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Ali’s Story: A Refugee Pharmacist Using His Career to Give Back to Others

In 2010, a man named Ali AlQaisi arrived to the U.S. as a refugee from Iraq. At home in Baghdad, he had worked as a pharmacist. But when he and his family arrived to the United States, he faced the challenge of starting over entirely. He had to rebuild his life. He had to restart his career.

But the journey to gaining his credentials and returning to the health sector would not be an easy one.

The challenges could be easy to overlook In 2022, Ali is a clinical specialist with CVS Health and is board certified in geriatric pharmacy. By any standard, his is a story of massive success. He even won a 2021 Paragon Award, a recognition from Omicron of CVS Health that is “granted to an exceptional employee who best embodies the company’s values, is a model of excellence, and lives its purpose every day.”

But Ali is not just excelling in his career. Part of his mission is to help others in his community…so that all can succeed! One way he does that is by tutoring immigrant medical professionals preparing for pharmacy exams. Each person must pass the exam to practice in the United States, but this can be challenging to manage in a new language while working to support a family and navigating a new cultural environment. Ali walks with other immigrants as they study, and he helps connect them with internship and job opportunities so that they can grow in their careers.

“I know what an overwhelming experience it is to start over in a new country. If I can help ease the transition of one refugee, it is worth it.”

Ali AlQaisi, a refugee from Iraq

Hear Ali share more of his story below.

Fleeing Violence in Search of Hope

My family and I left our hometown in 2006 due to sectarian violence. This violence hits very close because I lost my dad to it. We left the country and went to Lebanon where we registered as a refugee with the United Nations. We waited there for four years and in 2010, we came to the United States.

I arrived here with my wife, my seven-month-old son, my mom, and my younger brother.

I can recall that day as the happiest day in our lives. It was also a day full of uncertainty and fear. As like with many other refugees, our main struggle was the language barrier, cultural gap, and adapting to the new system in the United States. When I say the new system, I mean every single detail in our daily life is a struggle for the immigrant and the new arrival.

When I came here, I was 30 years old, and I did not know how to get groceries or baby formula for my son.

I felt incapable of taking care of myself and my family. I look back and have no idea how we could have made it without the help and support we received from World Relief. World Relief was there from the first day as they waited for us at the airport. They provided us with everything we needed to settle down and they guided us step by step.

They provided ESL classes, helped us find jobs, they connected us with a community of well-established families and volunteers, and helped us adapt to the system.

A Career Pathway Back to Pharmacy

Our first year here, I worked in a factory. I was so happy and grateful to provide for my family while I was navigating a very complicated healthcare system in order to transfer my license as a pharmacist. Back then I did not know any foreign pharmacists who had gone through the same process, and this made it very challenging. I did not know how to start. I did not know when to start.

In June 2011, we had our second baby. At that time, I was preparing to take my first exam and I was so terrified and scared to fail that exam because the exam cost $800. I could not afford to lose $800 if I failed the exam, but my wife encouraged and supported me to take it. I took the exam and passed it. We were so determined to succeed. We did all that we could.

The first couple of years in the United States, we did not have a social life. We would work, study, and prepare to take exams. I worked seven days a week and studied for the exam. My wife took care of the kids and worked a part-time job while she was preparing to take exams.

In the beginning of 2014, I became a registered pharmacist in the state of Illinois. Today, I am a licensed pharmacist in 11 states and a board-certified specialist in geriatric pharmacy. My wife is a hospital pharmacy manager. We are blessed with three kids.

Giving Back as a Pharmacist

Since the first day our struggle ended, we made a commitment to support new arrivals and refugees on their journey.

My story is a great example of when you are helping an individual, you are not just helping one person, but you are helping the community. It has an exponential impact.

Ali’s Story: A Pharmacist Using His Skills to Give Back to Other Refugees

Leading From Where You Are

Ali demonstrates what it means to lead from where you are. He is actively engaged in the Chicagoland community using his professional expertise to help newly arriving refugees navigate the American health system, ensure they attend medical appointments, and reduce language and cultural barriers to support adherence to their treatment plan. And by supporting others in their careers, he is helping build a stronger community.

He is creating lasting change.

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