Auxiliary Label: Pharmacy students take part in community care

A pharmacy student in a V C U shirt sits at a table with a woman.
Katie Jones, a second-year pharmacy student, prepares to take a fair attendee’s blood glucose.

By Michael Ong
Auxiliary Label Staff

I arrived for my afternoon shift at the Charles City County Fair around 1 p.m. With the forecast of rain later on in the day, I hadn’t expected many people to attend. But the large parking lot was full.

As I was getting out of my car, a mother pushing a stroller waved at me. She was walking away from a row of tents toward their own car parked just spaces from mine.

I had driven to Charles City County, about 40 miles from Richmond, to participate in a health booth. The prevalence of health disparity in the access and availability of care is a rapidly growing problem. Urban centers such as Richmond boast a nationally renowned medical center, yet pockets of disparity can be found across the city. Into the surrounding counties and municipalities, health access further diminishes.

Rural areas like Charles City County have some of the highest rates of rural poverty and lack of available healthcare. Through partnerships and opportunities such as the Charles City County Fair, VCU, through its educators and student volunteerism, is addressing this vast community need.

As I walked to the fair, I saw a row of tents pitched on the practice field, filled with food and homemade jewelry, soaps, and other sundries. Under a large white tent, families sat entertained by a performer juggling on top of a unicycle. Nearby was another tent selling boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts and raffles to be drawn at end of the day.

The VCU booth at the Charles City County Fair is a long tradition and work of dedication anchored by Patricia Slattum, Pharm.D., herself a Charles City County resident. The health outreach and preventative services are great resources for a smaller county with limited health-awareness opportunities for its residents.

The fair-goers proved the perfect target population for the group organizing the event, the VCU chapter of the Student National Pharmaceutical Association (SNPhA). Its motto for serving the underserved is well lived in the variety of events at which its students volunteer. From rural fairs like the Charles City County Fair to back-to-school immunization events with Crossover Clinic in downtown Richmond to advocating for safe HIV testing at the annual VA PrideFest on Richmond’s Brown’s Island, SNPhA engages its student members to be invested in its greater Richmond community.

A pharmacy student sits with a woman. The woman has a blood-pressure cuff on her arm.
Jiro Morales, a second-year pharmacy student, checks a patient’s blood pressure using a mechanical cuff.

Partnering with Slattum, SNPhA is able to provide blood-pressure readings and blood-glucose checks for fair attendees. Alongside these point-of-care services, we had another full table littered with a library of education pamphlets available for anyone to pick up.

While I was at the health booth we had a variety of people visit our tables. Some, like an older lady, chose not to get a reading but chatted with several of our volunteers about her recent hospital stay. She even had a small photo album with her pictures of the during the stay.

Others, like a tribal dancer from the local Chickahominy tribe, asked for everything we could provide. All were open to casual conversations about their lives, their health and were open ears to the information we provided.

As a student, volunteer experiences like these form a fundamental aspect of the overall education VCU School of Pharmacy offers. Being able to take traditional lecture learning into a more clinical setting multiplies student learning. In first year we learn how to take vitals such as blood pressure. In our second year we are trained on how to read glucose meters. All for just this situation — providing front-line care to our neighbors.

Late in the afternoon, a father and son stopped by the tables. The father had wanted to get his blood pressure checked and the son, a high school student, sat down with him. After some cajoling from his father, the son let one of our student volunteers take his blood pressure.

The father’s reading was elevated, which after talking with him we were expecting. However, the son’s was slightly above the normal range for his age. This was a wonderful teaching moment for the VCU student to reinforce what she learned in her cardiology module and suggest some lifestyle choices for the pair.

After handing them some informational pamphlets on hypertension, it was endearing to hear them bicker about exercise; the dad telling his son they were going running in the morning from now on and the son rebutting with how he gets enough exercise with the football team.

Near the end of the day, after having seeing and helping several dozen people, I took the time to do one last run outside to indulge in a warm plateful of funnel cake. The line was long and the wind had picked up significantly while I was inside the gym. But it wasn’t a fair until I enjoyed the fried dough and powdered sugar.

And in between bites, while putting away our excess brochures and other supplies, I smiled and waved back at a lady we had helped earlier in the afternoon.

Auxiliary Label is a student-created blog examining pharmacy life, education and research at the VCU School of Pharmacy from a student perspective. It is overseen by Greg Weatherford, the school’s director of communications. Contact him here.

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