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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

A Fateful Injury Teaches Jorge Virgen How to Find a Career He Loves

February 6, 2024

Three years before he received his certificate from the Pharmacy Technology program on the Lancaster campus, Jorge Virgen was already licensed and working as a plumber when he suffered a terrible accident. Working in a hole six feet underground, Jorge passed out from heat stroke and had to be evacuated by a machine that damaged his spinal cord so badly he could not move for the next three years. He had no surgery at the time of the injury but began using physical therapy and working with a chiropractor, slowing regaining his strength until he was able to move again.

It was during this period in his life he became fascinated with how pain medication worked and how it affected the body. This curiosity, plus believing he had a unique ability to help others answer such questions about their own pain issues led him to researching pharmacy programs as a new career. At San Joaquin Valley College’s Pharmacy Technology program, “he had a lot of struggles during school but always put school and his future first,” says Jennifer White, Lancaster Campus Director. Today he is moving just fine with only an occasional numbness in his leg. He graduated with a 3.86 GPA and was immediately hired to practice as a Pharm Tech at a Rite Aid pharmacy in California City.

This is his inspiring story.


Tell me about yourself.

My parents are from Mexico; my mom was pregnant with me when they came to the US. I was born in Lancaster and graduated from Antelope Valley High School.


I understand you graduated last September with a 3.86 GPA. How did you learn to study so well?

I was not the greatest student in high school. When I decided to learn plumbing, I had to work really hard. I knew I had ADHD and I had to give studying 100% of my effort. After my accident when I studied Pharmacy Technology, I took it even more seriously.  SJVC made me feel very welcome. It was a great environment. The students around me played a big role. They would help me when I was struggling. Eventually there were times when I understood something faster than they did and I could help them.


Was there any particular teachers who stand out for you?

There were two teachers that really supported me, Erica Zarate and Stephen Landaverde. Every day from the beginning of school I would stay after school to study and ask questions. I was able to help other students too, which in the end helped me as well.


Besides studying were there any other challenges during your time at SJVC?

There was a period last year when there was trouble at home and it was hard to focus. I had to decide I wasn’t going to let any obstacle define my future; I had to fight through it.  I talked to my teacher Erica about it and she helped me figure out how to let go of those problems and not to let it get to me.


What’s the most important thing you learned about yourself while studying in the Pharmacy Technology program?

Patience. Because I have ADHD, I have to stick to it. Especially when something is hard, and you want to give up. But once I get it under control it is easier to learn the material. Helping others helps me too. It’s a little weird, but I like to struggle myself so that others don’t struggle.


Where are you working now?

I was offered a job immediately after school at a Rite Aid pharmacy in California City.


What do you do at the pharmacy?

I answer phone calls and fill prescriptions, collect payments and insurance claims, enter customer information into a computer, restock shelves and let them know about shortages, measure medication quantities for prescriptions …and I help patients by answering their questions.  Because I’ve dealt with pain before, I can be of benefit to someone else who is hurt; I can answer their questions, and deal with their concerns about a medication and its side effects.


Do you have any goals or plans beyond what you are doing now?

I see myself here for a while, but my goal is to work at a hospital. I want to work at Antelope Valley Medical Center, but I need three years’ experience. Now that I’m licensed, I’ll work for three years and then apply to Antelope.


Is there anything you’d like to say to any students reading this about your experience in Pharm Tech or studying at SJVC?

If you feel like you can do it, you can. Don’t second guess yourself. I had a problem second guessing myself because I was too nervous. But I realized my nervousness was because I was passionate about it too. So just take a leap of faith and do it.


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