Pharmacists Help Refugees Navigate US Medicine

NOVEMBER 10, 2015
Meghan Ross, Associate Editor
Refugees trying to restart their lives in the United States must adapt to a new country, new language, and new ways of obtaining their medications, which is where pharmacists can step in to help.

Pharmacy students at The Ohio State University have created a class that helps foreigners learn how to ask for help at a pharmacy and get the medication they need.

Recently, a class of 8 refugees from Bhutan met in Columbus, Ohio, to receive this crash course on pharmacy, PRI reported.

Many of the refugees had fled their country, located in South Asia, and traveled to refugee camps in Nepal before arriving in Ohio.

The Ohio State pharmacy students noticed that medicine was a gap in the refugees’ knowledge about life in the United States, so they created the class to teach them about prescription labels, refills, dosages, expiration dates, and skills such as how to open a child-proof pill bottle, PRI reported.

The pharmacy students also advised the refugees to tell their health care providers if they take herbal supplements, since they may interact with other medications.

The refugees also received a handout with images and accompanying English words for common ailments like cough, headache, fever, and sore throat.

Learning about pharmacy operations was vital for the new US residents. If the refugees were uncertain about how a pharmacy worked, then they would be less likely to get their medication and take it medication correctly, which could lead to illness and an inability to work.

So, at the end of the class, the refugees visited a Kroger pharmacy, where they learned about the pick-up and drop-off windows. They were also introduced to a machine that was foreign to all of the Bhutanese natives: the blood pressure monitor. They all lined up to try it out, PRI reported.

“I might see these people walking around, but I would have no idea what their stories were or where they came from, or even what language they spoke,” Kroger pharmacist Ben Michaels told PRI.

The Kroger pharmacy also uses a phone-based medical translation service that can translate Nepali in about a minute and a half. Michaels told PRI that the service helps prevent errors, and patients tend to be loyal to the pharmacy.

A pharmacy fellow at Ohio State named Helen Kim helped launch the program, PRI reported. It is easy for Kim to show empathy toward refugees, since she was also a newcomer to the country when she was young.

She moved from South Korea to Canada, and finally to the United States.

Refugee Santa Bahadur told PRI that the class gave him the confidence he needed. He said his son had a bad cough, but he did not even know where a pharmacy was.

“From today—alone!—I can come here and buy medicine,” he told PRI. “It is a great opportunity. It is a great occasion for me.”


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