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Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy

East Tennessee State University

Student learns about underserved patient care at Health Wagon in SW Va


mclandessGatton COP’s mission is “To develop progressive, team-oriented pharmacists that improve healthcare, focusing on rural and under-served communities”.   To that end, the ambulatory care rotation at The Health Wagon gives students an opportunity to experience patient care to a large medically underserved population in rural Appalachia. Jennifer McCandless, class of 2018, recently completed an APPE (advanced pharmacy practice experience) rotation at the Health Wagon clinic in Wise, Virginia.  She said, “It was an experience that I will cherish from my P4 rotations.” 

During the month-long experience, Jennifer met several patients who had not been seen by a medical professional in a number of years and saw what she says “would be considered the standard of patients in the Appalachian region – lots of diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, etc.”  Some with symptoms, heart conditions, suspected recent stroke or extremely high blood pressure that warranted a trip by ambulance to the emergency room.

One of Jennifer’s favorite aspects of the rotation was going out in the community in the Health Wagon’s mobile clinic (a modified RV).  She spent at least one day a week traveling to sites within the Health Wagon’s five-county service area in Southwest Virginia and enjoyed seeing how comfortable patients feel with receiving their health care out of the mobile unit.

McCandless was surprised to find “how many programs are available to help indigent or low to no income patients get the medical care that they need and deserve.”   “There are so many programs available and so much help a person can receive if they only know to ask or felt comfortable asking for the treatment”, Jennifer said.  She recalls an instance when by simply making a call, they were able to help a patient being referred for a thyroid gland biopsy that would be more than $300 to get the procedure provided to her at no cost.

When asked how the Health Wagon rotation changed her perception of health care in rural and underserved areas, Jennifer replied, “Watching documentaries about it and reading about it is not the same as experiencing it.  Yes, there are several documentaries about the Health Wagon available to the public and several were being filmed while I was there such as Denmark BBC, Germany BBC and a few others.  You see the individuals and really get to know them and learn about their issues and barriers to health care and obtaining the medications that they need to live a better life.”

For more information about The Health Wagon, visit



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