Public Health Matters: A Pharmacist's Travel Journey in Global Public Health

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Public Health Pharmacist discussed a captivating exploration of global public health through the lens of a pharmacist and traveler.

Host Dr. Christina Madison welcomes a special guest, Nabila Ismail, PharmD, a social media influencer, digital marketer, and passionate traveler. Together, they delve into Nabila's unique journey as a pharmacist exploring global public health, the challenges and triumphs of safely traveling solo, and the importance of advocating for one's health while abroad. Find out more about Nabila here.

Christina M. Madison, PharmD, FCCP, AAHIVP

Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of Public Health Matters with me your host, Dr. Christina Madison.

I have another incredible guest with me here today. Someone who I've been admiring from afar, with all her incredible travels. So, Nabila if you would like to introduce yourself, then we're going to dive into some questions, because I'm sure that our audience would love to hear about how you got started turning your passion into your full-time job.

Nabila Ismail

Hi, thanks for having me. I'm super excited to catch up and share my story. So, I'm a pharmacist, I've had quite a career within pharmacy, and then some.

I think we connected — I don't even know when, I was with GoodRx probably. But I've had a career in retail marketing, and not too long ago, I ventured out to make my passions of travel into a career. I guess you could say I'm a travel influencer, travel creator, and journalist. I recently started a travel company, which leads group trips around the world and focuses on global public health on some of the freelance work that I do. So, a little bit of everything.

Madison

I think it's important to note that the fact that you are a solo traveler for a lot of the time that you've been traveling. Just thinking about safety wise— how you can travel safely as a solo traveler and a woman of color, as well. That's also a big thing as well.I would love to maybe just step back for a second and talk about where that passion for travel comes from. Then we can dive into a little bit of, what I would like to call your advocacy work around global public health and how you got connected with some of those since you have a very unique story of something that happened to you while you were traveling.

Ismail

Yeah, definitely. Safety is super important while solo traveling. I guess my story of how I started or why I fell into it, or even like it so much— I started traveling quite young.I had a lot of different experiences where I was interacting with different people and traveled on a trip to school as early as high school. Then when I was in college, I was looking for ways to travel. I guess travel and work— if I had to work anyways, I'd rather go work abroad. So, I got into that travel circuit when I became a nanny abroad in Spain. Then I've always loved different cultures, different foods, different people, learning about different religions, different things. I always fell into travel.

I did not want to wait for anyone, not everyone can travel. I feel like we have issues sometimes with like your friends flaking, the PTO not lining up, priorities, commitments, work. Sometimes it's really hard to just take time off. I said I wasn't going to wait for anyone, especially since I was going to be in school for so much longer than most people. And I had this free time that I wouldn't have otherwise. I decided to maximize and then it just became part of my lifestyle and something I couldn't let go of. That's why I travel now. I don't like to wait for anyone if there's something I want to do. So that's how I got started and that's the story of my travel journey. I mean, who doesn't like to travel anyways, you get to see so many new places.

Madison

It's incredible. That's interesting, I've known you for a little while and I actually didn't know that you were a nanny in Spain. I have a family that is from Madrid, so that's interesting that you were a nanny in Spain.

I was going to just ask, when you talk about travel, I just want people to understand this isn't continental United States, this isn't just going to Europe. This is literally everywhere in the world. And a lot of places that maybe some people just dream about, then obviously budgeting for that. I love that you have been able to combine sort of work and leisure.

Obviously from a social media standpoint, there are definitely ways that you can get some of your trip paid for or sponsored because of the fact that you're documenting your trip and that could be used for marketing and branding purposes for the company that you're highlighting. I know that that's something that you fell into a little bit. If you could maybe talk a little bit about how some of your pharmacy skills helped you with that, because obviously we all have great drug information skills. But I think that some of that translates a little bit to how you been able to research some of these travel opportunities.

