Bronx resident Maliha Tabassum grew up in Bangladesh and had no idea what a pharmacist was, yet today she has been vaccinating many people against COVID-19 including her parents.
Tabassum, of Norwood, a pharmacy intern at New York-Presbyterian, immigrated to the United States in 2011.
“When my parents (Tarek Ahmad and Laila Khanam) were able to get an appointment, I was honored to give them their shots,” she explained. “There was real relief. You could feel it.”
Tabassum knew her parents were coming in that afternoon in late March and had vaccinated countless patients that day alone, but had no idea she would be the one to administer the shots.
“I was waiting in the queue and when my turn came, I noticed the person who’d be vaccinating me would be my daughter,” Ahmad said.
Tabassum recalled that when she first moved here it was a bit of a culture shock. While her community has a large Bengali population, the rest of the Bronx was quite different.
She was one of the few Southeast Asian students in her school and finding places that served Halal meat was a challenge as well.
“In the beginning I was really scared,” she said.
Fortunately, her aunt, Lila Shamim, was living in Norwood and helped with the transition. Additionally, a high school history teacher, Mr. Cushing, made her feel welcome as well.
But everything changed when she went to a local CVS looking for medicine for her brother who has cerebral palsy. The pharmacist overheard she and her dad speaking in Bengali and quickly chimed in to help, as she was Bengali.
After chatting with her, Tabassum applied for a job and the rest is history. She met the other pharmacists and soon learned that a profession which she had never heard of was what she wanted to do.
In the close knit Bengali community in Norwood, many people began to praise Tabassum for her work at CVS.
“Since we live in the neighborhood everyone knows me and my family,” she explained. “When we go the mosque everyone says your daughter helped me.”
Tabassum graduated from The City College of New York with bachelors in biology and minor in chemistry and is a six year pharmacy student at Long Island University in Brooklyn.
She has been actively involved in the American Pharmacists Association – Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP) and is its chapter president. Additionally, she is involved in the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York and Bangladeshi American Pharmacist Association. In 2020, she was the recipient of the Mary Munson Runge Scholarship, established in honor of a pioneer for women in pharmacy.
Tabassum explained that this past year has been very hard. She lost family members to COVID-19 and her parents and brother have pre-existing conditions, so she was worried about getting them sick.
“This is the time when you can tell what pharmacists can do,” she explained. “A lot of people think we only dispense pills.”
When the pandemic arrived she never imagined it would cause so much devastation, but she stepped up to the plate and did her job. Staying home wasn’t an option.
According to Tabassum, vaccinating people the past few months has been extremely rewarding.
“I’m making some sort of impact on someone’s life,” she said. “It’s history and I’m glad I got to be a part of this. After I vaccinated everyone the patients are like thank you for doing this.”