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Left to right: Pharmacy students Joellen Friedman, Brie Kassamura, Nitin Bagga, Julian Kam, Grace Park and Monika Cios.
Pharmacy student Nitin Bagga PharmD'16 observed closely as a middle-aged Jamaican woman—with teeth rotted well into her gum line—underwent an oral exam at a free health clinic in Kingston. Until that day, the woman had no means of getting medical attention or hope that the pain would come to an end.
Stories like this highlighted all of the reasons why nearly a dozen pharmacy students and professors from University of the Sciences made the journey to Jamaica last month to participate in an interprofessional medical mission trip.
It was a mission to help others, to learn about a culture 1,500 miles from Philadelphia, to gain work experience, and to come away better people. It was a mission to give back.
“This trip was a humbling experience to say the least…seeing the poverty in different parts of the world and being able to help so many in need was extremely rewarding,” said Bagga. “Working with the different healthcare professionals on the trip has prepared me to be the best pharmacist I can be.”
Bagga was accompanied on this trip by his classmates Joellen Friedman PharmD’16, Brie Kassamura PharmD’16, Julian Kam PharmD’16, Grace Park PharmD’16, and Monika Cios PharmD’16; and pharmacy professors Drs. Shelley Otsuka, Jessica Adams, and Yvonne Phan.
The pharmacy group from USciences joined a large team of healthcare practitioners and professional students from Nova Southeastern University and Women of Health Occupation Promoting Education (H.O.P.E.) to provide essential medical services to Jamaicans in critical need of quality medical and dental care, health awareness education, and pediatric care.
By the end of the trip, the team had provided care to more than 3,000 patients at prisons, churches, schools, and hotels across rural and urban communities in Jamaica. In fact, the USciences pharmacy team filled more than 5,000 prescriptions for these patients.
The Philadelphia College of Pharmacy students had many responsibilities before, during, and after the mission trip, said Dr. Otsuka. They prepared for the trip by updating the medication guide-use tools, reviewing the medication formulary, developing patient education pamphlets, creating a continuing medical education presentation handout, and constructing a research project that included a protocol. In addition, they held disease-state topic discussions with their instructors to help review treatment guidelines.
Joellen Friedman PharmD’16 provides patient counseling to a mother and her young daughter.
The students also collected donations from pharmaceutical companies, alumni, and local businesses, such as SunRay Drugs and ACME Savon Pharmacies. As a result of their efforts, approximately 75 different medications were used to treat a variety of patient conditions in Jamaica. They also held fundraisers in the spring to offset their housing expenses for the trip and to raise money to purchase medical supplies, including gloves, hand sanitizer, and Ziploc bags—which functioned as the medication vial.
During the trip, the students had the opportunity to work alongside healthcare practitioners and students in the fields of medicine, physical and occupational therapy, and dentistry. They also managed a closed formulary system and maintained an accurate medication inventory system, as well as filled, compounded, and labeled medications, and counseled patients on new medications—all under the guidance of their professors.
When the students returned to Philadelphia, Dr. Otsuka said they took stock of their inventory, wrote self-reflection essays, and gathered and analyzed data for a scholarly project. She said they plan to submit an abstract and research poster for the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists' Midyear Clinical Meeting, and share their experience with peers and underclassmen this fall.
Throughout the trip, each healthcare profession interacted with pharmacy in a unique and collaborative way, said Park.
“Pharmacy was truly an equally integrative part of the healthcare system and care of the patient,” Park said. “Being able to be a part of that and see it occur in one room was an unforgettable experience.”