Alumna Goes From Abandoned Chocolate Factory to Pharmacy School

Anna Lavotchin’s story about becoming a pharmacist begins more like a story you might expect in a Russian novel.

When she was 2 years old, Anna’s grandmother led her family out of their native Russia to escape religious persecution. The Lavotchins rode trains from Russia to Vienna, Austria.

“In Vienna, all the refugees slept in an abandoned chocolate factory,” Anna said. “That’s actually my first memory. I remember the cement floors, and I remember a green wall

“I asked my parents about it years later, and they said, ‘That’s exactly right.’”

Struggling to Make a Living

Anna lived in the factory for a few months before her family traveled to Italy. After three months there, they landed in upstate New York, with only 70 rubles (worth $100) in their pockets.

“You can imagine how it was starting off, with having just the 70 rubles,” Anna said. “And that’s really all we had.”

And they had even more challenges: Since they were educated in Russia’s Socialist system, Anna’s parents earned more for doing manual labor in Russia than they would in the US.

“My mother went to school to be a crane operator and made a lot more than doctors,” Anna said. “Here, it was the opposite system, so they had to reinvent themselves to live.”

Even back then, Anna remembers thinking, “‘Will I get to go to college because of this? This is kind of hard.’”

Anna Pursues Science

When Anna was in middle school, her family moved to South Carolina, where Anna’s mother heard about the state’s good weather. Anna and her brother focused on making good grades in school. They both went to Furman University, and Anna majored in biology.

“I always loved science,” Anna said. “I would always climb a tree.

“The thing is, I don’t even love plants that much. I just always liked to climb a tree and just think about science.”

Anna first thought about going to medical school and becoming a surgeon. But she thought otherwise.

“I always thought I would be a surgeon, and I realized I’m afraid of blood,” she said. “I mean, as in operating, so that’s what kept me from pursuing any other routes in the medical sphere.”

A Heart for Service

After Furman, Anna went to Bible school in California.

“After my grandmother I’m named after passed away, I had to go to a place where I felt like I was supported with a lot of prayer,” Anna said.

Anna learned Greek in Bible school and studied the Bible in the morning. In the afternoon, she volunteered her time helping troubled youth in Los Angeles.

Anna stayed at the school for nearly two years before returning home to Simpsonville. She began working as a pharmacy technician at a CVS when she returned home.

Anna chose to be a pharmacy technician to expose herself to the medical field. She saw it as an opportunity to learn about medications and the pharmacy profession while also thinking about other medical professions she may be interested in.

Anna Hears About PC

But pharmacy offered more than she expected.

“There is so much to learn, even on the retail side,” Anna said.

One of Anna’s co-workers at CVS, Marija Betejeva, was also from Russia. She was an intern from the PC School of Pharmacy and told Anna about the pharmacy school.

“‘You can’t even imagine how awesome it is,’ I remember Marija saying,” Anna recalled. “‘They’ve got such a family environment, and you’re going to really thrive there because of the personal attention.’”

Anna also remembers Marija raving about the fact that professors teach all of the classes, and they even took attendance.

“And I would say, ‘I’m glad there’s mandatory attendance because you don’t want to miss the day you learn about Clonidine giving you reverse rebound hypertension, where a person could potentially die, and you just missed that lecture,’” Anna said. “You’re present, you’re there, and you learn a lot.”

A Part of a Team

Anna took Marija’s advice and applied to the PC School of Pharmacy. Once there, she realized what Marija said about the pharmacy school was true.

Anna asked lots of questions in her pharmacy classes and noticed that the professors encouraged it. The professors were often available to help students after class too.

“You’re walking in the hallway, and you’re asking a professor to reiterate a concept,” Anna said. “It’s almost like they’re too available.

“I feel kind of bad for them because they need to go home too. Constant availability in every sphere. And I’m not just overstating this, that’s the way it was when I was there.”

Anna also loved being part of a cohort of students. She said the students and professors truly support one another too.

“Everyone is so welcoming, and they’re high-fiving you in the hallways,” Anna said. “Everyone knows each other, as opposed to undergrad when you don’t have the same people in every class.”

Anna says it’s also helpful that the professors know about your other classes.

“They try not to schedule things that interfere with your other classes,” Anna said. “It’s just so beautiful.”

Being Over-prepared for a Pharmacy Career

Anna says she noticed when she was on her rotations how prepared she was for a career in pharmacy. She said she would naturally compare herself to students from other pharmacy schools.

“I would keep seeing, on and on, that PC students would be more prepared to answer the questions the preceptors had for us,” Anna said. “We would always be the first to answer.”

Anna credits her professors for preparing her for a career she loves.

“Our professors apparently over-taught us, I would say, which is a good thing,” Anna said. “You can go to any sphere of pharmacy, and then you end up being the best retail pharmacist too. It’s quite involved.”

Anna’s little brother, David, is finishing up his first year of pharmacy school at PC. He sits in the same seat that Anna sat in during lecture, at the very front.

Visit Us this Saturday

This weekend, accepted students and their families will meet the professors that Anna Lavotchin says “over-taught” her. Always a fun event, PC School of Pharmacy faculty, staff and current students welcome the incoming class for a day of learning what to expect, fellowship and barbeque.