Faces of Cedars-Sinai: Pharmacist Manager Donna Leang
Jan 10, 2020 Agata Smieciuszewski
Meet Donna Leang, a pharmacist manager at Cedars-Sinai!
In 1979, Donna arrived in the US with her family after seeking refuge from the Vietnam War. Her family had spent the last 4 years fighting for a better life, and they finally landed in Buena Park, California, which has led her to a nearly 2-decade career at Cedars-Sinai.
"My Chinese name translates to willow tree, which is where aspirin originates from. I like to say I was predestined to be a pharmacist!"
We sat down with her to learn more about her journey and her job dealing with lifesaving medication.
Q: What's your role at Cedars-Sinai?
Donna Leang: I'm a Cedars-Sinai pharmacist manager overseeing medication safety, and I've been here for 19 years.
My job is to the make the system safer for our patients by looking for new information from the FDA, the California Department of Public Health, etc. I also keep an eye on our systems and processes to ensure that they work correctly and minimize errors.
Q: What inspired you to pursue pharmacy as a career?
DL: I've always been drawn to the sciences, and the use of medicines and making patients feel better immediately was really interesting to me.
In Eastern medicine, a lot of things originate from plants—like herbals and grasses. And what I've learned in school validates that a lot of our medicines today came from plants.
My Chinese name translates to willow tree, which is where aspirin originates from. I like to say I was predestined to be a pharmacist!
Q: What excites you about the future of your field?
DL: I think a lot of the work that pharmacists are doing to ensure safe patient care and correct medications is really exciting.
I think as a culture, if you're sick, you take a med, and when you have side effects from those meds, you start taking more meds to treat those side effects. Patients end up on a lot of medications, some of which they probably don't even need or don't even know why they're on.
Pharmacists spend a lot of time thinking about whether that medication is appropriate for that patient and ensuring that those medications are correct.
Q: What do you like about your job?
DL: I work with an amazing department, and the people I work with in other departments are amazing too! Their dedication to patients is so honorable—and that's why I continue to work here.
So many people have asked me, "There are hospitals in Orange County, right?" And yes, I could probably find a job in Orange County, but the kind of care that we provide here you can't find in other institutions.
Q: Are you from LA?
DL: I was born in Vietnam, and my family is Chinese in origin.
In 1975, my mom decided that we needed to leave Vietnam as soon as possible because of the war. After a failed attempt to buy a boat that resulted in my dad going to prison, we bought passage on another boat for me and my 10 family members.
We were trying to get to Hong Kong, but the boat ran into rocks and started taking on water. We ended up getting rescued by the Malaysian government and living on an island until a church sponsored us to move here in 1979. I was 6 years old.
Q: Is your family still in this area now?
DL: Yes, we landed at LAX and we didn't go far. I literally landed with the clothes on my back, so I always reflect about how there are so many opportunities in this country.
If you had asked me 40 years ago where I would be now, I would have never said, "I'm going to be in the US having a great career."
Q: How do you spend your free time?
DL: I love to travel, and my goal before I retire is to hit all 50 states. And I try to do at least one international trip a year.
I also live pretty far from work, so I spend a lot of time commuting! I actually love my car, especially the autopilot.
Q: What are some of your favorite travel spots?
DL: Asia's been great—I really like some of the historical areas like Angkor Wat in Cambodia or the Great Wall of China. Japan was also super interesting.
I just came back from a week in Iceland, and seeing the northern lights was amazing. Italy is always a fun place, and I went to Switzerland last year. Machu Picchu also was amazing.