Bringing Health Care to Those in Need

MARCH 01, 2008
Barbara Sax

Ms. Sax is a freelance writer based in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Noelle Rizzo

For Noelle Rizzo, a third-year pharmacy student at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy, a career in pharmacy is all about helping others—even those with limited resources.

"She is a wonderful example of the caring attitudes and behaviors we wish all of our students and faculty possessed and displayed," said William Lubawy, PhD, associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy. "She is the poster child for volunteer and community service work."

In the past 2 years, Rizzo has participated in 4 medical mission trips to South America along with physicians, nurses, dentists, and pharmacists. On her first mission with Latin American Missions, she spent 1 week in a medical clinic in El Salvador helping to dispense medication and translated and counseled patients. Her second mission was a 2-week program in Lima, Peru, in which she helped establish a formulary and helped set up a clinic pharmacy. Her fluency in Spanish was invaluable—she was able to help develop additional labeling information in Spanish so that patients could read information about their medications. She also was part of a team that met with Peru's minister of health.

About the School

One of the top 10 pharmacy schools in the United States, the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy is a leader in pharmacy education, clinical care, and pharmaceutical research.

Established in 1870, the college officially became a division of the University of Kentucky in 1947. The college added the doctor of pharmacy and doctor of philosophy degree programs, pharmacy practice residencies, clinical service programs, and a program for postdoctoral scholars under the leadership of Dean Joseph V. Swintosky. The Center of Pharmaceutical Science and Technology also was added. Under the current leadership of Dean Kenneth B. Roberts, the college has more than tripled its endowment funding, increased research income, and doubled its National Institutes of Health funding.

The college's research discoveries and innovations have earned international recognition. Faculty, graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and staff conduct front-line research in areas of pharmacy. Drug discovery, drug development, therapeutics, and pharmaceutical policy are the 4 major areas of research at the college.

She returned to El Salvador for her third mission, where she helped inventory medicines in the clinic, write standardized dosing regimens for all medications and standardize labels, and package medications for dispensing. On her last mission in Ica, Peru, she spent 2 weeks helping to dispense medication, acting as a translator, and helping to triage patients. She also worked with physicians and dentists to determine how the formularies should be changed.

Rizzo said that her work in South America is the most rewarding work she has done. "We have a significant impact on the people we see," said Rizzo. "People walk for hours to come to us. The weekly salary there is about $25, and a visit to the doctor ranges from $25 to $40, so very few people go to the doctor. The services we provide are really needed." This summer, Rizzo will spend 3 months in Latin America on various missions to Peru, Nicaragua, Panama, and Ecuador.

On the professional/public health front, Rizzo also is very active. As the American Pharmacists Association's Academy of Student Pharmacists Region 4 Member at Large, she led a group of over 40 pharmacy students in a "Tobacco- Free Kids" program at 5 YMCA after-school programs that reached about 280 children with tobacco prevention education. "The YMCA was so impressed, they want her to repeat the program in 2008 and expand it to more schools," said Dr. Lubawy.

"This year, we will go to 11 schools," she said. "Our volunteers grew from 40 last year to 100 this year, so our target is to reach over 600 kids."

The Wal-Mart/Pharmacy Times RESPy AWARD (Respect, Excellence, and Service in Pharmacy) is presented to the student who has made a difference in his or her community by demonstrating excellence in pharmaceutical care. For more information, please visit

Rizzo currently serves on the university's World AIDS Day Planning Committee, works at a Diabetes Family Fun Day, and volunteers at local flu immunization. As an intern at a local pharmacy, Rizzo translates for Spanish-speaking patients who cannot speak English.

After graduating, Rizzo plans to pursue a pharmacy career in public health. "I really see myself in a public health role, particularly helping indigent populations," she said. "I came to pharmacy with the goal of helping people, and for me, it is more about that than about the salary. I would like to see medical missions expanded to other parts of South America that are not currently served."