Purpose through pandemic
APhA–ASP Chapters have put the “Stronger Together” mantra into action.
If you would have told me 2 months ago that I would be completing my last months of pharmacy school rotations confined to this desk at home due to a worldwide pandemic, I would have said you were crazy. Nevertheless, here I sit, on the cusp of adding PharmD with a Master’s in Virtual Meetings to my credentials. If you are a final-year student pharmacist like me, you may feel cheated out of the culmination of what has been years of blood, sweat, and tears leading up to this moment.
In dynamically unprecedented times like these, it is easy to lose perspective. Why did we do this? Was it for the cap and gown? Was it for the walk across the stage? Or was it for the fancy social media post showing all our friends and family our accomplishments? For many, I would hope the choice was for the person on the other side of the counter; the person who may consistently mispronounce the name of their prescribed medication, or may not understand what it’s for or how it works.
It has been nearly 100 years since we have experienced anything quite like COVID–19. The world is a lot smaller now than it was then. Add technology, travel, and 6 billion more people on the planet and you have yourself an outbreak scenario that would have seemed unfathomable during the 1918 flu pandemic. What a time to be on the front lines and an integral part of the health care team. Currently, student pharmacists across the country are not only adapting to socially distanced education, but many are finding new and innovative ways to make a positive impact on their communities.
APhA–ASP Chapters have put the “Stronger Together” mantra into action. The Tennessee Poison Center opened a Coronavirus hotline that consists of addressing calls from the state public regarding their concerns about COVID–19 and testing procedures. In March, student pharmacists from the Lipscomb University College of Pharmacy APhA–ASP Chapter volunteered their time to ease some of the burden on the poison center staff. Student pharmacists handled patient concerns by providing real information about the virus and precautionary health measures to mitigate viral spread.
“The most memorable moment volunteering for the hotline was talking to the callers. Many were overly concerned and panicked, and I enjoyed assisting them with the proper resources and calming their fears,” said Sean Wilson, a third-year student pharmacist at Lipscomb. “As health professionals, we are in a unique position to not only take care of sick patients, but to educate the community and prevent the spread of the illness. I know that these skills will be important in my career as a future pharmacist.”
Student pharmacists are even reaching across state lines to collaborate on patient-centered educational initiatives. Third-year student pharmacists Kristie Oh and Shawn Kim from the Notre Dame of Maryland University School of Pharmacy and Shenandoah University APhA–ASP Chapters, respectively, discovered some communication gaps in the World Health Organization (WHO) and CDC regarding information about the pandemic. They recognized that neither entity provided language to help the global population, so they created a flyer in multiple languages containing information from the CDC, WHO, and Johns Hopkins University with the purpose of conveying the most reliable resources to a wider patient population.
“In March, we made a flyer in English, Korean, Arabic, Spanish, Swahili and we’re expecting more people to translate the information in their own languages,” said Oh. “As health care providers, we are also able to deliver positivity and support to the world during this crisis. We hope that this can have a positive impact.”
Also, student pharmacists from the University of Tennessee (UT) Health Science Center College of Pharmacy APhA–ASP Chapter have been working together during the COVID–19 pandemic to sew face masks for a local hospital and are sewing face masks for the National Guard. Their handiwork is featured on the cover of this month’s issue of Student Pharmacist.
“During the school year, we volunteer and provide health services to our community, and we don’t want this to stop while we are distance learning,” said Haley Barnette, a first-year PharmD candidate at UT. “In a time of global health crisis, my classmates and I want to support all health care workers risking their lives on the frontline of this pandemic. This was one simple way that we could give back and say thank you to health professionals in our community!”
Adapting to adversity
Puerto Rico has been no stranger to adversity over the last few years. Their students have had to adapt to hurricanes and earthquakes, secondary to economic turmoil, and now a pandemic. Eduardo Vega, PharmD, former Chapter President of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) School of Pharmacy APhA–ASP Chapter and current APhA New Practitioner Network member, weighed in on the importance of our role as student pharmacists in our communities.
“Student pharmacists have a responsibility to our communities to assist and provide services they need most during devastation,” said Vega. Even now, student pharmacists from UPR are using innovative ways to maintain continuity of patient care. Edmarie Santiago Aponte, a fourth-year student pharmacist at UPR, volunteered with the Puerto Rico Diabetes Association by participating in virtual meetings where patients in the community could be counseled on proper administration and management of their condition. “I felt empowered and grateful to be able to share some tips with the community,” said Aponte, “In this time of uncertainty, different and creative opportunities arise, and we should embrace these opportunities.”
Recently, APhA President Michael Hogue said it best: “In communities small and large across the United States, pharmacists are coming to the rescue providing essential health care services and medicines to people in their time of need … taking risks in order to make sure communities are cared for.”
Putting my celebration in context
In time, there will likely be vaccinations and newly indicated medications for tackling COVID–19. The health care system needs pharmacists now more than ever. As a final-year student pharmacist completing my degree, I appreciate that it is a time worthy of celebration. My celebration, however, is not without context. I will finally be licensed to do what I have been training for over the last 4 years; making a positive impact on my community and improving the lives of the patients I serve.
It is a time to celebrate how far this profession has come and where it is headed as we continue to be health care providers for our communities. All the regalia and photo-ops in the world will never amount to the significance and importance of our role to our patients now and in the future of health care.
Clayton Melson, PharmD, is a 2020 graduate of the Presbyterian College School of Pharmacy.