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Students, Faculty Impact Health Care Around the World

Published on 01 December 2013

International partnerships with nations like South Africa, China, Ethiopia, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia position St. Louis College of Pharmacy to be at the forefront of impacting health care worldwide.

Through multiple new initiatives developed by the Office of International Programs and our faculty, the College is expanding its global reach. Opportunities to experience and support global health care currently exist in South Africa and Swaziland—and other partnerships are being established in China, Ethiopia, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia.

“The goal of the Office of International Programs is to promote cultural competence, emphasize the importance of a world view, enable students to think broadly about issues concerning humanity, and enhance the professional education of our student pharmacists,” says Ken Schafermeyer, Ph.D., director of the Office of International Programs.

Schafermeyer and two sixth-year STLCOP students visited Swaziland in summer 2012 as part of an advanced pharmacy practice experience (APPE). They worked with the Swaziland Ministry of Health and Management Services for Health to help develop a pharmacy assistant program at Southern Africa Nazarene University (SANU). Schafermeyer returned in summer 2013 with two other sixth-year students to continue supporting the SANU pharmacy assistant program and to work at a hospital and outpatient HIV/AIDS clinic. The students went on rounds with physicians, provided care to patients, and delivered in-service programs to the medical team.

“It was extremely interesting to connect real patients with the topics we have been learning about in school,” says sixth-year student Jackie Wolf, who worked in Swaziland this past summer. “We may not have had the chance to see some of these disease states in the U.S., including tuberculosis and AIDS.”

Due to the success of the Swaziland program, another international experience for students is being developed in China. In March 2013, Shin-Yu Lee, Pharm.D., assistant professor of pharmacy practice, traveled to Shanghai to establish an APPE rotation for STLCOP students at Fudan University’s School of Pharmacy.

“In collaboration with other colleagues at different schools of pharmacy, I recently published an American College of Clinical Pharmacy whitepaper on the importance of developing cultural competency in pharmacy education,” Lee says. “I thought it would be great if our students could go to another country to complete an experiential rotation and come back to STLCOP to share their experiences in learning about the different medications and pharmacotherapies that other cultures use.”

There are plans underway to send two STLCOP sixth-year students to China in February 2014. The students will experience different areas of a hospital, including the nephrology intensive care unit (ICU), neurology ICU, dermatology, and the integrative medicine clinic.

“A core part of our students’ experience in Shanghai will be learning more about integrative medicine like acupuncture and herbal medication,” Lee says.

Lee is passionate about this new partnership and its implications for students. “I have seen students struggle with realizing how much culture and heritage can impact patients’ perception of health and how willing they are to accept certain treatment options,” she says. “These international APPE rotations will better equip our students to effectively provide care to patients from diverse backgrounds.”

An APPE rotation will also be offered in Mekelle, Ethiopia, in 2014. Goldie Peters, Pharm.D., assistant professor of pharmacy practice, traveled to Ethiopia’s Mekelle University in January 2013 to form a collaboration with the School of Pharmacy there. Peters will return to Ethiopia in January 2014 with two sixth-year STLCOP students who will be completing APPE rotations.

“Our students will work at Mekelle University’s hospital in the HIV pharmacy, outpatient pharmacy, and inpatient pharmacy,” Peters says. “One of the neatest things at the hospital is the model pharmacy that is used to show the community and other pharmacies what the standards of care should be. Patients can go there to see how it works and learn more about compounding practices and drug information.”

Peters is excited about this new partnership. “It will be a life-changing opportunity for our students,” he says. “Being able to help other people and learn from other people is invaluable.”

In addition, STLCOP is collaborating with Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in South Africa to assist with developing a pharmacy technical assistant program and pharmacy technician program. The College was selected by the American International Health Alliance for an $80,000 grant funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. STLCOP was the only school of pharmacy in the U.S. selected to work in South Africa.

“There’s a need for about 2,500 additional pharmacy technicians per year in South Africa,” Schafermeyer says. “Pharmacy technicians there practice with limited supervision and are an excellent resource for delivering care for the more than 5 million HIV/AIDS patients in the country.”

The plan calls for STLCOP faculty to share the same teaching methods used at the College, such as providing students with practical experience on how to interact with patients to improve their health. The College is also examining ways to involve STLCOP students in the project. A small team from the College made an initial visit to South Africa in May 2013. In September, two faculty members from NMMU visited STLCOP, and a larger group of College faculty and staff participated in that visit.

Another partnership is being established with the Saudi National Guard Health Affairs in Saudi Arabia. In January 2013, STLCOP welcomed four students from Saudi Arabia into the professional program. All have pharmacy degrees from universities in Saudi Arabia and are hoping to develop their clinical skills at STLCOP. “The plan is to develop a student exchange program so that STLCOP students can also go to Saudi Arabia,” Schafermeyer says.

All of these international initiatives will expose College students and faculty to other countries and strengthen pharmacy education. “These partnerships are mutually beneficial,” Schafermeyer says. “We’re not only sharing our knowledge with these other countries—we’re sending people around the world to learn about other health systems. We want them to see that there are other ways of approaching health care and pharmacy services.”

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