Ismail

Yeah, for sure. I think being a college student with not a lot of money, was what led me to being super resourceful and looking for outside ways of traveling and getting things funded and finding opportunities. I would always say I am scrappy in that sense. I think a lot of pharmacy students even are when it comes to finding internships and job opportunities— you kind of have to, and we've always been told to because there's so much competition. I think I've used that mentality in all aspects of my life.

When I was a student, I was trying to find budget ways to travel, like finding jobs, like being a nanny. But then I was also trying to double dip. If I had to do rotations, I was trying to find a rotation I could do abroad. If you're not going to get paid for your rotations and you still have to pay tuition, you might as well do it where you really want to and like allow yourself to find new opportunities.

One of the best things I think I did was working with my professor to set up a rotation in Zimbabwe, because I was obviously really interested in traveling. I definitely found a pharmacist position to be in a great place for public health and being able to like talk about prevention and educating. And so, I set up a rotation in Zimbabwe, focusing on HIV AIDS, which is really prevalent there. It has a lot of opportunity for us to help because of the pharmacotherapy, the drugs, and the education that goes into it. It's something that I probably wouldn't have gotten to do as easily in the States as a student, because there's a lot of information you need to know, and usually super specialized pharmacists work in that field.I wanted to get a taste of it and decided to go there, which I think really helped me in finding opportunities after that— like for sponsorship and for press trips. But then I was also simultaneously building a platform. I definitely recommend it in this day and age If you can have a personal brand, do it because you never know where it's going to take you.

I think my travels aside have been the reason that I've gotten even into pharmacy school, it was part of my interview process, part of my job, my social media has gotten me multiple jobs. It's allowed me to make it my career now. I think being able to research and to know how to sift through information is probably a skill that I've like gained from pharmacy school, but I have been able to really use it in all aspects. That really helps with finances, obviously, in terms of travel and making that work. But it also allows me to pitch myself for new opportunities, because I have such a different unique skill set.

With the global travel, I really have traveled around the world, like you have said, I've been to all sorts of different countries—for fun, obviously and just see the beautiful sights but also for learning experiences. Learning about how pharmacy works, or how healthcare works. I really just double everything I've used in both fields to find these opportunities.

Madison

I know that you had a bit of a health scare through one of your travels and that's actually led you to some advocacy work. I don't know if you want to maybe chat a little bit about what happened and also as a cautionary, but also to be prepared. It was really good that you were a healthcare professional because you were able to advocate for yourself and being able to seek medical attention in another country.

Ismail

Yeah, definitely. I still can't believe that story and how its manifested into what it is today. But I went to Bali immediately after quitting my job to go on this year long sabbatical of just travel and following my dreams. I think I was there for two weeks in Bali, and I started to feel really ill in a way that I hadn't felt in a really long time, or ever. I self-medicated and took care of myself for 4 to 5days and realized I wasn't getting better and had to go to a clinic. I thought I had a bacterial infection, I was like, okay, probably need antibiotics now, the fever is not going down.

I got diagnosed with Dengue fever, which I had heard about. I feel like it might not be a common tool— I didn't learn about it in pharmacy school or as a pharmacist. But oddly enough, I had. I don't know if I manifested this upon myself, but I had oddly written an article on the new dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia, and had done a whole lot of research into writing it. It was, I think, a month before I left for Bali. So, when I got diagnosed, I was honestly surprised and was confused on how it happened. If you don't know dengue is a mosquito borne disease, so it is spread through mosquito bites. In Bali, there are a lot of mosquitoes. But I had prepped with a lot of mosquito repellent, wore long clothing and still happen to get it. But having done some research, I think I was still calm, cool, and collected, because I knew and didn't have all those questions like flooding my mind.

