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Camden pharmacy part of unique program for New Jersey students

Camden pharmacy part of unique program for New Jersey students
Camden pharmacy part of unique program for New Jersey students 02:54

CAMDEN, N.J. (CBS) -- Bell Rexall Drugs, also known as Bell Pharmacy, is one of the oldest neighborhood pharmacies in Camden.

From its retro signage to the most unique medicine bottles, this family-owned business is opening its doors to some of the youngest soon-to-be health care professionals in the community.

Pharmacist Anthony Minniti greets the students, "All right, students good morning, are we ready to do some work today?"

Minniti remembers when he was first learning to count and label prescription bottles.

"I've been where these students are, and that's how I got my start in pharmacy," Minniti said, "I worked in my grandfather's pharmacy when I was 14."

Not quite as young, but just as eager, senior Sheyla Vazquez always envisioned herself working in health care. 

"I used to watch a lot of cartoons related to doctors, every day, it's like a big thing for me," Vasquez said.

Vazquez is one of eight Camden high school students selected in their junior year to be part of the district's first pharmacy technician program. 

It's also the first in the state of New Jersey. 

The students go three days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

CTE instructor Darryl Williams says since the pandemic there's been a decline in filling health care positions. 

He hopes these types of programs become the first step to helping fill so many vacant roles, and Minniti agrees.

"To give them a certified marketable skill in health care professions, that they can not only begin to work right out of high school," Williams said, "but should they choose to go to college, they will have a valuable income stream and at the same time gain valuable experience in the health care community."

"What we've done for so long is we as parents and as school districts have been so hyper-focused on making every student into a college student that we've left this huge gap in our labor market," Minniti said.

Minniti says hands-on experience and real-world interaction will prove to be invaluable for these students if they pursue a career in health care. 

"All that contact, all that experience with seeing drugs everyday, talking to physicians, talking to nurses, it really gives you a background that is very helpful going forward," Minniti said.

As for Vazquez, she's just weeks away from graduation, and she's looking forward to becoming a Wildcat. 

As a first-generation college student, the lessons learned inside this historical pharmacy are preparing her for a bright future.

"You can't let other people tell you you can't do it," Vasquez said. "Don't listen to them, because at the end of the day it's worth it."

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