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The Courage of Conviction

In the changing landscape of community pharmacy, it is no secret that small, independent, family owned establishments are increasingly rare. Sun Sun Pharmacy, in Monterey Park, Calif., is one such pharmacy, servicing a devoted and loyal clientele who benefit from highly personal, expert care.


For many years, Dr. Grace Hong has been helping to provide that care, albeit in a number of varied ways. Sun Sun Pharmacy is co-owned by her father, Mike Min-kan Hong, and like so many family stores, Grace began working for him while young, helping out where she could with tasks like serving as unofficial interpreter, proofreading audits, and reviewing legal work. After receiving her PharmD as a member of MBKU College of Pharmacy’s first graduating class, Grace’s duties have expanded, and she now helps to run the pharmacy as a partner to her parents. Though the work may be challenging and the hours long, Dr. Grace Hong is a persistent and dedicated care provider, and she stands with conviction in a gap that her many underserved, immigrant patients might otherwise slip through, a bulwark against the impersonal or overly corporatized health care that often dominates today.

All the same, the demands of the job ask that Grace greet each moment with a down-to-earth, humble sense of humor and a reluctance to swell her pride. This isn’t always such a challenge in a family-owned establishment, where more traditional markers of success, such as promotions or positive employee reviews, are not always readily given. Grace must therefore chart her accomplishments more modestly: a plate of cookies and cakes from a grateful patient, or a special lunch made and brought to her during her frantic or nonexistent lunch hours, or her father calling late to ask, “Did you eat?”


Though Grace has long been answering the call to assist in her family’s businesses, it was not a foregone conclusion that she would enter the profession of pharmacy. She went through undergrad as a humanities major, with the goal of becoming an artist, a development that she admits did not thrill her parents. Even after becoming a licensed technician, and taking appropriate prerequisites to somewhat placate her parents’ dreams, Grace resisted pharmacy as a career. It wasn’t until she entered a Health Executive MBA program almost on a whim that the notion of pharmacy as a true option rose in her thinking, nurtured by the recognition she received from the many other health professionals in her program. “I did not fully know my own worth at the time,” says Grace. “As a tech, I sometimes felt like I was just performing errands. But in the MBA program, I was working with these amazing physicians and nurses who were older than me, and they figured me out, legitimized my work and helped build my confidence.” Around this time, Grace’s father became ill, and her stronger sense of assurance combined with the knowledge that she was the most feasible choice to preserve the family business led her to take the leap, and she applied to a brand-new College of Pharmacy at Marshall B. Ketchum University.


That first COP class at MBKU is a special one, since they took the biggest step of faith in a program not yet fully accredited and still developing its identity. While acknowledging there were not unreasonable hiccups and some growing pains, Grace is grateful for all the hard work of her classmates, faculty, administrators and staff to build a strong foundation for the COP’s subsequent achievement. “At the beginning there was certainly a lot of adjusting,” says Grace. “But we always had great professors who really cared about us and were very supportive, and the school worked very hard to include us. I truly believe that Dr. Rajesh Vadlapatla saw something in me that I didn’t yet see in myself. And Dr. Josh Garcia was instrumental in establishing that culture of camaraderie. He was always bringing students together.”

Dr. Grace Hong and her parents at their family owned pharmacy

Grace excelled at MBKU, involving herself in multiple professional organizations and shining in a student internship at St. Joseph’s Hospital. She was not, at that time, necessarily planning to continue to work for her parents, but then, during her last rotations, the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. Sun Sun Pharmacy is located across the street from a hospital, with a flow of patients coming from the ER, and her parents and other employees at the pharmacy at high risk by virtue of their age. It made sense for her to take on the responsibility of maintaining the COVID protocols, and so, fresh out of MBKU, Dr. Grace Hong returned to work for her parents – now with a PharmD degree.



Her current approach is to do almost whatever it takes to make sure her patients are cared for well. She remembers all the relevant details of their medical histories and will go the extra mile to negotiate on their behalf with insurance companies so that their essential medications are covered. Part of this is rooted in her own empathetic character, and part is rooted in her experience as the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants. Her mother, Sophie Hong, has always been a source of inspiration and strength for Grace, at home and at Sun Sun Pharmacy. “My mom’s bravery and support of her husband is instrumental to our family’s little success as an immigrant family,” says Grace. “She is always the one to encourage my dad or me to take the leap when we are at our most insecure, and she believes in a woman’s strength in business and in the home.”

Grace’s generosity as a health care provider is made possible by the level of attention she can choose to devote as an independent practitioner. “I try my best, and I think, if this were my family member, I’d hope somebody would try just as hard. I can help people with pricing, I can help them come up with solutions without corporate metrics telling me I’m out of line. Our population is mostly immigrants, who sometimes need a little extra patience and a little extra attention, because many of them don’t know all the ways that health care works here. I have some new patients, a couple, who recently told me, ‘You do not treat us like we are just a number.’ My patients ask for me, because I know exactly who they are!”