Archambault Scholarship recipient Hess on public health: “You just feel so welcome at VCU”

A woman stands in front of a laboratory.
Danielle Hess, photographed in front of an observation window of the school’s compounding lab, recently received a prestigious national award for students pursuing careers in public health: “I knew I needed to put public health into pharmacy during my career.”

Danielle Hess, a third-year Pharm.D. student at VCU School of Pharmacy, received the prestigious George Archambault Scholarship at APhA’s annual meeting in Seattle earlier this year.  The scholarship is awarded to a student who demonstrates leadership and professional experiences that align with the United States Public Health Service core values of service to the underserved, integrity, leadership and academics.

We spoke to her about her passion for public health and how the School of Pharmacy has helped her pursue it.

What got you interested in public health?

I grew up on a Christmas tree farm and my parents and grandparents always said, “You’ve got to work really hard for what you want in life and nothing’s going to be handed to you.”

Then on every mission trip I went on, I saw a lot of people working really hard, but still not getting what they need to survive or to be truly healthy. These people are doing all they can; they just don’t have the resources to get where they need to be. I really loved supplying those resources and going into a community and trying to empower them rather than just, “Here’s a bunch of free stuff, good luck.”

When we went to Honduras with HOMBRE [the Humanitarian Outreach Medical Brigade Relief Effort, a nonprofit organization at VCU] after my first year, we took water purification systems. In years past, they had given them out and said, this is what you can purify your water with. And when they came back the next year, they were being used as flower pots. That’s when they realized something was missing.

When I went, they did it again, and I said, “How about we go to the homes and ask them, can you show me how to use this right now?” We realized a lot of them still didn’t know how. So we spent the rest of that day going around and making sure they all knew how to use the system. That was more empowering them and making sure they could use it in their life.

Talk about your formal work in public health.

I earned a global health certificate in undergrad, and with the mission trips and the research that I did in Thailand through that, I saw a lot of what public health can do in different communities, especially in underserved ones. With that certificate, I had an opportunity to apply to the WHO in Switzerland. I completed an internship at the World Health Organization before starting pharmacy school. It was amazing to see what different people are doing all across the world.

After that internship, I knew I needed to put public health into pharmacy during my career. Then, the U.S. Public Health Service came up my P1 year through a recommendation by Dr. Peron [faculty member Emily Peron, Pharm.D.]. I reached out to a pharmacist who had worked at the Gallup Indian Medical Center, and we spoke for about 45 minutes about it and she encouraged me to apply to their externship.

Through working at the Indian Health Service, I saw that what they’re doing in the community is an awesome way to put public health into pharmacy. You’re seeing patients all day, but then you are going into the community and helping them with things that supplement their medicines. Because if they don’t have the things they need at home, medicines aren’t solving everything.

It gives you the opportunity to see someone’s life as a whole. If they come into clinic you might say, “OK, let’s increase your metformin and let’s get your diabetes under control.” Whereas in public health, we are looking at all aspects of their life, making sure that they have food security, making sure that their life as a whole is optimal to make sure their health can be as well. That’s what I like about it. You’re seeing the bigger picture of people’s lives and then the population as a whole.

How has the school helped you pursue your passion of public health?

At the beginning, it’s intimidating because you don’t exactly know where to go. I just paid attention to what all my professors were doing. That’s why Dr. Peron was the first one I reached out to after I heard that she goes on HOMBRE trips, she’s interested in global health, and she’s out in the community doing things. I contacted her and asked, “Can we sit down and talk about how you got to where you are now?”

She shared many global and public health ideas with me and then it led to reaching out to Dean O [Associate Dean K.C. Ogbonna]. I heard about his work with the Richmond Health and Wellness program and was encouraged to go talk to him. He showed me how he helped set up that whole program and much of the behind the scenes work. It’s amazing how willing everyone is to help you find your path.

– they truly dedicate themselves to students.

Anybody else in particular you want to shout out to?

Dr. [Abigale] Matulewicz wrote my letter of recommendation for the scholarship, and she has been very instrumental in helping me improve my leadership skills through APhA-ASP throughout my time at VCU.

Because ambulatory care has great opportunities for incorporating public health into pharmacy, I reached out to Dr. [Evan] Sisson and Dr. [Dave] Dixon this past year. They took me on as an elective student for both semesters, where I was able to see patients at the Center for Healthy Hearts every week and complete a research project. With their mentorship, I was able to witness many ways a pharmacist can go above and beyond to make sure patients are receiving optimal care, including finding access for those uninsured and making sure that patients are able to afford the medications they are prescribed.

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