From the first time I heard about RAM last fall, I knew I wanted to take part and add my passion to its mission. There is nothing more pure to health care as a free clinic or health fair. I have spent half my life in and out of free clinics donating my time, when I could, to not only help those less fortunate than myself but to also feel more complete myself.
I feel like I learn more at the end of the day from seeing patients without the restrictions of a paycheck than I do from any other method of learning. They teach me true empathy, to keep things simple and clear, and that every little bit I can give does make a difference.
When I applied to RAM, I honestly was afraid I wouldn’t make the cut to be a part of the team. While I’ve volunteered at a hometown free clinic extensively, spent time tutoring disadvantaged kids at risk of falling behind and provided patient comfort services for hospice patients and their families, I was still worried there was a multitude of others with far superior resumes than my own. I was also competing with upperclassmen with therapeutic classwork behind them and far superior hands-on clinical experience. I also am not one of the people that stand out in my class by vying for multiple leadership positions, joining the single sex or coed fraternities/sororities, or by being extensively outgoing. What I did have to offer was passion, and I could only hope that translated across the pages of my application.
Being picked not only made me feel grateful but ecstatic. It was the chance to learn more from patients than I could learn in weeks on my own through books or classroom experience. It also made me feel good that I had an opportunity to give back to a community that truly needed more health services than they could currently afford. It gave me to chance to show that I do have some leadership and professional skills when given the opportunity to show them.
The entire summer prior to RAM, I spent time with Dr. Sisson at the Center for High Blood Pressure, feverishly trying to learn as much as I could from my professional peers of like and different disciplines and my patients at the clinic. I was determined to be as prepared as possible for the trip and to be able to offer everything I could to each patient I came in contact with at RAM. By the time the trip began, I had become comfortable and strong in several areas I had previously mentioned as potential weaknesses in my RAM application. I did not want to be relegated to the corner because a lack of expertise. Helping the patients manage their health is the crux of my professional mission, and I wanted to make sure I could realize that goal.
Once we arrived at RAM, I was at once awestruck by the enormity of it. While a good portion of this health fair was for dental care, I realized the potential for pharmacy students to become involved and intertwined with the other health professionals. I was excited to receive my schedule and to see at what stations I could be of service. When I first got my schedule, I was a little disappointed that I got so little time in triage while it was busy and was not going to be able to do rapid A1C testing. But I re-evaluated my feelings and set myself to doing the best job I could possibly do at the positions I was assigned to and to see how the weekend played out.
This weekend not only brought me close to patients, but I learned and became closer to many of my RAM members. I tend to be a loner by nature, but I got to know several people on my time much better than I ever expected to. I became impressed by their individual stories, passions and personal drives. I came around to opening myself up to them, when I am usually quite reserved. I got to know several of the patients over the course of the weekend, too. I asked them how things were going as they progressed through multiple services over the weekend and got to know them a little as people and understand their fears, concerns and hopes for the future.
I found out over the weekend, too, that the positions were not set in stone and at one point was asked to blindly start taking A1Cs when I originally was not trained. I at once was pumped and quickly read the instruction sheet for the device and watched another student do a test before jumping in. I found this and smoking cessation to be my favorite parts of RAM, personally. When doing A1Cs it takes five minutes to perform the test, and these five minutes give me a patient’s absolute time to talk to them about their health, how things were going for them and so much more. I made sure to impart everything I could in that small span of time, to help educate my patients as much as possible before their time with me was cut to an end. When I gave them either the good or bad news, I also spent a little more time with them explaining what their numbers meant and how it would effect their life.
Smoking cessation was equally rewarding because the patients I talked with I felt really listened since I was in their own shoes a few years back myself. I understand myself just how damaging and intense an addiction can be to tackle amongst a sea of never-ending problems. I really got the chance to connect with these patients and let them know that there is help out there for them and that it is hard, but by keeping at it they can quit themselves and stay there.
Despite the lack of severe lack of sleep I experienced over the four-day period and the rough process of recovering from lack of sleep (it took me a little more than two weeks!), I am beyond grateful for the experience to go to RAM. Even if I cannot be a part of the physical team next year again, I hope that I can support the future team in any way possible. It was one of the best parts of my student career.