Pharmacy Students Caring For The Community

MARCH 11, 2018
Pharmacy students at the Harrison School of Pharmacy at the University of Auburn, and medical students at the University of South Alabama have been working together to offer a free clinic for the underserved in Mobile, Alabama. Matt Crouch, from the Harrison School of Pharmacy, describes this as a “story of outreach that speaks to Auburn’s land grant mission of helping to provide citizens of Alabama access to needed services.”

The Harrison School of Pharmacy curriculum, like many other pharmacy schools, emphasizes problem solving and teamwork. Three years ago, a group of first-year students on the school’s Mobile campus recognized a problem and worked as a team to solve it.

The group of students had seen a meaningful impact at Equal Access Birmingham, a student-run free clinic where Auburn pharmacy students, and medical students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham partner to help the underserved. The group of students considered starting a similar clinic in Mobile. Led by Anthony Todd, Frankie Hoffman, Austin Cook, and Josh Francis, (students of the class of 2018), the students reached out to friends in other health disciplines, and laid the foundation for the University of South Alabama Student-Run Free Clinic.

The organization recently moved to a larger space at the Salvation Army of Coastal Alabama. The clinic is open every Friday from 12-4:30 p.m., and students from several different health care disciplines participate in patient care. Collaboration and teamwork is strong with this group—students recognize and appreciate that health care requires different disciplines to help the patient. Patients of the clinic are often homeless or in a recovery program offered through the Salvation Army.

I spoke with Kelli Caddell, a class of 2019 pharmacy student and student leader of the clinic. She explained that pharmacy students and medical students work together at every level—they volunteer in the exam rooms, host educational events, create policies and protocols at the clinic, collaborate on research, and work together to obtain donations to maintain clinic supplies.

Ms. Caddell explained that the USA Student-Run Free Clinic utilizes student volunteers from nine different disciplines: pharmacy, medicine, nursing, physician assistant, physical therapy, occupational therapy, audiology, recreational therapy, and clinical counseling. Students from these specialties work together to create a plan for the patient’s care. All students work together in the exam room—taking vitals, history, and physical exam, then present to the attending physician. The student team then returns to the patient for counseling and to address any referrals that may be needed, and then updates the electronic health record to monitor progress.

Ms. Caddell enjoys the learning opportunities that this experience provides. She has been exposed to patients from many backgrounds and beliefs and has been able to gain a lot of practice working with patients and providers. She has even had a chance to mentor other pharmacy students, as well as students from other disciplines. Ms Caddell enjoys serving the community and growing the clinic to offer more services and impact more patients.

Ms. Caddell recalled a meaningful experience that showed what an impact these students make. A male patient, after a stroke, also had atrial fibrillation, and couldn’t afford his medications. When he came to the clinic, he had a significant deficit on his right side, especially in his hands, which affected his ability to do one of his favorite things—write. The students were able to work with him on exercises to build his strength, and work on his grip and writing. A stress ball helped this patient a lot. The man became emotional and told the students they made him feel important and like they cared about him. 

This experience showed Ms. Caddell and her fellow students that something that seemed so small, like a stress ball, made such a significant impact on this patient’s quality of life. In doing so, these students have the opportunity to meaningfully impact these patient’s lives.

I asked Ms. Caddell if participating in this clinic helps change the perception of pharmacists as 'pill counters' and she absolutely thinks so. The medical students are impressed with the pharmacy students' vast amount of knowledge, such as the time she was able to counsel a diabetic patient on diagnosis, blood glucose and A1C goals, and treatment options. She explained that these types of instances occur regularly at the clinic, and pharmacy students have a lot of knowledge to offer.

Ms. Caddell feels that the knowledge and experience gained by volunteering at the clinic will be carried forward in her career, and has reinforced her desire to pursue a residency and work in a collaborative environment. She also would like to teach/mentor pharmacy students. Her time at the clinic has shown her the kind of healthcare provider she wants to be and strive to become. 

This is 1 amazing example of students using their knowledge to give back to the community. I would love to share more stories of what students, as well as pharmacists, are doing to help the community. Email me at karenmichelleberger@gmail.com
 

Karen Berger, PharmD
Karen Berger, PharmD
Karen Berger, PharmD, graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy in 2001. She has worked in community pharmacies for over 16 years as a Pharmacist in Charge, staff, and floater pharmacist for a large chain. Currently, she is a pharmacist at an independent pharmacy in Northern NJ. She can be reached at karenmichelleberger@gmail.com
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