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On Guatemalan Mission Trip, Pharmacy Students Learn Compassion, Collaborative Care

Guatemala For pharmacy students at University of the Sciences, one of the most exciting parts of their Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences (APPEs) is the opportunity to practice in real world settings. Another layer of excitement is added when those real-world experiences occur in a country outside of the United States. 

This summer, seven Philadelphia College of Pharmacy students participated in an elective rotation that provided them the opportunity to travel to Panajachel, Guatemala. Alongside four faculty, the group provided care to underserved populations in the rural western highlands and surrounding communities.

To prepare for the mission, PCP partnered with the Woodland Public Charity, a humanitarian non-profit organization based in Kansas City, Mo., with a longstanding presence in Guatemala. The mission trip—which aimed to facilitate access to education, healthcare, and safe drinking water—lasted one week and included installation of water filters in local homes. Faculty Yardlee Kauffman PharmD, MPH, Madeline King PharmD, Charrell Porter PharmD, and Alice Lim Scaletta PharmD worked closely with the WPC to ensure the students had an enriching experience during the rotation and while in Guatemala.

The team cared for 438 patients between the ages of one month to 66 years in a clinic in Patanatic as well as a mobile clinic at the San Pablo Elementary School. The students and faculty not only helped to dispense medications to those in need, but also performed overall health evaluations of the patients by obtaining height weight, blood pressure, temperature, and conducting vision and dental exams.

“In an experience like this, it’s essential to keep an open mind about other cultures as well as the patient’s individual struggles, living conditions, and other social factors,” said Punita Bhakta PharmD’18. “While some patients were dehydrated, many didn’t have regular access to clean drinking water, so it's important to keep in mind that things that may seem like simple solutions to us might not be as simple for them.”

This medical mission allowed students and faculty to grow both personally and professionally. 

“I learned from this medical mission that personal growth and progress can only happen when you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, and I realized that I was more capable and prepared than I ever gave myself credit for,” said Colleen D’Amico PharmD’18.

When working in an interprofessional environment, the students quickly learned that teamwork was an invaluable skill.

“It was a collaborative effort,” said Jose Gustavo Lazo, Jr., PharmD’18, who is originally from El Salvador. “There were times when I could take the lead, but there were other days where my fellow students were taking charge, and I had no problem following their lead because I was confident in their knowledge and skills. 

For Kirstie Marasigan PharmD’18, the lessons learned transcend this rotation experience.

“Throughout this trip, we had to strategize and adapt to many different situations on a day-to-day basis—I feel like this is a value that you can take with you anywhere, especially on future rotations as well as my career as a pharmacist,” she said.

The Guatemala global health elective provides students with unique educational experiences that can be useful in varying areas of pharmacy practice. Wherever the students’ pharmacy career paths take them, they will always carry the memory of their time in Guatemala and the bonding experience they shared with their classmates as they provided care abroad.

Categories: News, Students, Faculty, Academics, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Department of Pharmacy Practice, Pharmacy, Pharmacy Administration