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Pharmacy Rotation Provides Students First-Hand View of Healthcare Needs in Guatemala

By Jenna Pizzi

Published on August 6, 2018

Giving a new perspective on the meaning of acting in the public health, a group of student pharmacists traveled to Panajachel, Guatemala in July as part of their Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences (APPEs) rotations providing care to underserved communities in clinics, home care visits, and installing water filtration devices and stoves.

The doctor of pharmacy students got to experience the breathtaking countryside of the Central American country, but also got to go inside the homes of residence and learn how they live.

“I learned that the people of Guatemala are thankful for everything they have. The people we met did not equate wealth with money and material objects, but with community and culture,” said Quynh-Nhu Truong PharmD’19 “During our home visits, families welcomed us into their houses with open arms. I truly felt a sense of community while being immersed in Patanatic, Guatemala, yet at the same time, I realized how difficult it is for someone to receive the care they need.”

Installing stove in a homeAccess to adequate healthcare is severely limited to many people in the region because the terrain hinders access outside of large urban areas.“To walk the same paths as the civilians themselves is to understand why it is so difficult for the people to access health care and why disease states pertaining to infections and respiratory illnesses are common within the community,” said Vincent Louanphom PharmD’19. “To perform home visits or build stoves and water filters, we hiked up extremely steep hills and paved through narrow dirt paths at unimaginable heights, only to find ourselves on the doorstep of small houses surrounded by stray dogs and farm animals. Found within these single-story homes were a single bed that would host a family of five or so and a kitchen filled with myriad flies buzzing through stagnant smoke that billowed from cooking flames.” 

One of the patients was essentially confined to his home, as he needed crutches to move around which would be difficult in the steep hills and mountains that surrounded the clinic where the students were working, Truong said. However, she said the experience solidified her passion for working directly with patients and providing care.Guatemala Clinic“There were countless times where I felt like I truly impacted a patient and a patient truly impacted me,” said Truong. “In one instance, one patient was so thankful for our services that she gave me a huge hug and thanked me in her native language. In that moment, I felt a mutual sense of joy from both the patient and myself. That feeling is why I wanted to be a pharmacist and why this trip has changed my perspective on healthcare and patients.”

This experience was not only memorable, but also precious and enlightening in that it demonstrated the need for medical attention and basic necessities in Guatemala while enforcing how lucky we are to have what we have, Louanphom said.

Although they were only in the country for just over a week, the students and their faculty advisors were able to have a small impact in an effort to improve the community they served.

Guatemala students“The … rotation gave me a new perspective on my responsibilities as a future pharmacist,” said Emma Mongell PharmD’19. “In the short time that we were there we were able to positively impact the lives of so many people by working in the clinic and providing water filters and ventilated stoves.  When I am a pharmacist I am going to make it a priority to spread awareness about public health needs, not only in Guatemala but around the world.”

Mongell said no matter what her future career goals, she now has firsthand understanding of the importance of public health projects.

Categories: News, Academics, Students, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, Pharmacy, Department of Pharmacy Practice and Administration, Community Service