Sal Camargo

He hails from a small town in rural Mexico, a place where opportunities are few and dreams limited. But long before KVH Hospital pharmacist Salvador (Sal) Camargo ever considered a pharmacy career,  his father Salvador and his mother Carmen were teaching lessons that would pave the way. Among them: Work hard – and get an education.

The first was taught by example; the second came as advice.

“In Mexico we were very poor,” Sal says. “My father had a second grade education and took various jobs to help his parents, from herding cows to working in the corn fields.” To forge a better future, the elder Camargo came to the U.S. and became a seasonal crop worker, earned legal residency and eventually brought his wife and two young sons, Sal, then two and a half, and Adán, a year younger, to the Wenatchee area.

Carmen joined her husband in the orchards, taking the boys with her and, after landing a job as a Head Start assistant, still picked cherries in the summer.  When she became a naturalized citizen so did the boys because neither was yet 18.

“My brother and I started working really young,” Sal recalls. “At the end of the day everyone would be worn out. My father would notice how tired we were and lean down and say, 'If you don't want to do back breaking work all your life, focus on your education.'"

Consider the advice taken. “My brother and I kind of set a goal,” Sal says. “No one in our family had ever gone to college. My dad wanted us to break the mold.”

After graduating from Cashmere High, Sal headed off to Wenatchee Valley College, uncertain of what he wanted to do. “But I took all the math and science I could get,” says Sal, who eventually decided on a career in health care and began exploring options.

Adán, intent on becoming a pharmacist, suggested Sal consider the same field. The two brothers moved on to pharmacy school at Washington State University. The final year of the four-year program is spent doing rotations in hospitals and clinics. Nasser Basmeh, director of pharmacy at KVH Hospital, calls the training partnership between universities and healthcare organizations like KVH a win-win situation. Students bring cutting-edge knowledge to the medical organizations they work with while gaining real-world experience. “They learn from us. We learn from them,” Basmeh says.

Sal's first stop? KVH Hospital where his determination, knowledge and willingness to learn  impressed Basmeh. “I instantly liked it,” Sal says. “I decided it was the right place for me within the first week. It was like a gut instinct. I liked the hospital. I liked the community. I felt like I fit into the pharmacy team.”

Five other rotations followed, including one at a larger hospital, three at clinics and, when a planned rotation with one organization suddenly fell through, a second stint at KVH.

Last May, Sal's parents watched proudly as both sons graduated from pharmacy school, the couple's presence underscoring the significance of that achievement. “My father never misses a day of work,” Sal says. “Even when he's sick he goes to work. But both our parents were there.”

Even after graduating, Sal continued volunteering on a special project at KVH. In December, he passed his pharmacy boards and in February was offered a part-time position at KVH, a position Basmeh hopes will become full time by year's end. Sal says it felt like coming home.

“I come from a small town and I have small town values like responsibility, commitment, hard work and respect,” he says. “I've been to big hospitals and to small hospitals. I have to say this is the best I've seen in terms of making changes to positively impact patient health. They're very progressive. It feels like the perfect place for me.”

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