Pharmacy sending its students to medical ‘front lines’

Vivian holding tiny patient.

Vivian Nguyen holds one of her newest patients in a remote hospital in the African country of Niger. Her OSU internship is part of the College of Pharmacy's effort to help future pharmacists recognize their ethical obligations in the medical field.

“So much need” for rural health care and those in underserved populations is changing the way Oregon State is training its College of Pharmacy students.

“A big world out there needs our help,” said Ann Zweber, an instructor of pharmacy education who is working in OSU’s outreach programs in Oregon and throughout the world. “The challenge is great.”

Zweber wrote a recent report challenging pharmacy colleges across the nation to become more aggressive in training and involving their students in the “front line” of medicine, reaching out to underserved populations, those with little insurance, special needs, low income or minority groups.

“For many people, pharmacies provide the first — and sometimes the only — health care they get, when they can’t afford to see a doctor, travel long distances or pay for medications. We want our students to understand these issues, realize their ethical obligations and get involved,” Zweber said.

She was a member of a recent national task force on “caring for the underserved,” which published its findings in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education.

“Pharmacy graduates must not only have the knowledge, attitudes and skills to provide quality pharmaceutical care,” task force members wrote in their report. “They must care enough to proactively seek opportunities to render that care to the disenfranchised and forgotten people within our society.”

Even in urban areas, Zweber said, pharmacists are now frequently involved in immunization programs, health screenings, medication therapy management, dispensing products and advice, and helping patients learn about and sometimes wade through the maze of bureaucracy to access some health assistance programs.

In rural or remote areas, the demands can go far beyond that. Cultural factors, language, literacy and disabilities can all become roadblocks to care.

Such initiatives have been an increasing part of OSU’s pharmacy instruction programs in recent years. Every student is required to do at least one six-week rotation in an underserved setting or community.

Some students work with Mid-Valley Housing Plus, helping mental health patients with their medication management. Many participate in a workshop that teaches “Spanish for pharmacists.”

“We don’t want our students going through college in a bubble, unaware of what’s going on in the outside world,” Zweber said. “We see them developing a sense of obligation to serve people, do volunteer work, give back to the community. It’s not easy; it takes a lot of time and effort to balance a community project with a final exam. But it’s worth it.”

~ by David Stauth and Ed Curtin

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