I was hospitalized for two weeks. I had a very severe case of dengue and dengue hemorrhagic fever. I have never been hospitalized in my life, and I've definitely never been hospitalized in a foreign country by myself. So, it was a terrifying experience, which I think I handled well. This is something you should definitely think about when you travel, is how to handle yourself in an emergency and what you're going to do. If you have a game plan beforehand, it helps ease the stress, anxiety and overwhelming feeling, so you can think clearly. Because had I not actually gone to the hospital when I did, that could have been a lot worse for me, where they wouldn't have been able to get an IV— and if you're already bleeding, that's really, really bad. So, I caught it at the right time and took the right precautions and getting that.

That whole experience made me feel like I had made a really bad mistake in quitting my job and traveling. I was like, oh, this is a bad sign, this is two weeks into my year long journey. But it actually ended up being a teachable moment that I took to TikTok and shared my experience because everyone goes to Bali, and no one talks about this. That actually led me to a really cool gig as an influencer with the World Mosquito Program. That led to some really cool projects that I've worked on subsequently.

Madison

I know there are several types of mosquitos borne illnesses from a travel medicine standpoint. I'm so sorry that you got sick, but I'm also really glad that you were able to use your platform for more awareness. Then also the fact that we do have a vaccine against dengue, and we have other vaccines available for mosquito borne illnesses and preventative means that we can do to help with the spread of these illnesses. One of the first exposures that I had to mosquito borne illness— not that I got any illnesses, but that I knew about was because I work so closely with gender-based health and women's health. There was this huge issue around Zika virus, and that limiting people's ability to travel. At the time, I was about to travel, and ended up not being able to travel because there was a rise in Zika virus cases in Florida. There was a professional conference that was going on there and at the time, my husband and I were trying to get pregnant. These are things that you would not necessarily think of as being an issue in the United States. However, there are still some things that we still have to worry about that may impact our ability to just be able to just travel here in the United States as well. Initially, that particular infection was really prevalent in South America. But then we started seeing cases here. So, I think it's just a really good idea just to understand what those diseases are and how you can prevent them. Then obviously, vaccinations, which is one of the single most successful public health interventions in modern medicine.

Just understanding before you leave the country what vaccines are recommended. Then doing a travel consult and understanding based on where you're traveling in certain areas of the world. You may have different vaccine recommendations than if you travel to say Sub Saharan Africa or South America or say Europe, right. Because even Europe has had issues with things that we are having challenges with. They've had measles outbreak; they've had a meningitis outbreak. They've had all these things because of issues around anti vaccine campaigns that they've had in some of those countries, especially in France.

Some of your work that you've done with the mosquito campaign, you said that has led to some other opportunities around advocacy. Did you want to maybe mention some of those, that you you've had the ability to be involved in.

Ismail

I feel the biggest thing that's come out of it is being able to talk about travel and health together, and why that should go into like your research when you're planning. I feel like all the time we look up, where to stay, where to eat, the best sites to see. But I feel like there's no blogs, websites, or it's not really programmed into you're planning on where to go to a hospital, what to do, what diseases to be aware of, what to pack. Or even for certain countries, that you can't even bring certain medications and certain things aren't available. Health should come top of mind when you are planning your vacation, because we're going there to have a good time. If you're not doing well, health wise, it will ruin it. So, it should certainly go into the planning when you're thinking about bringing your credit cards and things like that should be part of the planning.

It's allied to a lot of work in terms of like travel and health writing and changing how we write about it and making more resources available. Now when I write about travel, I take the angle of health and I have forged myself into a travel journalist path, but in a very niche of health care writing within it.

In terms of the World Mosquito Program, the campaign itself has been several campaigns. I recently went back to Bali, actually, after getting Dengue, and the thing with dengue is, you can get it again. Right now, there are no vaccines available for travelers to prevent dengue— I think it's not even out yet. But the vaccine is available for people who live in like Florida and Puerto Rico within a certain age. And so, I can't get the vaccine, but I had to go back for this opportunity. I was very nervous to go back. But I went to work on a campaign that is combating mosquito borne diseases. The World Mosquito Program works on creating something called Wolbachia, which prevents mosquitoes from transmitting these viruses. You basically breed them to have this natural bacterium called Wolbachia, and then release them out into the city. That was something I was working on educating the local Balinese people and working with them to figure out challenges. Then I was able to also go to Australia, and speak at Monash University, where the NGO is actually headquartered.

