The Origin of The ‘Traveling Pharmacist’

Pharmacist combines storytelling, travel medicine, and discussions about diversity in travel.

My name is Nabila Ismail, PharmD, but you may know me online as Dose of Travel. I started traveling in my early college days and started blogging about the journey. Now, I’ve visited 40 countries, mostly solo, and I’m passionate about empowering others to travel more. I love storytelling, discussing travel medicine, and talking about diversity in travel.

Here’s how my travel story began and how Dose of Travel came about.

All throughout high school and the beginning of college, I felt like something was missing. I was craving an adventure that I hadn’t yet experienced. One day, right before my Chemistry 101 final, I decided that I wanted to be an au pair in Madrid, Spain. A few months prior, I had visited my best friend during her gap year where she was an au pair in Belgium. Having seen the experiences, freedom, and the stories she had to share, I knew I wanted to feel the same way.

I spent my summer living in Madrid and caring for 3 children under the age of 6. That summer changed everything for me, as I learned more about myself than I had that entire year in college.

I wish I could put the feelings into words to describe what that summer meant for me. I found the experience to be liberating, educational, and a breath of fresh air. This adventure was only the start and led to so many others.

From that moment, I started documenting my travels on Instagram. I had a blog, I loved arts and crafts, and really valued creativity so I started sharing my stories on Instagram with photos—nothing to rave home about now, they were most definitely on an iPhone 3.

Each stretch of vacation time I had, I started planning a trip. Since I was a full-time student, I found ways to go abroad with minimal finances but maximal experiences. Here are a few ways I traveled, I even wove in pharmacy in some of my experiences:

Au Pair

I was an au pair twice. After Spain, I went on to be an au pair in wine country outside of Verona, Italy, for another 3 months before the start of pharmacy school. Being an au pair awards you free housing, food, and a small stipend in exchange for caring for children and teaching them your language. It means even exchange, so it’s meant to be an exchange of culture and experiences.

You can choose to go through an agency where you will have to pay a hefty fee, but it may be worth it. I chose not to and took the risk. I loved both of my experiences, but it may not be for everyone.

Being an au pair is a great way to get a better understanding of culture and have an authentic experience. It’s also really easy to meet other au pairs and become friends with them.

Research Grant

As a pharmacy student, I took a big liking to public and global health, which came in handy because there was the potential for travel. I spent a lot of my time hanging out in the School of Public Health and we had an office in another building dedicated to my university’s global efforts and projects.

I joined a hackathon at school and, luckily, my team won. I stayed working on that project and had the opportunity to go to Uganda to get hands-on experience. I spent 2 weeks during my spring break as a pharmacy student working on something really important to me.

APPE Rotation in Zimbabwe

I eagerly waited for my fourth year of pharmacy school because it meant that I could leave Buffalo and explore new places. Having the opportunity to do an international rotation was really important to me so I factored that in when selecting a school.

I was the only one in my class to do a rotation in Zimbabwe. It was a global health elective and I had a lot of freedom to design the 6 weeks the way I wanted. My interests were really diverse, I was fascinated to learn about pharmacy practice, health care in general, HIV/AIDS, psychiatry, and non-profit work.

The bulk of my time was spent in HIV/AIDS clinics, in which I had lots of hands-on experience with patients. I had the opportunity to visit the UNICEF compound, visit a mental health clinic, go to a pharmaceutical company, visit labs, and even the FDA of Zimbabwe called Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe.

This trip not only satiated the travel bug in me but I truly believe made me a better pharmacist. I was able to practice motivational interviewing, provide cultural-competent care, and view pharmacy and health care on a global level.

Backpacking Through Africa

After that enriching experience in Zimbabwe, I had an off block (I planned it that way!) and I set out on yet another solo journey.

I spent 4 months solo backpacking throughout Africa with a 65L bag, taking local transport, staying at hostels, and eating street food. I saw one of the most spectacular waterfalls—Victoria Falls—saw the Big 5 while on safari in Tanzania, woke up to zebras grazing outside of my tent, wandering the colorful streets of Bo Kaap in Cape Town, going on a game drive in Chobe National Park in Botswana, and so much more.

I’ve also backpacked through Europe and Southeast Asia. Having visited Thailand, Cambodia, Czech Republic, and Hungary to name a few.

How Dose of Travel Came To Be

During the summers, winter and spring breaks, and long weekends, I was jet-setting across the globe. When I was in school, my Instagram and blog fell quiet because I wasn’t traveling. I started to document my journey to pharmacy school with my experience and tips.

It was mostly a way for me to have my creative outlet but I had no idea that there were people interested in knowing more. As I progressed in school, I started to think about the career I wanted afterwards so I began interviewing pharmacists in unique roles and adding that to my blog.

I began to realize that I was inspiring 2 different audiences, those in pharmacy and those who were interested in travel. Nine years after my first trip, I have no intention of stopping my travels. I’m always planning my next one and since I work remotely now, I’m able to weave travel into my schedule more and more these days.

I’ve started to combine my interests more so these days, continuing with public and global health, learning more about travel medicine, and discussing health and travel as we maneuver through a pandemic.

If you’re interested in knowing more about how I travel, what I do now, and want more tips, please feel free to follow me @doseoftravel.