs, and even medical school applications.  

“But my professor’s voice was always in the back of my mind,” she said. “I began to think, was I actually interested in attending medical school? Was I on this path for the right reasons? Or was it just an obsession?”  

Elbashir decided to take a gap year to work with Eurofins, a pharmaceutical company, as a data review scientist in biochemistry – and she was immediately hooked.  

“Okay, so I thought, what now?” Elbashir recalled. “I made the decision to attend pharmacy school within a week. It was impulsive, but it was a great decision that I don’t regret one bit.”  

At University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Elbashir is now part of an accelerated three-year program, with pharmacy students taking nearly 30 credits each semester.  

“I find the human body fascinating,” Elbashir said. “We learn about everything that can go wrong with it, but also we learn about how it regulates itself. 

“It’s insane, and even though there’s so much to study every day, I’m loving it more and more.”  

With an interest in both chemistry and anatomy, Elbashir plans to seek residency as a hospital pharmacist in cardiology.  

“We’re relied on as drug experts; we have to know how each and every drug will affect every system in the body, how it will metabolize, and also how it might be misused. Then we work one-on-one with physicians, making sure they’re up to date on new drugs, that they’re selecting the right ones for each patient, that they’re fully aware of all drug interactions, and more.” 

Elbashir furthers her education by working as a community pharmacy technician at the local Karemore Pharmacy.  

It’s a lot to handle, she said, but advocating for adequate mental health care helps her to process her own demanding schedule.  

“Students here deal with a lot of anxiety and depression trying to be the best versions of ourselves,” she said. “And in what may be perceived as a contradiction to my career, I want to research ways to cope and improve upon these behavioral health issues without medications, if not necessary.  

“Every drug comes with side effects, even if it’s used for good.”  

Elbashir also recognizes how certain drugs can affect patient populations differently.  

“It can even be different for North Africans and East Africans. So, when there is more representation of a particular group, there’s also more understanding of how patients react to a particular medication.”   

When Elbashir is not working or studying, she’s creating an in-school Muslim Pharmacist Association, serving as a student representative to Maryland’s Pharmacy Coalition and as reproductive chair to the American Pharmacist Association, and learning sign language.  

“As an Arabic-speaking African American, I know how it feels to not be able to connect via language,” she said. “I’d like to be able to interpret what others cannot for the most underrepresented populations.”  

With her values closely aligning with that of National Medical Fellowships’, Elbashir said she hopes to continue working with the organization into the future.  

“I believe in diversity and in the knowledge of more than one culture or language,” she said. “It’s imperative to have a greater sense of empathy and understanding for patients in order to improve their outcomes.”  

Testimonial of Impact from Tasneem Elbashir