It's allowed me to do that, but also connect with pharmacy students and introduce this different career path that I couldn't have even like imagined for myself. Who knows what it'll bring up next time, and what else it will lead to, but I continue to talk about travel health and things to be aware of — especially as a solo traveler, whenever I can, and whenever I'm traveling.

Madison

I know you said that you do quite a bit of travel writing. Can you mention some of the different places that some of the listeners could go to if they wanted to see some of your writing.

Ismail

I have by lines in Forbes, Business insider, Travel and Leisure. So, I have a couple of different publications for you to read. Then I also have my own blog, where I contribute occasionally, but whenever I feel like there's something to share that I can't really put together on Instagram or Tik Tok, that needs a lot more words— I'll write on my own blog, but those are most of the places that you can find my work.

Madison

I tend to ask this question, just because I feel like it's something that's always fun to leave the audience with. If there is something that you could tell your younger self now that you didn't know before, what would it be and why?

Ismail

Oh boy. So many things I would tell myself, but what's the one I want to lead with.

Madison

I know, I surprised you with this one.

Ismail

I think I would say don't take everything so seriously. Things always kind of work out. Like for me, I'm thinking, even just talking to you about it when we met. And probably even before, I think I probably reached out when I was a student. My career has changed into what I wanted but didn't even have the words or imagination to explain what I wanted. I just wanted a career within pharmacy that allowed me to travel and was creative and allowed me to use what I was good at. And I didn't know anything else. But it all kind of worked out, and it's weird, own way. I feel like oftentimes, we take ourselves too seriously and put too much pressure. I know it's pretty hard to say it and not actually do it. But yeah, just don't take yourself too seriously, everything will work out.

Madison

I've chatted with you several different times in your professional journey. I remember when you were just kind of starting with GoodRx, and you were saying that you still have this love of travel and all these things. And I was like, lean into that, there's definitely ways that you can market yourself. I'm really glad to see that you were able to do that. You've had such an incredible experience, and you're also advocating for solo travel, you're advocating for women of color, and you're also advocating for the profession of pharmacy. I don't know how you could have married those things more perfectly, but I'm really glad to see what you've been able to do. Also having that PharmD in the byline, in some of those really important publications, I think is just hugely important for us as a profession, as we move forward with all of the changes that we've seen. Between pharmacy, walkouts, and people talking about drug errors and all these things, it's just really nice to see positive stories around pharmacy and pharmacists. So, thank you for what you're doing.

I'm really excited to share your story with my audience. Really cool ways that you can implement public health and pharmacists within public health. You can still travel the world and really enjoy yourself.

So, if people want to follow you, if they want to get in touch with you, what's the easiest way for them to find you on their favorite social media platform?

Ismail

On all of them, but definitely Instagram and TikTok are the ones that I can get back to you the easiest. I'm on LinkedIn and then you can find my writing portfolio also and reach out to me there.

Madison

And what is your handle?

Ismail

Dose of travel.

Madison

Nice. Which I love, love the name.

Ismail

It's very fitting. I think once I settled on that name, that's when I knew it would find a way to marry the two.

Madison

Yeah, no, it's awesome. All righty. Well, thank you so much, Nabila. This has been such a great conversation. I look forward to continuing to see all of your adventures and I'm excited to see where this is going to take you. I know that you'll just continue to shine and be a beacon of hope and light for the rest of us here in the pharmacy profession that are looking for other ways that we can marry our passion and our love of pharmacy. So, thank you so much.

Ismail

Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

Madison

If you want to see more episodes of this particular podcasts, feel free to check us out we have monthly offerings. Again, my name is Christina Madison. I'm your host, and this has been another episode of Public Health Matters. And remember, all things can be related to public health.

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