Student Travel Grants Open Hearts and Minds
Thanks to the generosity of alumni, three sixth-year Pharm.D. students in St. John’s University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences traveled last October with the Glens Falls Medical Mission Foundation to establish and operate a one-week makeshift medical clinic in Nueva Santa Rosa, Guatemala, an underserved community near Guatemala City—and they all agree it proved to be a life-changing experience.
The students were members of an interdisciplinary team of healthcare professionals who travel to this town twice a year to provide much-needed medical care in a temporary clinic at a local church. Under the supervision of Chung-Shien Lee ’11Pharm.D., Assistant Professor/Industry Professional in the University’s Department of Clinical Health Professions, the students set up a functioning pharmacy with donated supplies. Students received travel support from proceeds of the 2017 College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Gala held last April.
To say the experience was an eye-opener is an understatement. “Things we commonly take for granted in America such as lighting, temperature control, and water purity became the center of many of our issues,” according to student Ajla Dupljak. “The conditions all seemed to set us up for failure, but the outcome was nothing short of a miracle. We somehow managed to make a pile of old boxes and dusty shelves into a fully functioning pharmacy and clinic.”
The extent of the need for healthcare access impressed the students, who found a line of patients snaking around the corner of the clinic each morning. “An 81-year-old woman told me how she traveled over six miles starting at 3 a.m. to get medications for herself and her family members who were currently sick,” explained student Stephen Eng, adding, “A 57-year-old man, who retired as a farmer due to his health condition, traveled over four hours to the clinic since this was his only access to health care.”
“The Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience (APPE) rotations our students participate in are essential,” said Russell DiGate, Dean, College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. “There is no question students benefit from their APPEs. But the experience of working in another culture, of seeing how so many people in this world live, will make them superior professionals and compassionate people. It also brings home the Vincentian mission in a very real way, and that is important.”
Alumni support for this effort is critical. “Many of our students struggle to pay their way through school and could not afford a Global Academic Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience (APPE) without the generosity of our alumni,” said Dean DiGate. “We invest nearly all the proceeds of our gala into efforts that directly benefit students.”
The travel grant program is especially meaningful in the 2017–18 academic year, during which Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s University, has made expansion of global opportunities for students a priority. “Our alumni help us participate more fully in furthering the University-wide goal, and our students are the true beneficiaries,” said Dean DiGate.
“After seeing these patients, I realized how much I take for granted and that I need to change my attitude toward my life and the blessings I receive,” said student Marina Barsoum. “This mission taught me more lessons than I can imagine, and I will carry them with me throughout the rest of my life. I am tremendously grateful for this mission and the opportunity I was given.”