Patients Over Politics

If you attend an international pharmacy meeting, you will most likely find that pharmacists from all over the world share similar professional concerns.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the 73rd Annual Congress of the International Pharmacy Federation (FIP) in Dublin, Ireland. The theme of the conference was “Towards a Future Vision for Complex Patients: Integrated Care in a Dynamic Continuum.”

I have attended this event for the past 5 years and have noticed a certain rhythm to the conference, which leads me to expect certain things each time I return. For example, probably due to the group’s European origins, there is always a coffee and tea break halfway through the education sessions. In addition, the featured speakers come from a range of different cultures, backgrounds, and experiences. The location of the meeting also varies, giving participants an opportunity to travel to new places and see how pharmacy is practiced in different parts of the world. Finally, the opening general session is always a festive event, presided over by a high ranking government official from the host country and accompanied by excellent musical entertainment.

In addition, there is one notable feature of the meeting that is so simple that it is easily overlooked: In the registration packet, there is a listing of the names and home countries of all those attending. This not only allows me to see who else is present from the United States, but it also lets me know whether other colleagues I have met at past FIP meetings are in attendance. To give a sense of the diverse origins of the meeting’s attendees, this year the largest number came from Nigeria (309), followed by the United States (211), China (203), Ireland (154), and Portugal (135)

As you look carefully at the list of countries attendees hail from, you are sure to notice countries that you have always wanted to visit but have never managed to get to (Australia and New Zealand are at the top of the list for me), countries that you have barely heard of before, and countries you hear about all the time on the evening news. As of October 9, 2013, there were 35 countries on the US Department of State Current Travel Warnings list. Of those 35 countries, 18 (51%) had pharmacists, pharmacy educators, or pharmaceutical scientists attending the meeting.

If you watch the world news today, you frequently hear about unrest in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Iran, and Sudan. Unless you were born in one of these countries, you would be extremely unlikely to choose any of them as the destination for a family vacation due to safety concerns. Depending on the extent of these countries’ disagreements with your own country, you might not even be able to get a visa for entry. However, if you attend an FIP meeting, you could find yourself sitting next to a pharmacist from one of these countries during a symposium or enjoying a meal or coffee with them between sessions.

If you do attend an FIP meeting, and I highly recommend it, you will find that pharmacists from these countries are people just like your neighbors and co-workers. They have stereotypes of Americans that will make you laugh, and are informed about goings on in the United States through world news and the Internet just as we are about their countries. Once you get beyond the introductions and cultural quirks, the conversation will naturally turn to pharmacy.

What I have come to realize is that pharmacists from around the world have similar desires and aims. While not all countries have the same resources, infrastructure, or educational opportunities, pharmacists from around the world have the same goals: They want to ensure that patients make the best use of the most appropriate medications. Even if a country’s government is in disarray or it is too dangerous to visit, the passion for pharmacy is a great equalizer. I look forward each year to attending the FIP meeting, where I can join my brother and sister pharmacists from all over the globe to find ways to make our patients healthier. Every time I go, I am reminded of how much there is to learn from these colleagues, no matter how foreign their backgrounds.

Have you also had an experience in which a shared connection to pharmacy overshadowed cultural or political differences? I would appreciate hearing about these experiences.