RESPy Winner Learns from the Homeless

NOVEMBER 01, 2006
Iris Rosendahl

Lauren Hynicka, a fourth-year student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy, learned a lot about people when she became involved in a homeless outreach initiative. In her first term at the school, Lauren volunteered to help a member of the faculty—Teresa Donegan, PhD—in a program designed to assist the homeless in Pittsburgh. She recruited "5 of her peers to help collect warm clothing, blankets, and make food packets" for distribution on Pittsburgh's streets, said Patricia Dowley Kroboth, PhD, dean, in her letter nominating Lauren for the Pharmacy Times/Wal-Mart RESPy award.

"I like to bake," said Lauren, who made Christmas cookies and, along with her fellow students, made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and placed apples and oranges in the packets for the homeless. "We set up boxes at Whole Foods to collect clothing, sorted them out, and handed them out on Thursday nights at Market Square in downtown Pittsburgh." Although she was "freezing the whole time" in a bitter winter, "the experience made us appreciate what we had. We learned that homelessness isn't always a choice. It could happen to anyone...who loses a job or has a bad divorce," she said. "The experience opened both sets of eyes.We learned from each other."

"She was so touched by the experience," that she asked Dr. Donegan if "it would be possible to develop [this initiative] into a service/experiential-learning practicum" for the next term, said Dean Kroboth. She also pointed out that Lauren has an "impressive capacity to maintain a high academic standing while balancing her leadership in school and professional organizations, as well as community service initiatives."

Lauren's participation last summer in an Association for Prevention Teaching and Research (APTR) program was another valuable experience. As a member of the Paul Ambrose Scholars program (named for a physician who died on September 11, 2001, in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon), she went to Washington, DC, for a weekend to hear experts speak about subjects ranging from social justice to preventive medicine. The meeting "gave the students a chance to talk to professionals" from many disciplines.

Lauren was given a "micro-grant" of $200 by APTR to help screen patients in a free clinic in Pittsburgh for high cholesterol. The clinic was designed to help patients with acute problems, but "it has become a primary care clinic" and helps patients with diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, said Lauren. She is in the process of designing a program to fight high cholesterol.

Currently doing a rotation at a pharmacy in Lancaster, Pa, where she fills prescriptions and counsels patients, she hopes to do a residency in general practice and to specialize in primary care in the future. Her interest in primary care was triggered by an earlier rotation in Colorado in a physician's office where she "did consults and helped manage patients." As part of that rotation in the Kaiser Permanente health care system, she worked in diabetes and blood pressure clinics, as well as a couple of Senior Health Fairs aimed at patients over age 70. She checked dosages and patients' tolerance for medications. "In primary care, we're able to order labs and change medications.We have an impact on patients' care."

As her rotations and volunteer work indicate, Lauren is "very much a self-starter," said Gary Stoehr, PharmD, associate dean, school of pharmacy. "She knows how to start something and finish it." In addition, "she's very positive and upbeat." Though he has not seen her in a clinical setting, he said, "I imagine patients would love her."

Ms. Rosendahl is a freelance writer based in Fort Lee, NJ.

About the College

University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy

Chartered in 1878, the School of Pharmacy—located in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh—is the oldest of the University of Pittsburgh's Schools of the Health Sciences. The school's 4-year PharmD program has a curriculum that "integrates science and practice throughout the course of study; emphasizes team building through collaborative group work; leads the nation in its service learning program; and offers professionally and technologically advanced methods of instruction delivery," according to its Web site. The School of Pharmacy also offers graduate training at the doctoral level.