Cancer Care Packages Prove Rewarding Experience for Student Pharmacists, Patients

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Student pharmacists of the St. Louis College of Pharmacy chapter of the Student Society of Health-System Pharmacists (SSHP) don’t wait until the holiday season to give gifts to those in need. For several years, SSHP has been putting together care packages every semester for cancer patients at nearby health care centers.

Students compile care packages that include tissues, a word puzzle book, hand sanitizer, sugar-free candy, healthy snacks, lotion, sunscreen, lip balm, first-aid kits, educational flyers, and a reusable tote. Then they deliver them to cancer patients at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in the spring semester and patients at Siteman Cancer Center in the fall semester.

After the packages are delivered to the center, the students attend a lecture given by Janelle Mann, Pharm.D., BCOP, assistant professor of pharmacy practice and clinical pharmacist in oncology at Siteman, about the proper handling and disposal of medications. The students then educate the patients about medication disposal.

Stephanie Tackett, fifth-year student and president of SSHP, says this is the most rewarding part of the program because it gives student pharmacists a chance to empathize with patients.

“It’s very rewarding because you get an idea of what these patients are going through just by sitting down and talking to them,” Tackett says. “I told (the students) before we went in there, ‘We’re here to counsel them about medication disposal, but that’s not the only thing we should do. We need to be someone they can talk to. A lot of times they’re there by themselves.’”

“It’s always hard for student pharmacists to find ways to counsel (cancer) patients, but this is an opportunity where they can do that,” Tackett says.

Gift bagsOf course, the patients benefit tremendously, as well. “They are extremely excited to receive the packages and to have a chance to ask questions one-on-one,” Tackett says. “Many of them do not know how to properly dispose of medications, and this is where student pharmacists can step in to counsel the patients.”

The program averages about 20 student pharmacist volunteers each semester, mainly because of space limitations at the health care centers. SSHP usually opens up the opportunity to its 150 student members first. Then, if there is space left, the organization opens registration to all students. 

“In school, we tend to dislike the subject of cancer,” Tackett says. “It’s difficult to study because it’s so complex. But when we get to interact with cancer patients and go behind the scenes to see what it’s like in the pharmacy there, it’s very rewarding.”

Please inquire with Stephanie Tackett, president of SSHP, or Jennifer Tussey, president-elect of SSHP, about volunteer opportunities. 

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