Pomona Mayor Norma J. Torres talked about how to get your voice heard on important issues on Thursday, Sept. 20, at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, Calif.

Torres spoke to WesternU students, faculty and staff at the invitation of the American Pharmacists Association (APhA). She told students to think about how they can better serve the community.

“Often the issue you’re representing is not the most politically correct or easiest issue to stand behind,” she said. “But your story is very powerful. Your story will come out ahead. You may not always be the most popular person, but it’s the right thing to do.”

Torres, a 911 dispatcher in Los Angeles, still considers herself to be a regular working mom, but an on-the-job incident in the mid ‘90s resulted in her taking on the added role of activist.

An 11-year-old girl who was shot five times had to wait 20 minutes for help while waiting for a Spanish-speaking 911 dispatcher. Torres, who heard the girl’s last words and last breath, found herself speaking out against her own department in calling for more bilingual dispatchers.

“That took me from being the mom and housewife next door to being an activist,” she said.

She offered advice to those who also want to take that step into activism. She suggested they visit with state and federal representatives and send them faxes and postcards on important issues. Politicians will listen to their constituents, she said.

“The door is going to be open, but you need to tell your story,” Torres said.

Torres started as a regular person and rose to her current position, said Kathy Nguyen, 24, PharmD 2011, who graduated from UC Irvine.

“Her stories made it more personal,” Nguyen said. “They motivate you to make a difference because anybody can.”

Political advocacy is an important part of protecting and expanding the pharmacy profession, said Vi Le, APhA-California Pharmacists Association-Academy of Student Pharmacists chapter president.

“Aside from protecting our patient’s rights, as pharmacists we are additionally responsible for educating others about what it is we do and how pharmacists play an integral part of the health care team,” she said. “The visit from the mayor of Pomona serves two basic functions: showing our legislators that pharmacists are truly concerned about the state of our profession, as well as educating our fellow colleagues about the current issues affecting the profession.”

Pharmacists must understand how policy decisions affect their work, Le said.

“It is important to be proactive within legislation so that laws that may harm our patients, as well and our profession, are not implemented without our consideration,” she said.