Student pharmacists travel the world in Gatton's Experiential Education program

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On a trip this summer to Uganda, Gatton’s student group, led by Dr. Susie Crowe, learned very quickly that the resource-limited country didn’t have access to the same healthcare resources that they were used to having.

“The hospitals were frequently out of medications,” said Crowe, director of experiential education. “As pharmacists, we had to make other recommendations, like changing an antibiotic to something that was available, or reallocate resources or medications.” 

While working with limited resources was a major challenge, the students soon understood how much they were learning from the experience. 

“We hold a lot of knowledge that can be impactful to lots of people,” said Santon Shagavah (’19).  “At times we might doubt it, but when you are in an environment where you see how impactful your role is, all you can do is keep giving out.”  

It was also clear to Shagavah that people shouldn’t fault the medical staff of an underserved public hospital in Uganda just because they lack resources.

“The drive and passion from the healthcare providers cannot be matched,” he said. “​Even if the resources are a big limitation, the nurses, physicians, residents, and other staff members are willing to work with the same goal of patient care in mind.”

For Katrice Lampley (’19), the experience taught her how important a pharmacist’s role can be.

“I learned just how much pharmacists can play important roles in medication management and lifestyle interventions for chronic diseases,” she said. “Although Americans may do many things differently from the healthcare professionals in Uganda, we can learn just as much from them as they can from us.”

To Crowe, a global experience is incredibly important for pharmacy students.

“It opens up their perspective on the world,” said Crowe. “It’s part of Gatton’s mission to prepare team-oriented pharmacists who improve healthcare in rural and underserved areas. A lot of our students haven’t traveled internationally, so for them to go to an underserved setting in a place like Uganda opens up perspectives on other healthcare settings. With limited access to healthcare and supplies there, our students learn the ability to work through those challenges.”

On the trip, the students made rounds every day at the local hospital and saw conditions that included chronic disease, heart failure, diabetes, and HIV associated illnesses. They also worked with pharmacy students at Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST), who they helped teach and share knowledge.

Crowe and the students documented their travels and experiences on Gatton’s Global and Rural Engagement blog, at gattoncop.wordpress.com. Lampley reflects on a lesson at MUST:

“During our learning session, we were able to educate MUST students on the importance of identifying patients with risk factors for diabetes such as high blood pressure, obesity, physical inactivity, and high cholesterol.” said Lampley in one post. “By the end of the day, we all felt confident in our abilities to help with the prevention and management of diabetes! We are now eagerly looking forward to identifying new ways we can better serve our patients in Uganda and in the United States.”

With diabetes being so prevalent in Uganda, but medical resources so limited, the students were able to make an impact on several patients. Crowe recounted one particularly memorable experience with a diabetic.

“The patient’s blood sugar was really high and we had to get it down,” said Crowe. “In the US, the patient would be on an insulin drip. In Uganda, there is no access to IV pumps outside the ICU, and there is only limited access to glucometers and insulin. Because there is only one nurse covering many patients, it is difficult to check the glucose and give insulin as frequently as is needed. Our students went and checked the patient’s glucose and insulin every hour and helped the patient get better. If this person were left alone, that patient would have been in the hospital a lot longer. Our students were able to really make a difference in this patient.”

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Gatton’s global outreach began in 2011 with students going to Zambia. Since then, nearly 50 students have traveled to Moldova, Nicaragua, Ethiopia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Uganda.

As the program grew, the College of Pharmacy developed two facets to their global rotations: Global Health Outreach, which works with the Christian Medical and Dental Association for short-term medical mission trips, taking medical supplies and healthcare to rural areas with limited healthcare infrastructure; and Global Health Initiatives, which works within the existing healthcare system in a developing country. In addition, Gatton offers APPE rotations abroad in Ireland, Scotland, and Hungary. Those students document their travels on this blog: gattonoee.wordpress.com

Dr. Emily Flores, associate professor of pharmacy practice, leads Gatton’s Global Health Outreach rotations and was recently in Uganda in September with the college’s second student group.

Both Crowe and Flores believe the future of Gatton’s global experiences will continue to grow in the years to come. They hope to increase the number of students interested in going, as well as the amount of time students stay.

Crowe and Flores would like to see Gatton become a recognized leader in global health education and clinical practice.

“It would be a great experience for students to assist in building up healthcare infrastructure from scratch,” Crowe added.

In addition, Crowe has received global recognition for her efforts directing a top-notch global experience program. Starting in October 2019, she will serve as chair of the Global Health Practice Research Network, a PRN under the American College of Clinical Pharmacy that has approximately 150 members in the US and a few outside the country. In this role, she will take on a national leadership role in a group created to address global health concerns and reduce the disparities in the delivery of pharmacy services on an international level.

“I’m really excited about this,” said Crowe. “I hope to engage more global partners in the committee and give them a voice. I also plan to continue to develop global health best practices for pharmacists and assist with programming for the ACCP national conference in 2020, which may have a major global focus.”

For Lampley, her trip to Uganda this summer was more than merely a way to put her three years of pharmacy education into practice. 

“This trip was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my life,” she said. “I am so grateful for having the opportunity to explore and learn about the healthcare and culture of Uganda.” 

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